'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.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
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

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering