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‘Peacelines’ report pie in the sky for local people

‘Leave the walls up,’ is the view of the residents

By Staff Reporter

A report suggesting that Belfast’s peace walls should be dismantled by 2022 has been met with widespread opposition by nationalist residents living near the barriers in West Belfast.

The idea was contained in a draft report on developing a new community relations strategy that has been under preparation by a cross-party Stormont group in recent months.

According to the draft otrategy, there are 59 peace walls, gates or barriers across Belfast, Derry and Craigavon, nine of which have been erected since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The report accepted that change cannot happen overnight but added: “We believe that, together with people in the local community, we can reduce the number of physical interface structures with a view to their elimination by 2022.”

On the Springfield Road area near Workman Avenue the residents’ reaction was unanimous. They want the peace walls to stay up.

“We’re still getting trouble here,” said one resident of Pollard Street.

“They are still throwing bricks over the wall, my car has been damaged seven times and the insurance is through the roof.  To be honest, I’d rather Workman Avenue was closed permanently. It’s sad to say that because there are good people on the other side, but the young ones on both sides are gathering and making it difficult for everyone else that has to live in the immediate vicinity of the wall. I definitely wouldn’t want to see the wall down, no way.”

Another resident of the street said the flags protest hasn’t helped the situation.

“I wouldn’t want the wall down,” she said.  “I feel very much safer with it up. Even with this flags business, it’s causing trouble here, they’re chucking bricks because tensions are running high over there. Even before that there were confrontations. A  while back my sister-in-law got a flat tyre out there and when she got out of her car, she was hit with a brick on the head and had to get stitches.

“I know everyone wants peace, but when the smallest thing can spark trouble, you can’t take these walls down. I don’t feel safe as it is, never mind without the walls.”

A resident of Valleyside Close said the proposal was ridiculous.

“You can’t take them down,” he said,  “and you can’t order them to be taken down when you don’t live here. If that wall was gone, we would be wide open to attack, it’s a ridiculous suggestion.”

Another resident had a radical suggestion.

“I say build the wall higher,” he said. “It would make no sense whatsoever to take it down.  The trouble is ongoing. You might only hear about it during the  marching season with the Workman Avenue trouble, but this is happening all the time. Probably three or four times a month there are missiles flying from either side. The wall is the only thing to stop it escalating. Definitely build it higher.”

Opinions on the so-called peace walls were much the same further on down the Springfield Road at Bombay Street, a place that’s become a byword in the city for sectarian aggression.

“To be honest with you I don’t mind,” said one Bombay Street woman. “I’ve lived in the area for a long time but there’s no doubt it was needed.

“Personally I don’t mind the wall. You have the railings up now as well and the thing that bothers me most is the sound of the wind at night howling through them. The way it is now is an eyesore but you have to ask yourself, if you continue to keep people apart how can you expect them to get on?”

Another resident of the street gave us a firm No.

“I wouldn’t want the walls down, not at the minute. And all this trouble with the flag protests, God knows what would happen if they came down now with all that going on.”

A third Bombay Street resident said the time wasn’t right.

“I have lived here all my life and was the only house in the street to opt out of having the wire grills put back up again as I didn’t want to live in or under a cage for another 30 years.

“The wall is there for a reason and there have been instances of stone-throwing and vandalism done to cars in the street, but at the end of the day life goes on. It’s not the right time and I don’t know if it will ever be. I don’t know if anybody in this street would sleep at night if the wall came down,” he added.

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