“local communities need help – particularly funding and local political leadership”

In June last year The Detail’s John Breslin was asking questions of the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), and the “significant amount of money under its control, or on the way, that has not yet been either allocated, or is in the hands of, particular projects.”

On Thursday last week the IFI announced a Peace Walls Programme with an initial allocation of £2million, and invited “expressions of interest from community organisations for financial assistance”.  According to the IFI press release

Dr Denis Rooney CBE, Chairman of the International Fund forIreland, said: “There are some 88 peace walls/barriers, mainly in Belfast, stretching over 21 kilometres in total. Since the 1994 ceasefire, the number of barriers has grown. However, many community groups, some with the support of the Fund, are doing courageous work across interfaces and in the past few years their conversations have moved towards when, rather than if, the barriers will come down.

“The physical removal of these barriers is a matter for the Department of Justice but the Fund believes that its Peace Walls Programme, which is complementary to other initiatives that are underway, will help create dialogue, build trust and confidence and develop greater cross-community cohesion with a view to communities reaching agreement that it is time to start removing the barriers.

“Although there will be clear criteria for funding, this programme will allow applicants to come up with their own solutions and move at their own pace. It will be flexible by recognising that different communities in Belfast and other areas ofNorthern Irelandare at various stages of both willingness and readine ss to move along this path.”

Dr Rooney said that while there was a growing momentum and desire to move to a position where physical barriers could be removed, it was clear that local communities need help – particularly funding and local political leadership – to remove the mental barriers which will ultimately lead to the removal of physical barriers. [added emphasis]

The announcement appears to have prompted a lengthy article on a still-divided Belfast in The Observer.  It contains this nugget.

“When you’re growing up, you’re told to keep to your own areas,” says Kate Clarke. “You’re programmed in your own head not to take a right turn here or a left turn there. After a while, it becomes natural.” The walls, as Kate puts it, are only the most visible manifestation of “the walls within people’s minds”.

To walk along even a fraction of the many peace walls in Belfast is a soul-sapping experience, not just because of the oppressive nature of the structures, but because you realise very quickly how dramatically they restrict or define the movement of people who live on either side of them. Though many walls now have gates that open for part of the day, many locals still opt to go the long route so as not to pass through a Protestant or Catholic area. When I mentioned this to our taxi driver, as we drew up alongside a monolithic wall that separates the nationalist enclave of Short Strand from the loyalist neighbourhoods that surround it, he replied without a trace of irony: “The thing is, if you lived over here, you would never want to go over there anyway – even if there was no wall.”

Strangely, despite interviewing “local Sinn Féin councillor Conor Maskey”, the article doesn’t mention OFMdFM’s £4million Contested Space Programme – announced in March last year.  Nor is there any mention of their other, more innovative, approaches…

[Perhaps it’s been ‘neutralised’? – Ed]  Perhaps…

But, you know, read the whole thing.

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  • cynic2

    I am in favour of removing peace walls but first we need to remove those mental walls. The physical ones are there because (not to put too fine a point on it) a significant percentage of residents on the opposite sides still hate each other. Until that is resolved, taking down the physical barriers completely is dangerous. there therefore needs to [perhaps be a phased reprogramme negotiated locally of replacing the current structures with gradually shrinking / more open barriers with the aim of gradual removal.

  • sherdy

    What a luxury this man Rooney has to be able to throw £2mn at a problem which will never be solved by money, but by a meeting of minds. What is the hourly rate for people talking together? They used to say ‘talk is cheap’.

  • Little James

    Ah yes, the “community groups”.The usual suspects will be trippong over themselves to get their applications in. Its the only industry in Belfast at the minute.