Belfast peacelines return to keep warring factions apart

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The Independent Online
IN an ironic counterpoint to the present efforts to reach political agreement, the authorities in part of north Belfast have had to admit defeat and have begun building a new wall to keep warring factions apart, writes David McKittrick.

It will be the latest of around 30 "peacelines", a term which is itself ironic in that each structure amounts to an admission that community relations in an area have hit rock bottom.

"It's the story of north Belfast and the changing demographics," a veteran councillor said sadly. "The new wall is going up in what used to be a Protestant area, but it's now a little Orange blob in a sea which is becoming increasingly green."

The new peaceline will be 200m long and in places be 6m high. It is to be erected in the White City area following continuing disturbances in the area, the RUC recording almost 300 separate sectarian incidents since January 1997.

The effect of these were described by Margaret Craig of Gunnell Hill who, after living in the area for 26 years, has found the last two years a nightmare. Of the wall she said: "To be truthful I view it with a great sense of relief. I will possibly get peace to live this summer, and I and my neighbours won't have to go through what we went through last year - constant attacks on the back of my home.

"When the trouble was bad I actually had to be taken out of my house to stay with relatives, and come back the next morning to see what the damage was.

"It's a very sad thing but it's a fact of life. When everyone else was supposed to be enjoying peace I was being terrorised. No one wants a high fence in the back of their garden, but if it's the only way that you're going to live in your home and not be frightened, then it is something that is going to have to happen."

Although such peacelines were once viewed as temporary expedients, they have invariably turned out to be permanent structures. North Belfast was once mainly Protestant but is now predominantly Catholic, and it is the spreading out of the Catholic community which has triggered off many of the territorial disputes.

The building of the walls has taken place with the blessing of both communities, but Protestants have often been more in favour of them, hoping they will serve as barriers against what often view as a menacing Catholic advance. But although they have sometimes provided temporary relief from stonethrowing, they have not stemmed the steady flow of Protestant families from the area, and they have not reconciled the two communities to living in close proximity.