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Political leadership prerequisite to removal of Belfast's 'peace walls'

By Noel McAdam

The Community Relations Council has called on the Stormont Executive to show vital "political leadership" so 'peace walls' in Belfast can begin to come down.

Council chief executive Duncan Morrow said the interface barriers remain a constant reminder of "how far we still have to travel".

"For as long as they stay, investors and tourists who might have been encouraged to think that we have put all that behind us will still have their doubts," he added.

With the latest four-party Executive meeting due tomorrow, Mr Morrow insisted: "A shared vision for the future and an action plan to start the journey need to be at the heart of the Programme for Government."

The Council's concern is that the Executive appears to be finding it difficult to tackle the hard long term issues on which the parties may have different perspectives. The fear is they may instead look for quick short term hits where there can be easy consensus.

According to the Council, the Programme for Government needs to incorporate the 'Shared Future' vision produced by the Direct Rule team, on which the parties were consulted.

In a letter, Mr Morrow said: "Let there be no doubt, however, removing the walls is a complex task. The interfaces of the mind are higher, thicker and longer than we might want to believe.

"Fear, distrust and even hatred have roots beyond the urban working class. Shouting at people to share will never work if they do not feel they are safe. The real task is to show people that fear no longer has grounds, not merely to state it.

"Political leadership is vital in this, as well as a sustained strategy to eliminate residual fears of discrimination, intimidation and exclusion. Growing sustainable relationships across political and community boundaries is not a luxury but the essential task for this generation of leaders in the Northern Ireland Assembly."

The removal of an interface barrier does not have to be a stunt, he said, provided that it is rooted in a new approach to dealing with local tensions and has the support of the community. "The question is whether that is possible in even one location," Mr Morrow said.

Belfast Telegraph


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