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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory