Published Wednesday, 26 September 2012
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Peace Walls ‘needed’
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It's almost 50 years since the first peace wall was erected in Northern Ireland - and despite the gains of the peace process and the return of devolved government, more than two out of three people living near them cannot imagine a time when the walls will no longer be necessary.
Only 38% of residents could see a time when there would be no such barriers dividing communities even though almost 60% would like to see the back of them, according to an academic study by the University of Ulster (UU).
Around 60% of those living in the shadow of the walls also expressed concern about the police's ability to preserve peace and order if they came down.
I'm not sure if I will see it but hopefully the next generation will see a Northern Ireland without Peace Walls
The research says Protestant areas are more at ease with the walls. The Fountain Estate in Londonderry feels it needs them.
Community worker Jeanette Warke said: "People in the Fountain feel safer with the interface walls there because they've been there such a long time now.
"Really the young people we work with don't know any other way of life and the community would feel threatened if the walls were down."
However in the Waterside area of the city, where the Catholic Gobnascale sits alongside Protestant Irish Street, there is no peace wall.
Some feel that helps to overcome tension and division.
Nyree McMorris of Lisnagelvin Women's Group said: "Some estates or societies might feel more secure with the walls, but certainly where we're living and what we're trying to do here the walls would be more of a hindrance than a help."
Researchers found perceptions differed when they widened their survey to the overall population. Only 38% felt peace walls were necessary while 60% could envisage a time when they would all be gone.
Four out of five people in the wider survey felt that segregation was common across the region, even where there were no walls.
There are currently almost 90 barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland, most of them in Belfast, with more going up since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
The findings of the government-funded research come amid ongoing initiatives to explore the possibility of reducing the number of walls- a reduction in the number of interface structures by 2014/15 is one of the NI Executive's commitments in their Programme for Government.
There is a huge public appetite for greater engagement between the communities and those responsible for peace walls.
Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan
One of the report's authors, Dr Jonny Byrne, said: "It is important to recognise that 69% of those that live closest to peace walls believe that they are still necessary - due to the continuing potential for violence.
"Although 58% would like to see the walls come down now or at some point in the future, only 38% could actually envisage a time when this would happen".
Co-author Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan said the research had also indicated that providing more information and having greater engagement with people living near the walls would facilitate a better public debate on the issue.
"64% of the general population believe that peace walls should be a big priority for the Northern Ireland government - and 63% of peace wall residents would like to know more about initiatives and discussions about the peace walls," she said.
"There was considerable confusion among peace wall residents about who exactly was responsible for decision-making around the walls in their areas - only 4% correctly identified that the responsibility actually lies with the Department of Justice."