New peace wall for Londonderry and thoughts on divided communities

Derry City Council last week approved planning permission for a new peace wall. From the Belfast Telegraph:

The 170-metre long fence at the playing fields at Lisnagelvin in Londonderry will be erected as soon as possible. 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.

This peace line seems to have been requested and endorsed by all the relevant community groups etc. from both sides of the divide.

A council spokesman said council representatives had met with residents, community groups and the police to identify what type of approach could be adopted to best prevent further trouble in the area.
This led to the recommendation that the erection of the 1.8 metre high palisade fence along the Irish Street boundary of the field would significantly reduce the problems faced.

The fact that these peace lines are needed so long after the supposed end of The Troubles is of course a bit depressing. However, the reality is that community division and tension has not changed. The children who are the main protagonists in these skirmishes were even born when the ceasefires were announced.

The peace lines are predominantly (though not exclusively) in working class areas in our towns. In the country we culchies do things so much better.

Many villages in Northern Ireland are almost completely one side or the other: Armagh has the likes of Richhill in the north and Crossmaglen in the south of the county. Often, however, the villages of different sorts neighbour one another: Kilrea (70% plus nationalist) is beside Garvagh (80% plus unionist). In Fermanagh Kesh (almost 100% unionist) is down the road from Ederney (practically the reverse).

The true countryside is often just as divided. Where I was brought up there were literally no Catholics for several miles: actually there was almost no one but Presbyterians for nearly as great a distance (a few Episcopalians were allowed to lurk about on sufferance). There were no flags (apart from coming up to the 12th) but the area was practically 100% unionist.

Sometimes these areas have a tattered Union flag, Ulster flag or Tricolour but frequently not. Even when there is a more mixed community the reality is that all the locals know which areas are which, often down to which house is from which side and even which field and whether they have in the past been “sold wrong.”

In the country there is rarely much in the way of sectarian infighting which might need a peace wall but the walls are there all right in people’s minds.

The reasons for the division is multi factorial: largely segregated schooling; separate sporting and cultural activities; high levels of church attendance which automatically separates people. The churches are not to blame, it is simply that the church often offers the focal point of a rural community providing friendships for life, social activities and a sporting venue all within its own section of the community.

In a rural context this benign apartheid is pretty harmless as it is in middle class areas of towns and cities. It probably does not even cost that much money and is a characteristic shared albeit with different descriptors of division with many other places in the world. In the areas where it leads to inter community strife that is clearly different and unacceptable. However, it seems to be a sad fact that peace lines are needed and wanted by the local community. In such scenarios it is probably completely unfair for outsiders, usually middle class do gooders, to criticise the local people who crave security. Indeed the do gooders often live in equally divided communities or else are preening themselves that in their area there is no division on sectarian grounds: maybe not and no one would throw a brick at their neighbours window for being from the other community. Then again they might throw an empty bottle of Chianti if they thought the peasants were going to move in next door, or travellers, or asylum seekers etc. etc.

,

  • I tend to agree with Turgon. Rather than go into a lengthy explanation, I have reproduced my comment from 4.01pm on Friday in response to the “Good Fences/Good Neighbours” thread.

    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.

  • lamhdearg

    what are the street names that border lisnagelvin park. for us belfast types with goggle maps in mind.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Are we sure the problem is definitely sectarianism and not simply wee feral shits whose parents can’t control them ?

    I live near an area with a similar problem. Drinking, fires, vandalism, all that good stuff. Some of us want a big fence put up. We get told “you’re not getting a fence, you have to solve these problems in the community” – but how do you do that ? Communities can’t solve the outworkings of bad parenting by themselves.

  • granni trixie

    I agree that mental attitudes (‘barricades’) are to the detriment of life in NI but physical barriers,symptomatic of (legitimate) security fears, are not the same. In some ways I see them as something likely to be resolved in the shorter.medium term whereas changing attitudes is a long term project. The organisation of physical space to a large degree structures social relationships,consistent with comm. relations people wanting to see physical barriers coming down (and case of Derry,not going up). I think its fair enough for CRC for instance to put resources into helping people living around the interfaces to work on this problem. And having a different opinion is not kidding myself.

  • theres no community relations problem that cannot be solved by (somebody elses) money.

  • Cynic2

    So what are the police doing with all the billions they are being given? How many of these feral little scrotes have been charged?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Cynic,

    The police seem to be a bit limited in what they can do. When you’ve got a large area like this, probably poorly lit, it’s easy for the wee bastards to hide when the police car comes around. They also tend to set traps for the police (I have seen then doing it) eg wires to trip over etc. The police can’t really give effective chase due to the flak jacket. So you end up with a game of cat and mouse, which is actually quite often what they want.

    The other side of it is that you have to actually catch them doing it and this is the bigger problem. A witness has to identify someone and say that they saw them lighting a fire or doing whatever. It’s no good for the police to catch them in the area. And finally, the way budgeting works within policing, it is difficult for them to allocate resources to a string of low level events. If a car window is broken by a stone, they can’t allocate money to get the stone examined for fingerprints even though the event may have come after four weeks of continuous trouble – because one broken window isn’t enough to justify it.

    The solution in my view is to designate certain areas, via the courts, as being problem areas and give the police the discretionary power to arrest anyone caught within the boundaries if they are suspected of being there to cause trouble.

  • Pete Baker

    I’ll repeat the Belfast Telegraph editorial that I highlighted in my earlier post on this story

    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]

  • Nunoftheabove

    Turgon

    Think you’re letting the churches off too lightly here; the christian churches ARE the sects to which the word sectarianism refers in this context. Also, are you honestly saying that they have no role in the segregation in the schools, arguably the greatest divider of the lot ?

    I agree that bad parenting and social deprivation is an ingredient in the urban areas particularly but let’s try to look the this at least semi-historically and in terms of fundamentals too. Some of the most bitter people in the north live in the countryside too and let’s not leave that alone entirely undisturbed. There’s an apparent quietness about a lot of rural sectarianism – they don’t much go in for yahooing and urinating in one another’s gardens when the Old Firm is on and there is a rural code of behavior which masks many’s the fissure and cruel word beneath but beneath it all there are elements of deep mistrust, intolerance, suspicion and hatred. It may not always be as overt as, say, north belfast, but it’s there.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Turgon,

    Just been reading “Good Fences/Good Neighbours” thread and FJMH has beat you to it.

    I know it’s not common practice around BT80, but it might be an idea to acknowledge that he’s already got there before ye.
    😀

  • Turgon

    Pigeon Toes,
    If you have a comment to make on the substance of the blog do so.

    This blog is not competitive: just because someone mentions something similar does not mean I should refrain from doing so. The issue interested me and I blogged it. This blog is something of an update of one I did over a year ago.

    Now as I said if you have something constructive to contribute go ahead and I will try to respond. If you simply wish to troll and man play I will take alternative action.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Turgon
    No offence intended. And indeed I apologise.

    Thanks for the link to the earlier stuff. That’s clarified it for me, and yes I can recollect those stories of land being “sold wrong”, and the personal and familial bitterness that ensued.

    However, I was privileged enough to grow up in a community in the BT80 area where neighbour helped neighbour within the community “regardless of where they go to worship on a Sunday”

  • Turgon

    Pigeon Toes,
    No I am sorry that was much too sharp. Sorry am grumpy this evening.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Turgon,

    As a matter of interest, just wondering what your view on the Ulster plantation is. I think we can safely say that they have led to the current almost impossbile situation where two sets of otherwise decent people have been effectively set against each other for centuries.

    For us on the green side of the fence, the Plantations simply just look like an act of what would now be called ethnic cleansing by an aggresive neighbour keen to expand her territory and influence? How do you see it?

    Do you accept that (leaving the issue of intent and Republican violence at various times aside), the Plantations have sown the seeds of sectarian strife that confronts the people in Derry and elsewhere in Ulster today?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Turgon, I don’t hold a grudge
    But ask my great-great-great grand childer…:-D ;-D

  • Pigeon Toes

    Are we not “decent people” now?

  • Dewi

    To outsiders it’s the extent of the rural segregation that is astonishing, Historically it seems that the (relative) lack of segregation in the cities in the 50s and 60s was the historical exception. Is that fair? Or have things solidified in rural areas in the last decades also?

  • Kevin Toolis “Rebel Hearts” has chronicled the rural setting of segregation and as I recall he specifically mentions Ardboe and Coagh but could just as easily mentioned several villages in and around Lough Neagh. Some certainly owe their existence to a feeling of defence against themmuns (whover themmuns happen to be)…….as many parish histories testify.
    As Toolis points out the tradition of Yeomanry, B Special and UDR is long established …..a continuum of family.
    Likewise Peep o Day to loyalist paramilitary. Likewise Defender/Whiteboy to Provisional IRA. Cemented by church, school and social centres. Orange and Hibernian.

    These arent distant historic footnotes because if youre a Devlin in Ardboe or an Armstrong in Coagh….this is family.
    As any apologist for the B Specials/UDR would know they had the local knowledge. And as any IRA apologist knows these were the “active service units” with local knowledge.

    A few years ago, a person I know from a “Lough Neagh village” had her car vandalised off and on and she assumed as she lived among “themmuns”, some of them were targetting her family in a sectarian way. She was put in contact with the local who would know about such things.
    She was told not to worry. “We know who they are and they know who we are”.
    And Im sure that this is something which rings true with any Slugger in a rural area.

    I dont think that knowledge really existed in the Belfast setting…..which possibly (along with the sheer nature of interfaces) might answer “Dewis” question about the naked sectarianism seeming in Belfast.
    Rural landscapes are for the most part permenant. This is not necessarily the case in Belfast. New housing estates like Glencairn, Springmartin, New Barnsley were initially “mixed”. New developments…..such as Catholic middle class housing on Whitewell Road……Certainly in the 1960s much of the geography changed with the demographics.
    I sense the same happening now, often in relation to appartment blocks for “singles” or migration. But certainly even in my lifetime, Belfast geography has changed. For example Broadway Presbyterian Church is now an Cultúrlan,…….there were also Protestant Churches in Albert Street and on Grosvenor Road at Theodore Street. There was a mission hall at long knocked down Scotland Place at Divis Street and one in Durham Street opposite the old Blood Transfusion HQ.
    Likewise there was a Catholic community in and around ballyhackamore and Willowfield in East Belfast. largely depleted now of course but recently boosted by migration into Norn Iron.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I agree that bad parenting and social deprivation is an ingredient in the urban areas particularly but let’s try to look the this at least semi-historically and in terms of fundamentals too.

    No, let’s not. Because that would be changing the subject.

    In many cases these problems are nothing to do with sectarianism. The tribal problems just provide an excuse; if they weren’t there, another excuse would be found.

    Some of the most bitter people in the north live in the countryside too and let’s not leave that alone entirely undisturbed.

    That’s whataboutery.

    If you’re going to engage in this misdirection maybe you’d like to tell us what the actual solutions are. Wringing your hands all day and getting all vexed about the Plantations like Spacecake up there won’t solve it.

    I’d refer to a recent case on the New Lodge Road a couple of weeks ago where some cars belonging to residents were extensively vandalized in retaliation for an punishment attack that had been administered by the dissidents. The punishment attacks are a side show here; the real problem is a small minority of young people who like to smash, wreck and burn other people’s property. The root cause is often bad parenting and in many sad cases, broken family backgrounds. None of this has anything to do with community relations, the Plantations, King Billy or any of the rest of the bullshit you guys are all distracting yourselves with. This is a real problem that real people are having to live with every day.

  • joeCanuck

    Turgon,

    It might have something to do with the size of the community. Smaller ones would be more tight knit I imagine. I grew up in Strabane which was mainly Catholic, but a fair size, around 8000 when i was a kid. The vast majority of business were Protestant owned with Catholic staff and people did get on together. I went to dances occasionally in the town Orange hall. It’s likely very different now, unfortunately.

  • joeCanuck

    Dances in an Orange Hall? Maybe my memory is playing tricks; I can see the building but it may have been a Protestant Church Hall.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Joe,

    As a matter of interest – have you ever been in an Orange Hall? (asuming the dance hall was not such a thing)

  • andnowwhat

    Brrrrrrr……. the countryside!!!!!

    When I think of the countryside/rural areas I always think of the speech Trence Stamp gives at the end of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert. It went something like, how we condemned the suburbs but little did we know what they protected us from.

    Having been a catholic, married to a Free P from Ballyward, I have been there. Down the road in Castlewellan, on the other end of the political scale, it was no better.

  • joeCanuck

    Sammy,

    Not that I recall although I did have Protestant friends even when young and have been to Protestant services, regular as well as funerals etc. Did I mention I have been married twice, once in N.I. and once in Canada, both times to Protestant lasses.

  • andnowwhat

    Joe Canuck……the Elizabeth Taylor of Slugger.

  • abucs

    Taking into account the brutal political history of Ireland with separation laws (in our case based on religion) and the fierce opposition / defense of the territory which became Northern Ireland : I think the fact that there is so few incidents (some youngsters throwing stones???) is a great credit to the people who live there.

    I agree with Comrade, the law should come down hard on the kids (and their parents) who are involved when these few cases do arise.

  • joeCanuck

    No, not the parents. I had an out of control kid in his mid-teens in the past. I sought help everywhere to no avail. I could not control him in any way because he refused to accept the “house rules”. Sneaking out of his room through the window after we were asleep, getting up to all sorts of mischief.
    The parents are not always to blame. I agree that the law should come down hard after they have been given one chance to reform. That’s what happened with my son.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Comrade Stalin

    I’d be obliged if you would moderate your tone. Good manners, see.

    “No, let’s not. Because that would be changing the subject”.

    – No, it isn’t. It’s part of the issue. Personal responsibility plays its part here. You acknowledge this yourself later in the same post. Often, sectarianism is just a pretext for anti-social disorder and anti-social behavior, not a cause.That pretext is nonethless created by sectarian awareness of ‘the other’ which is fostered in homes, within communities and by the churches.

    “That’s whataboutery”.

    – No it isn’t – it’s challenging the notion that sectarianism is mainly or only a problem blighting towns and cities. It isn’t.

    “If you’re going to engage in this misdirection”

    – I’m not attepting to misdirect. In terms of solutions, hold parents accountable for how their children behave. Consistently, robusty and fairly. Booting the churches out of the public square would be a help.

    ” getting all vexed about the Plantations like Spacecake”

    – One is not vexed and you’d need to educate me on the delights of Spacecake.

    So, in summary, you’re saying that sectarianism is a figmment of our imagination and that if we stopped talking about it we could be all nice and normal and harmonious. Well, that’s super.

  • Pigeon Toes

    andnowwhat

    “Joe Canuck……the Elizabeth Taylor of Slugger.”

    Sorry Joe, but that was my comment for 2011…

  • joeCanuck

    The rumours about my relationship with Richard Burton are scurrilous lies and if they persist I will be contacting my Solicitor.

  • Nunoftheabove

    joeCanuck

    Attorney, surely ? I misread and for reasons I myself don’t even want to explore (opening theat second bottle really wasn’t clever last night) I saw the name Richard Stilgoe jump off the screen just then. Rumours about participating on duets on his, ahem, ole joanna really would be… off key.. and actionable.

  • Zig70

    1.8m isn’t a real fence, my hedges are bigger. Though my old git of a neighbour doesn’t realize they(hedges) don’t muffle his sectarian comments. If it was a hedge would people be so vexed? The peace wall in W Belfast, now that’s a fence.

  • andnowwhat

    Noneogtheabove, I think Stilgoe is a kind of PTSD that those of us all suffer from.

    I think a massive claim against the Beeb would be in order.

  • Nunoftheabove

    andnowwhat

    Quite right. I still haven’t forgiven them for dropping Clive Everton off the snooker commentating so they’re thirsting for a worsting from me one of these days, the oul’ Beebsters.

  • Zig70,
    By coincidence we got an estiimate on tree cutting yesterday. Castlewellan Gold……who would have thought just 17 years ago……anyhow……according to Estimate #1 Man …..its illegal to get trees cut between 22 March and 21 June. Apparently birds can be nesting. AND the recycling places are charging for cuttings after 1st April……or so Im told.