Belfast's peace walls may be set to tumble


THEY MAY be tourist attractions that are world famous, but Belfast could be about to lose its peace walls after the city’s council agreed to develop a strategy regarding their removal.

Belfast City Council decided to broach the sensitive issue at its monthly meeting on Thursday night after Alliance councillor Tom Ekin proposed the motion, provided it received backing from all parties across the divide, which it subsequently did.

Forty-two peace walls separate unionist and nationalist communities at various flashpoint interfaces across the city, mainly in north and west Belfast. They were built at the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 to separate the warring sides of the divide, with the most famous being those that separate the loyalist Shankill Road and republican Falls Road in west Belfast.

The motion called on the council to “demonstrate true civic leadership by agreeing to tackle one of the biggest problems which affects all of the citizens of the city”. It added that peace walls “increase alienation and inhibit regeneration”.

Cllr Ekin said the move showed society “moving towards a better future. We need to see the council move quickly to put a strategy in place to enable work in consultation with local residents towards taking away peace walls . . . It’s very significant that this motion was passed at council, as this shows positive leadership and that is what is needed to create the shared future Northern Ireland deserves.”

The former mayor of Belfast said consultation with those who live in the streets with peace walls was necessary to ensure the move happened when they felt safe with them down.

“It is crucial that when communities express the desire to remove division that measures are in place to ensure the positive action can be taken quickly,” he said. “The peace walls can only be removed when we create the good relations necessary . . . we can play a pivotal role in creating these good relations.”

The walls were only intended to be temporary. But most have remained in place despite the peace process, with “Troubles tours” regularly taking them in on a daily basis.

The most recent violence around them happened in June, when trouble flared at an interface between the nationalist Short Strand and unionist Newtownards Road in east Belfast.

Petrol was thrown at police, while shots were fired as a crowd of about 500 were involved in UVF-inspired disorder around the local peace wall.

East Belfast Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland said there remained a lot of work to be done to improve attitudes on both sides. “Sadly there is still an element in our society who cannot tolerate Northern Ireland moving forward and building a peaceful, shared future,” he said.