Garvaghy minority want `peace wall'

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The Independent Online
PROTESTANTS ON the mainly Catholic Garvaghy Road in Portadown, Northern Ireland, have asked for a "peace wall" to keep them and the Catholic residents apart, it emerged yesterday.

Sectarian tensions in the area are at an all-time high following the decision by the Parades Commission to ban this year's march by the Orange Order, a decision which led to the violent Drumcree stand-off.

Protestants living in a small enclave off the mainly nationalist road have now decided they want more protection. They have demanded a separating wall like those which divide Belfast and Londonderry.

Pastor Kenny McClinton, a Protestant community leader, said: "People need to feel safe in their homes. Everybody knows the negative aspects of a peace line, but unfortunately it is a necessity for the area."

But the idea has enraged Catholics who are the minority in the predominantly Protestant town, if not on the Garvaghy Road.

Breandan MacCionnaith, of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Association, said it was ridiculous that Protestants felt they needed protecting in a Northern Ireland town that was only 20 per cent Catholic.

"If they want to build peace lines in Portadown, I can show them where to build them. There are Catholic communities here under nightly attacks by loyalist mobs."

Many fear peace lines, which are reinforced walls rather than anything the name might suggest, create deeper divisions.

Brid Rodgers, of the SDLP, said: "It really would be a step forward if people could negotiate instead of building more walls leading to further isolation between the two communities."

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said they had received a number of requests, including those from elected representatives in the area, for a peace wall in the lower end of the Garvaghy Road. "We are currently taking advice from a variety of sources including the Royal Ulster Constabulary and will be carefully considering this advice. No decision has yet been taken."

The requests are a clear indication of continuing problems between the loyalist and republican communities in the town, which has now seen four years of heightened violence at the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Prior to this year's marching season, the Orange Order carried out talks in private, including a conditional offer to meet the residents' association. Not all the Orangemen agreed with this tactic and remained suspicious of the Catholic leaders.

Mr MacCionnaith, the residents' representative, was part of a group which tried to blow up the British Legion hall in Portadown in 1981. In May the following year, he was jailed for five years following the crime.

The first peace wall was erected in Belfast in 1969 as the Troubles raised tensions between the two communities. They were built mainly in north and west Belfast - with some in the east - and stretch as far as Whiteabbey on the city's outskirts. The main peace line between the Falls and the Shankill Road in west Belfast stretches for three miles.

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