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When will the walls in Belfast come down?

The wall may be down in Berlin, but there are still plenty of them in Belfast.

As Ian Parsley noted at OurKingdom last year, the wall may be down in Berlin, but there are still plenty of them in Belfast. The BBC this week highlighted the work of some of the people who are trying to change that.

Among them is Tony Macaulay, who outlined the scale of the problem at a recent talk in London.

There are 88 barriers, they arent all walls. There are 88 what we would call interface barriers in Northern Ireland. There are a few in Derry/Londonderry, a few in Portadown/Craigavon. The vast majority are in Belfast. Most of them are in North Belfast. The biggest one is in West Belfast, separating the Falls from the Shankill, where I come from.

More barriers have gone up in the ten years following the ceasefires, than in the ten years before the ceasefires. These walls have continued to be erected through the peace process, through the political agreement, the ceasefires and all of that.

The most recent official one was erected in the grounds of an integrated primary school, And there are also now walls still being erected to this day in new private developments, where the private developer decides that people will want to live in an area more if there's a wall separating them from "the other side".

Macaulay was speaking at the Hammersmith Irish Centre, to mark the start of an exhibition by photographer Louise Jefferson and journalist Stephen Martin examining the symbols of separation that the walls represent.

He argued that community confidence was the key to bringing down the barriers, noting that while some 20 per cent of interface residents want the walls down straight away, another 60 per cent offer more qualified support, believing that the barriers should be removed, but only when it safe to do so.

Macaulay has suggested a process that he believes can help create the necessary confidence in a discussion paper on his website:

Its not going to be a spontaneous thing like in Berlin, because the people in Belfast are not wanting to knock down the walls with sledgehammers and embrace each other, sadly.

Macaulay believes that leadership on the issue needs to come from the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive, although that maybe a big ask amid the current standoff over the devolution of justice and policing.

If that bump in the road can be got over though, Macaulay sees positive signs on the ground:

For the first time I have ever heard, people are actually talking about the possibility of the walls coming down. People on a cross-community basis are starting to have this conversation. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Tom Griffin is freelance journalist and researcher. He holds a Ph.D in social and policy sciences from the University of Bath, and is a former Executive Editor of the Irish World.

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