'Taking Belfast's peace walls down solves nothing. They should be higher': Protestants and Catholics agree time is not right to dismantle barriers

Protestants and Catholics agree that the peace lines give both sides a sense of security

They are symbols of division and hatred – relics from the darkest times of the Troubles.

Fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, the imposing peace lines, erected to keep Protestant and Catholic communities apart, continue to loom large over Belfast.

Only now are discussions beginning about whether to bring  the walls down – and both sides agree that the time is not yet right.

At a public debate on the future of the walls last week, two ex-prisoners – one republican, one loyalist – were so courteous towards each other that they seemed more like former comrades than former deadly enemies.

Sean “Spike” Murray, a one-time IRA prisoner and now a senior Sinn Fein activist, thought along similar lines to William “Plum” Smith, formerly of the Red Hand Commando and now a loyalist political activist.  Belfast had seen huge advances, they agreed, but a lot more confidence-building was needed before the walls could be dismantled. Nationalists “are seriously concerned about keeping some form of peace line”, said Murray.

Smith said: “Just to go in and take walls down is not going to solve anything – it will make it worse. You’d have waste ground, nothing there. At the minute people are still afraid.”

Those sentiments were echoed by those living next to Belfast’s tallest  and most imposing wall at Bombay Street. Known as the mother of all peace lines, it separates the Shankill from the Falls.

David Baker happily raises his children in Protestant Cupar Way, almost literally in the shadow of the wall. “There’s no real conflict here,” he said, “but there would still be a lot of opposition to taking it down.

“The two sides are not ready for anything like that, there’s still too much tension around to make a change like that. There’s no real trouble, but we’d be afraid that the slightest wee thing could start it off again.”

On the other side of the wall Patsy Canavan, a care worker, has lived in Catholic Bombay Street all her life; the Canavan family has such a commitment to the street that her three sisters also live there.

“It’s grand as long as the peace line stays up, but I wouldn’t like to see it coming down – it’s far too early,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel safe. In fact, I would like to see it higher up instead of taken down. A golf ball came over it about a month ago, and in the summer you can get stones and bottles thrown over – not as much as before but they still come over. You have to be a wee bit careful when kids are out playing.

“We just want peace lines kept up because we can feel safer, and I’m sure the other people on the other side wouldn’t want to see them down either.”

The appearance of Murray and Smith on the same platform, and the fact that the debate took place in the brand-new premises of Belfast Metropolitan College, little more than a stone’s throw from a peace line, can be seen as indicators of how far the city has come.

Most of the 80-strong invited audience accepted that much progress had been made. More than one described peace lines as a symptom of division, not the cause, but there were also many calls for more action from politicians.  Another refrain was: “We can’t afford to pass this on to the next generation.”

Murray said: “There have been a number of attacks in this area – orchestrated by both sides, I have to say, not just one side. It’s mostly young people, and when you look at their background, they’re from broken families, broken homes. A lot of it is antisocial, it’s not political.”

According to Smith: “We need a strategic long-term plan to regenerate these areas. Reinvigorating the communities is the best way to build confidence. We’re saying: do it as quick as possible, but you can’t put a timeline on it.”

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
people

Far-right organisation has defended its actions on Facebook

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
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

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

Science Teacher

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

Cover Supervisor

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker