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Cauldrons of the Troubles yearn for normality

ON THE litter-strewn Shankill Road there was a sense of calm yesterday evening, broken only by the persistent but ignored ringing of a burglar alarm. Most shops were shuttered for the night and there were only a few people out.

The settlement, aimed at bringing peace to communities such as the Protestant Shankill, had been delivered a few hours earlier, but details were hazy and most people remained cautious. "I think it's better than nothing but we are going to have to wait and see how it goes," said Alan Irvine, 26, heading home from the video shop. "We've been at war for the past 30 years and it has got us nowhere." Mr Irvine, a father of two, said he was unlike many of the community's young people, who appeared less interested in the settlement than the older generation. "We will have to wait and reserve our judgement. There have been too many false dawns but everybody wants it to work."

Eileen Turkington, 54, and her friend Ann Donnelly, 49, were going to the Shankill Methodist Church. Both had lived through the Troubles and hoped the deal could bring peace. "People are browned off. Most of us just want to have a peaceful life without living in fear," said Mrs Turkington.

"As it is at the moment people are afraid to go out." Two doors down from the church stood the remains of a chip shop, destroyed in the early 1990s by a bomb. Four, five or maybe more people were killed by the republican atrocity; the ladies could not remember.

The Shankill Road of West Belfast runs largely parallel to the Catholic Falls Road, and not just geographically.While in the Falls Road you find the republican tricolour, here flies the Union flag; in the Falls Road the street murals show the IRA, while here the paintings of the masked men represent the UVF.

Parallel but close. On both the Falls and the Shankill most people want peace. Last night, there were no celebrations in the streets, the only drinks being taken behind the doors of shuttered pubs. But a 45-year-old man on his way home was quietly optimistic. "I think we have reached the stage from which we can move on," he said. "I think people genuinely want peace."

In her grocery store, Jean Whiteside, 68, said most people were decent. "I don't want violence for my grandchildren and I am sure the men with clubs and guns do not want violence for theirs."