'Talk down Belfast's peace walls'

'Talk down Belfast's peace walls'

Northern Ireland's peace walls could be "talked down", according to a project working to eradicate both the physical and mental barriers facing interface communities.

Beyond the Wall is the brainchild of the conflict transformation group InterAction Belfast which says Stormont has a vital role to play.

The group is launching an exhibition of photographs that offers a snapshot of what life was like in west Belfast before the conflict began and the walls were built.

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 first wall went up around 50 years ago, but a survey last year found that more than two-thirds of those living near one believed they were necessary - despite most wanting to see them gone someday.

I grew up in an interface area where there were no peace lines, and peace lines are only a symptom, not a cause of the problem.

Sean Murray

Over the years, community workers have been building towards a peaceful existence and at the peace line dividing the Shankill and Clonard areas of Belfast.

One such community worker, Roisin McGlone, believes it is time for the walls to come down.

"All of us that are working within our sector want the walls to come down," she said.

"But we acknowledge that, realistically, the only way these walls can come down is if there is a package put together by government to regenerate and revitalise these areas."

But Ms McGlone also admitted there is some ambivalence within the community.

She added: "On the one hand, I know that they want to get on with their neighbours, they want to work with their neighbours - but they are very frightened because there is no guarantee. No one can guarantee their safety in terms of if these walls were to come down.

"These communities have been very traumatised, they are victims of the conflict. There is inter-generational trauma that has been suffered by families in these communities and that has to be addressed by government."

She said that the work in these areas must now be supported by Stormont, adding: "We've done the peace-building - on issues like parades, policing - and now that we have the relationships built, we're sending out a challenge to the government and to departments and agencies to back us, to come support us in the work that we're doing."

It's time to go beyond the wall, we need to talk about it and the only people who can really talk about it are the people either side of the walls.

William Smith

Sean Murray, a former IRA prisoner who also helps run the project, believes the time isn't right for the walls to come down.

"While there is an aspiration for the long-term perspective to take the walls down, I think it's important to identify the reasons for the walls in the first place," he told UTV.

"What are the underlying issues, like contentious parades, like lack of regeneration - and for that process to work, people who live in these interfaces have to be at the centre of any process."

William Smith, a former loyalist prisoner also involved in the project, also argues that regeneration of these areas is key.

"We don't need hanging baskets and we don't need glass gates so we look through at each other, we want something positive and want something practical," he told UTV.

"It's not a simple task of knocking walls down and leaving waste ground, we need to look at a long term strategic investment in the area which will bring confidence to both communities, with that confidence then the walls could possibly be taken down."

The Beyond the Wall exhibition opens on Wednesday at the E3 Complex, Springfield Road, Belfast.


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