Bigotry keeps fear alive in divided streets

A year of peace: In the second part of a series on Northern Ireland after the ceasefire, David McKittrick looks at how life has changed for ordinary people

"My friends and I go down to Botanic Park in the evenings and wander around," said the middle-class 16-year-old girl from peaceful south Belfast. "It's all mixed and there's no trouble, but even so if you saw a friend and they had a Catholic name you wouldn't shout their name across the park.

"You'd be worried somebody would pick on them and they might get hit, you know beaten up. You just have to be careful like that. Even though there's a military ceasefire there's not a ceasefire of other sorts."

Although peace may have arrived in Northern Ireland, many ancient quarrels remain unresolved and there is still a lot of bigotry. As the teenager's comment shows, there are many unwritten rules which are well understood and have to be carefully observed.

Most of these things are pretty much invisible to outside observers, who look at Belfast city centre and see people mixing freely and in an apparently relaxed fashion, enjoying the sun and the benefits of peace. The ceasefires have certainly lightened the atmosphere in many ways, but the basic sectarian grammar remains untouched.

The most obvious changes over the past year have been the sudden cessation of shootings and bombings and the consequent easing of security force activity. Police officers no longer have to check under their cars each morning for Semtex boobytrap devices, and in their Land-Rovers they no longer need fear rocket or mortar attacks.

Shoppers no longer have to worry whether parked cars have bombs concealed in the boot, or have to undergo searches on entering stores, or have to endure traffic queues as their vehicles are checked.

Most city and town centres no longer have barriers to keep out the bombers. Parking is easier, and the black-uniformed civilian searchers have been paid off. In most areas, soldiers have disappeared from the streets.

Instead of troops there are now tourists. There always were some holiday visitors, even at the height of the troubles, but now many more are now in evidence. There are back-packers aplenty, lots of foreign students and some older couples.

Not everyone in Northern Ireland was prepared for the influx, and not all the tourists know what to expect. On Sundays, tourists can be seen wandering around the city centre unsuccessfully looking for something - anything - that is open, apart from churches. In a home bakery lately a French couple could be seen seeking croissants and being baffled by soda farls and Belfast baps.

But the locals have been surprisingly welcoming, and from the Republic have poured thousands of visitors, many of them crossing the border for the first time. Many shops now carry the sign "Pounds for punts," signifying that they accept southern currency.

There has also been a new flow in the other direction, with many Protestants venturing south to explore a country they previously avoided. Southern hoteliers and guest houses report a stream of what a Galway hotelier described as "a type of northern visitor we have not seen before".

The biggest changes to lifestyles have taken place in the hardline ghettos, for example in the tough areas of west and north Belfast whose streets were always the most violent. There is no longer heavy military patrolling here: on the Falls Road last week, four policemen could be seen sauntering along without tunics, flak jackets or military escort.

But the ghettos are still ghettos, with high unemployment, an often demoralised community and a large proportion of their young men in prison. The ceasefires have made a great improvement but many problems remain and economic and political alienation persists.

They are also still strictly segregated, particularly in Belfast. The ceasefires have meant some roads that used to be blocked off are now open again, at least during daylight hours, but formidable peaceline walls still criss-cross the city. Most people accept that they will be there for years; some predict they will be there for ever.

Belfast's own brand of apartheid, much of it voluntary, has been in operation for decades and looks set to last for decades more, for there is segregation, in varying degrees, in most schools and many districts and workplaces. The segregation existed before the troubles but was made much worse by them, and will be a continuing feature of life.

With the ceasefires, a start has been made on the road to wards a more conventional existence and for most life has brightened appreciably but the old divisions will be a long time dying.

Tomorrow: The Army adapts

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us