“good fences make good neighbours”

Boundary issues of a different kind feature in another Belfast Telegraph report, although the BBC version seems to play it down somewhat…

Derry City Council have agreed to apply for planning permission for a 1.8 metre high, 170 metre long, “fence” at an “interface” at the playing fields at Lisnagelvin in Londonderry –  the UK’s City of Culture for 2013.  According to the Belfast Telegraph report

A litany of incidents at the interface, including sectarian abuse, stone throwing, attacks on the police, underage drinking and the lighting of fires have been recorded since last September.

There have also been sectarian clashes organised by social networking sites and by mobile phone.

This prompted the decision to erect the barrier, which has been endorsed by community groups on both sides of the religious divide, the PSNI and residents.

And the report quotes a number of city councillors

At yesterday’s meeting, SDLP councillor Martin Reilly proposed that council approve the recommendations.

He said: “There has been a sustained level of anti-social activity which has been very frustrating for the residents, but although the fence is not a solution, I am happy to propose approval.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Mac Lochlainn, who is a member of the Community Safety Forum in the Waterside, said he had attended many meetings between the PSNI and others about the issue and that the meeting had been very helpful.

He added: “It is unfortunate that we have to put up fences but there is a saying that goes ‘good fences make good neighbours’.

“The community have bought into this but it is important to put it into perspective. It should not be sensationalised.”

The DUP’s Joe Miller said he supported the fence because it was welcomed by residents but he asked about the timescale. Mr Miller added: “We are coming into the spring and lighter evenings and that attracts people to the area.

“I would not like to think that if we give agreement, then things will drag on and it will be next October or November before there is any progress.”

The paper’s editorial is not impressed with the “new peace line”

The proposal is only at the planning stage and the local council should think again about this solution to a community problem. Past experience in Belfast and elsewhere has shown that while there are understandable reasons to barricade communities from each other, it is much easier to put the barriers up than to take them down.

Both physically and socially it is a divisive option. Essentially, people are being told that they cannot live together, mirroring the divisions of their own minds. Building a peace line is the path of least resistance and means that there is no imperative for the peace-loving people on both sides to find a common – and permanent – solution to the troublemakers. Why talk when bricklayers can shut your neighbour out of your life? [added emphasis]

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  • The “good fences” aphorism only applies to private property. Public spaces run according to a completely different set of principles, or at least they should.

    Far too much time is spent managing problems instead of confronting them. It is no coincidence that segregation has continued to increase since the agreements. Complacency and petty-mindedness are the watchwords of our age.

  • The Belfast Telegraph (not independent and tabloid) may have got the story right and the BBC (more independent and not tabloid) might be playing it down.
    The other scenario is that the BBC have got it right and the Belfast Telegraph are playing it up.

    The community relations “industry” have a default position of taking these fences down…Duncan Morrow for example at the SDLP Conference argued that sectarianism costs us a fortune….its not economic and of course hes right. But the barricades are a different matter.
    Most people who want fences down dont seem to live in the areas affected such as the area in Derry in the story.
    Curiously the host city of the under-19 Cricket World Cup….is recognised for its culture but there is nothing particuarly cultural in sectarianism.

    Especially violent sectarianism. ut sectarianism need not actually be violent. Perhaps the barriers are as much about “sectionalism” as sectarianism. Its a pasive thing. Behind one set of barriers Britishness prevails. Behind another set of barriers Irishness prevails.
    We dont have to even look at an Irish or British person to make us think that we dont like in Britain or Ireland.
    Our schools, churches, sports clubs are all neatly behind them.

    But while there are physical barricades…there is more often no physical barricade. Living in Bushmills (no barricades) might not be a reasonable option. Likewise Crossmaglen. Tynan. Middletown. Coagh. Ardboe.
    Aghalee is but a mile from Aghagallon…..no fences. Just “different”.
    So getting worked up about the depressingly physical manifestation of our sectarianism or sectionalism…..or mere diversity seems the wrong target for those who are concerned about such things.
    Journeying from Cultra into East Belfast via the Cluan Place interface might depress the Cultra resident. But not half as much as the idea of a joint working class cross-community NIHE delelopment in Cultra.
    Likewise the good citizens of Carryduff journeying to work in West Belfast.

    Barricades physical and mental are part of our lives. Lets not kid ourselves that the physical ones are worse than the mental ones.

  • It seems clear to me that the only future for a north Ireland free of sectarianism is one with integrated secular schooling.

    It’s no overstatement to say that the ‘divide’ could become irrelevant in a generation if mixed schooling was implemented within a generation.

    Currently, amongst young middle class people of Northern Ireland the divide isn’t taken all that seriously, but it is certainly still there. Social groups are by and large all catholic or all protestant. It amazed me how in the first year of university social groups formed with everyone finding someone else of ‘their own kind’, without any conscious discussion of background.

    Perhaps this undermines my argument for mixed-schooling but at least they weren’t throwing stones at each other (usually).

  • Neil


    nice idea, but a large part of the problem with your idea is the suggestion that by throwing everyone in schools together, everyone will just get along, and sectarianism will be a thing of the past. It’s my experience that what you’ll end up with is sectarianism inside the schools.

    It’s akin to saying that removing the peace walls will lead to a more integrated society – nonsense of course, you remove the walls and you still have two seperate communities, just now they can throw stones at each other’s homes more easily.

    As I’ve said before I went to what was described as a ‘mixed’ school. There were around 10 Catholics in my year, of around 150 kids total. And I got my balls kicked in for being Catholic. I see no reason to assume that the same problems wouldn’t occur in a school where there is a 50:50 split, Catholic:Protestant. It just means they don’t need Facebook to start murder, they can arrange it in class instead.

  • Neil,

    I don’t think your personal experiences can be applied. A 1:15 catholic to protestant ratio can not be described as a ‘mixed’ school.

    Naturally, for integrated schooling to work it must be applied right across the spectrum. Ideally, from nursery schools all the way up to sixth-form/college.

    If you have children from divided primary schools going to mixed secondary schools of course there will be trouble. However I am convinced if we can get children mixing with each other from a very young age divisions will fall down quite naturally.

    The problem with integrated schooling is that no-one would support it. The Northern Ireland state and political system get’s it’s very mandate from the divide. Total integrated schooling would be an attack at voting/membership base of SF/DUP and various churches both catholic and protestant.

    The future of a Northern Ireland with integrated schooling would be vastly different. Control of the education system would be extremely important and could never be properly or fairly implemented by Stormont.

  • The Word

    “And I got my balls kicked in for being Catholic.”

    I hope you weren’t from one of those Catholic families that sent their children to Protestant schools so that they would get on better, and not be held back by all that Catholic stuff that undermines the greatness of our nation.

    If you were, what grievance can you possibly have legitimately?

  • Actually Mr McGillen it is an overstatement.
    Thru circumstance (renting a house while another was being built) I tried sending our Catholic children to a state primary school…..good idea as it turned out..because we kept them there longer than we needed to because we thought it a good school and we felt we owed it to a small rural school struggling to stay open.
    Thru choice (ours on principle and his because his best friend was going) we sent our #1 son to an integrated secondary school for three years. Bad idea. It was a damned bad school.
    The guiding principle has to be what school is best…..not the nature of the school.
    But if you are right…..and I doubt it that segregated education underscores the DUP and SF positions, there is no need for them to push for it.
    And seemingly its not a big enough issue for the voting public to vote for another party.
    And frankly I dont see a great demand for it in the SDLP/UUP ranks except as a “choice”.
    While the public position of the Alliance Party is for integrated education, indeed its one of their core values, its not always matched by actual choice.

  • FJH,

    Of course not all integrated schools are wonderful and not all segregated schools are dire. And you are right to say that the guiding principle is “what school is best”. The question is under what principles should our education system operate? There will continue to be good schools and bad schools. But we can improve the averages.

  • Mr Gallagher,
    of course. But integrated education is a flagship of the liberal elite…..especially foreigners……which falls flat with ordinary voters. And frankly as long as they or indeed we(because “we” cant divorce ourselves from “them”……they are not aliens) vote DUP/SF there will be no change.
    Certainly American friends/contacts seem surprised that integrated education was never a plank in the Civil Rights movement here…..while it was a fundamental thing in USA.

    The best chance for integrated education is to prove itself to be “better”. It hasnt.
    Budgetary considerations mean it is unlikely to expand.

  • FJH,

    The reason integrated education wasn’t an issue in our civil rights movement is that many people considered the catholic school system to be at least as good as the state system. School integration in the US was a method of getting better education for black children, i.e. it had immediate personal cosequences. School integration in NI is more akin to the vaccination programme – its utility lies largely in its positive externalities, which do not have the same incentives attached.

  • Exactly. Nobody sees the benefit except the liberal eite.

  • Just had a long and pointless discussion on another political website. Ultimately a vexation to my soul. The topic being Mrs Windsors visit to Ireland.
    But possibly the internet is the ultimate “virtual reality” interface.
    It strikes me that SOME people who loudly proclaim their Irishness can only do so in a way that denigrates Britishness (and unionism).
    Likewise SOME people who loudly proclaim their Britishness can only do so in a way that denigrates Irishness (and republicanism).
    And these people (thankfully a minority) take every opportunity to so do. Its the world in which they live.
    As the original post makes clear, it might be better to “talk” and the barricades might actually make this impossible but frankly there is some hate-talk I would rather not hear. The barricades might actually be a good thing.
    Send in the bricklayers.

  • andnowwhat

    Don’ forget FJH there are those with a massive investment in division. A protestant guy I worked with was involved in the labour party here back in the 60’s. I am sure all here will know what I am talking about when he told me about injected division from certain sources when they saw the plebs getting together.

    For example, if it were not for a phantom threat, would the UDA not have to own up to what it truely is a drug dealing protection racket?

    Whilst I believe policing reform was needed I think we jumped to quickly to (what has now become obviously) in inappropiate style of policing. Let us not to the same with peace barriers and education. At the right time yes but this is (sadly) not the right time yet.

  • Please dont start me on the old NILP. I remember them too well.

  • andnowwhat

    I heard it had great potential FJH. I’m too young to remeber.

    Mind you not the first time that workers uniting accros the divide (I hate that phrase) were deliberately divided for other ends.

    The sad action of neighbours putting their neighbours outr of their houses at the start of the troubles surely shows that tthe stark division we have today cannot always have been so.

  • Im too young to remember in some ways as NILP was never on radar for me as an adult.
    Unfortunately for my late father he invested too much hope in them. They were a waste of space.

  • andnowwhat

    I don’t think that it was the party per se that my friend was excited byas much as the movement (socio-politically in the NI sense) that was happenning.

    I really need to read up on this (no shit)

  • The BT editorial is all over the place:

    “No-one should under-estimate the terror that can be life on one of Northern Ireland’s interfaces.”

    unless you write the editorial – from a safe distance:

    “Building this peace line could leave a legacy no-one will be proud of and it’s not too late to try to build community pride instead.”

  • New Yorker

    On balance desegregation of schools has been a good thing for the US. And it does not seem that your divide is as great as black and white in the US in the 1950s and before.

    Some of your well-heeled private schools such as Methody have in effect been integrated for a long time. It is good for individual students and good for society, and should be done. There might be some rough patches, but the US experience is that once past them, you wonder why it was not done sooner.

  • Zig70

    Can’t expect the school kids to deal with our mess and make a better shape of it than we have. It’s amazing in some state schools how little of the surrounding Irish culture exits. Like when I picked up the Belfast telegraph NI sports guide, could have been written in Essex. There are examples that buck the trend and are more inclusive but it’s a minority. IMO there is an onus on the state and state schools to lead by example.
    Gerry Mac Lochlainn should be given a copy of the poem so that he get’s the meaning.
    I’ve a crazy hippy idea, what if we paid people to mix in the interfaces. Build fences of hearts(sic), could be disasterous and obviously I don’t live in an interface so I’m very willing to be shot down(bad choice of words). You’d have to link it to grants for the areas with penalties for abuse at the cross-over area. It would sound good until someone gets burnt in their house. But if we can’t sort out the ghetto’s then the mixed.
    What reaction was there to Wallace Thompson on Radio Ulster calling Catholics evil last weekend or Michelle Gildernew saying an attempted murderer shouldn’t get convicted? very little. We are quite willing to accept the status quo.
    Build the fence, keep the tin lid on.

  • Yes build the fences higher. I prefer our bigots to their bigots. 🙂

  • “the local council should think again about this solution to a community problem.”

    Does the BT editorial scribe have a ‘solution’ to this other ‘community problem’ on the other side of the Foyle:

    Derry Journal March 04: “The PSNI officers and civilians who came under gun attack in Derry on Wednesday night were close enough to the gunman that they saw the muzzle flash as the weapon was fired, the city’s top police officer has said.

    At least three shots were fired at police officers as they responded to a report of a stolen Renault Clio car on the Glen Road shortly after 9.30pm on Thursday.

    One of the shots struck the police car as the officers, and several members of the public who were with them at the time, dived for cover.”

    Would he/she have dived for cover?