Peace Walls - Religious Leader Involvement
1969 marked the first construction of a Peace Wall due to intense rioting. This rioting was known as sectarian violence, or violence in a community or nation among different sects of a religion. Originally just barriers built by locals, in August 1969, the British Army was deployed and the barricades turned into barbed-wire fences only meant to be in place for six months. From there, the Peace Walls took the form of steel and concrete structures stretching for miles and reaching as high as 18 feet and many have since started having a more friendly appearance with multi-colored bricks and murals created by artists who have taken an interest in the Walls. Many locals have accepted the Peace Walls as a "security blanket" of sorts and the political consensus is that it is not the right time for the Walls to be torn down.
Religious Leader Involvement
While Catholic and Protestant leaders have made small efforts to influence the deconstruction of the Peace Walls, there have not been very many public events in which they are attempting to either further or hinder progress. Their involvement appears to be more evident in the attitude of the locals, with those in the Catholic community having an apprehensive, but generally positive outlook on the removal of the Walls, while Protestant locals appear to be in favor of keeping the Walls erect. Religious leaders have a major influence on the attitudes of their followers, and it appears as if the Catholic leadership has been making attempts to unify the two communities while the Protestant leadership warns the Wall removal will result in their communities dispersing and eventually even disappearing. In February 2016, the eight-foot Peace Wall standing at Ardoyne was taken down, and in August of the same year, there was a celebration event where the late Catholic deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness spoke. McGuinness called on the government to increase unifying efforts between the two communities, and he stated that no progress will be made without these efforts. Protestant leadership seems to be electing to continue their influence in the abstract sense.
Despite extensive research into reputable media mentions of the Peace Walls and religious leader involvement, we were unable to find a single instance of a visitation to a Peace Wall by a religious leader. This is not to say that religious leaders have not visited Peace Walls, but there has been no media documentation of such visits, as there would likely be if the visits were from high-profile leaders. Therefore, we are assuming these visits have been rare, if non-existent.
Disappointment in religious leadership
Members of both the Catholic and Protestant churches have criticized their leadership for abandoning them and their needs in times of strife. During the IRA hunger strikes, the Catholics felt that their leaders were too ambiguous in their opinions and direction. Conversely, the Protestants felt abandoned and like the church was ignoring "the needs and concerns of the urban working class." Both sides of the community felt that the church abandoned their responsibility to lead, causing Catholic and Protestant locals to lose confidence in their leadership.
A Difference of Opinion
"The Protestant community is in a demographic decline, and that is due to a whole range of factors." They are more socially mobile, and as a result, more likely to move out of the city. They have a high population of senior citizens and a considerably lower population of youth and families. While the Catholic community is still considered a minority, only making up 41% of the population, they have a much higher birthrate and lower elderly population. This causes the Protestants to be apprehensive about the destruction of the Peace Walls, worried that the Catholic population will cause their own communities to dissipate and eventually disappear. The Catholics, on the other hand, see the advantage the deconstruction of the Walls could bring their community development. Deconstruction of the Walls will allow for more housing and job opportunities for the Catholic community.
Despite their originally temporary purpose, The Peace Walls have been around for almost 50 years, and the locals on both sides have accepted them as a way of life. With both Catholic and Protestant leaders primarily staying out of the spotlight, their involvement in the 2023 plan for tearing the Peace Walls down appears to be primarily in the abstract, influencing their follower's attitudes rather than the project itself. With weak confidence in their leadership, the locals don't appear to see very much promise in the few attempts made to influence the project, and most locals would prefer to hang on to their "safety blanket," at least for a little while longer.