AN INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION promoting reconciliation between Northern Ireland’s unionist and nationalist communities has announced a £2m programme which hopes to allow the North’s ‘peace walls’ to be removed.
The International Fund for Ireland said the Peace Walls Programme could be the first stage in a process which can have the walls – which separate close-lying unionist and nationalist districts – physically removed.
The group said considerable momentum had been built up for the removal of the walls, but that some communities remain fearful about removing teh barriers.
There are 88 peace walls in Northern Ireland – the majority of them in Belfast – with that number having grown since the IRA ceasefire of 1994. The barriers were first erected in 1969, at the outbreak of the troubles, originally as temporary structures.
While the fund’s chairman Dr Denis Rooney notes that the physical removal of the barriers was matter for the government, the fund believed the programme would help communities to build up the trust and confidence to bring about the removal.
“This programme will allow applicants to come up with their own solutions and move at their own pace,” Rooney said.
It will be flexible by recognising that different communities in Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland are at various stages of both willingness and readiness to move along this path.
The £2 million (€2.4 million) funding could be increased if the fund received a large number of applications. It expects to begin funding projects by June of this year.
The walls – most famously lying between the nationalist Falls Road and unionist Shankill Road in West belfast – have become tourist attractions in more recent years, with open-top bus tours bringing tourists to both sides of their divides.
Though a small number of lines are gated and close only at night, others are permanently shut in order to stop sectarian violence between people from neighbouring areas.
Belfast City Council agreed in September to initiate a process leading to the ultimate removal of the walls.