Peace Walls - Building and Possible Removal: Reasons
After extensively researching the history of Northern Ireland's peace walls, it is our opinion that a combination of religious, nationalistic, and cultural reasons resulted in the building of the peace walls. We are also of the opinion that the promise by authorities to remove all peace walls in Northern Ireland by 2023 is economically and socially motivated.
History of the Peace Walls
In 1968, a territorial conflict between the Protestant/Loyalist majority and Catholic/Nationalist minority erupted, leading to a period of sectarian rioting and violence known as the Troubles. During this period of rioting and violence, physical barriers or "peace walls" were erected between Protestant/Loyalist and Catholic/Nationalist communities. Of these "temporary" peace walls, 109 still exist today.
Peace walls create interface areas, defined as the "intersection of segregated and polarized working-class residential zones, in areas with a strong link between territory and ethno-political identity." These interface areas are commonly situated within public housing and are frequently associated with violence and vandalism. However, in spite of the violence that segregation creates, 69% of those living closest to the walls believe that maintaining the peace walls is the solution and not the cause.
The stormont promise
The plan by authorities to remove all Northern Irish peace walls by 2023 is known as the Stormont promise. Adrian Johnston, chairman of the International Fund for Ireland's Peace Walls Programme, stated in support of the promise, that there "should be no place for physical separation barriers in a truly reconciled society." Similarly, Sinn Féin Junior Minister Megan Fearon believes that reconciliation has been "hampered by physical divisions" and that the walls need to be removed in order to build a "united and reconciled community."
Communities within the interface areas however, are not as supportive. Instead, they claim that the walls provide security from an attack by the other side. Many young people worry that if the walls were removed, violence will return. In reference to the opposition by the communities to remove their safety blankets, Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, stated "we underestimated how long it would take. Peace is not just about an absence of violence. It is about learning to live together as citizens."
In conclusion, the peace walls were built out of a perceived necessity, based on a combination of religious, nationalistic, and cultural reasons. Although the walls are associated with violence, segregation, and economic strife, communities view the walls as their security blankets, and they feel secure in the belief that the walls separate and protect them from the "other side." Some areas are beginning to show support, although much slower than anticipated. Authorities will have to allow the communities to dictate the speed in which they are willing to change. Change is not easy, as we are all creatures of habit, regardless of the consequences.