'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.”

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: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones