Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Peace wall delays are sign of the times

Editor's Viewpoint

The continuing political stalemate at Stormont has had many negative repercussions, and the latest to be highlighted is the lack of progress in dismantling peace walls in flashpoint areas.

At the latest count there are 116, mostly in Belfast, but there are also some in Londonderry, Lurgan and Portadown.

Dr Adrian Johnston, chairman of the International Fund for Ireland which funds the Peace Walls programme in Belfast and Derry, has warned that the lack of progress at Stormont is hampering progress in helping to bring down these barriers.

These ugly structures are symbolic of our enduring stalemate and tangible proof that the optimism that followed the Good Friday Agreement is slowly ebbing away.

The effects of the deadlock at Stormont have been well-documented, especially in education, the NHS, infrastructure challenges and other issues, with civil servants trying to fill the void.

However, the impact of this deadlock on community relations is often overlooked.

The reality of unionists and nationalists working together at Stormont, however fraught at times, helped to set the tone for life on the ground.

This provided an outlet for grievances to be aired at local community level and for difficult issues to be addressed. The current absence of this outlet is a barrier to improving relations at grass roots level.

As recently as the start of this year, there were hopes of some progress in dismantling 12 barriers, and seven of these could have been removed if the political support had been forthcoming. Sadly, the absence of such support has seen those hopes dashed.

The Brexit debate has seen the focus turn almost exclusively to Westminster, and the attempts to revive Stormont have been sidelined.

Reckless rhetoric from some people who should know better has raised the political temperature further.

As a result the debate has become even more polarised between nationalists concerned about a hard border, and unionists who oppose a frontier in the Irish Sea.

There are many ongoing issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, and these are not going to disappear after the Brexit vote is taken.

The big issues are important, but so too are the other issues, such as the presence of the far too many peace walls, which are barriers to making progress between the two main communities in our still badly-divided province.

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