Rebecca Black, PA
More than 100 peace wall barriers remain across the North over two decades after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, a leading fund has said.
The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) revealed there has been significant progress with barriers in previously contentious areas but said more than 100 remain separating communities.
The barriers range from high concrete walls to gates, fences and in some cases even buildings and are owned by a number of bodies, from the North's Department of Justice, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as well as private bodies.
They were erected from the 1970s in response to attacks and disorder during the Troubles.
The IFI supports a number of community projects aimed at transforming local barriers and ultimately seeing their removal at a pace which local residents are comfortable with.
It is part of a programme which the IFI has been running since 2012.
Among the most recent successes have been the removal of a high peace fence in North Queen Street, an area of north Belfast that saw significance violence during the Troubles.
The Duncairn Community Partnership (DCP) said new security glass was installed in windows and doors of homes prior to the removal of the fence at the front of the properties.
They said prior to this residents had not been able to use their front doors or gardens.
A high solid peace wall and fence was also removed from the Hillman Court/Duncairn Gardens area.
DCP manager Harry Smyth said local residents were involved in the design of a new interface, which he described as a “complete transformation to a lovely green link fence which you wouldn’t even know is a peace wall”.
“It’s absolutely brilliant and some of the houses in the New Lodge are enjoying the sunshine coming in for the first time in 30 years,” he said.
“The North Queen Street scheme was slightly delayed by Covid and also by Brexit slowing down supply of materials. However, it has now completed changed the area for householders.
“People living at this peace wall couldn’t use their front doors as they were opening on to a barrier. Now they are not only using the front of their homes but are getting new gardens and the whole area has been opened up and completely transformed.”
There has also been progress in the Ardoyne/Woodvale area where the Flax Street gates leading to the Crumlin Road have been blocked by a solid barrier for 40 years.
The Twaddell Ardoyne Shankill Communities in Transition (TASCIT) group is working to see it replaced with new automated vehicular and pedestrian access gates.
While the barrier remains, the group hopes the scheme will proceed soon.
Nearby, the Housing Executive has completed environmental improvement works in the Woodvale/Columbia street area, with a new red brick peace wall to be installed on Crumlin Rd and new decorative peace gates to replace the solid barrier.
Project manager Rab McCallum said there is now more meeting between the two sides of the community in the area.
“We know course participants who hadn’t ventured into each other’s areas in 50 years as they were intimidated out,” he said.
“They are now spending time there as part of the course, having a positive impact on them and the wider community as it is letting people know it’s safe to do so.”
In west Belfast, the Black Mountain Shared Space Project has secured £6.4 million (€7.7 million of Peace IV funding to develop a shared space facility on the Finlay’s site between Springfield Park, Ballygomartin and Springmartin.
Work is also ongoing at the former Moyard flashpoint on Upper Springfield Road.
Project manager Seamus Corr said the regeneration of Finlay’s site is bringing communities together.
“It is exciting times for both communities and we look forward to the next number of months and years, seeing it come to fruition,” he said.
Meanwhile in Derry, the Bogside and Brandywell Initiative saw progress, with the Dogleg Gates in the Fountain estate and Bishop Street now open 24/7 for the first time in 40 years.
Development worker Kyra Reynolds said they had to start from scratch to build trust between residents on either side of the divide.
“Now that trust has been developed, we are able to do more direct, harder-hitting initiatives that allow communities to grapple with the past and discuss enduring divisions and trying to address them,” she said.
“We feel it’s a key achievement that we managed to keep residents engaged with one another throughout Covid and that through diversionary activities such as Big Bog Barbeque in July, we maintained calm during a period of high tensions associated with the protocol issue and the parading season.”