Peace Walls

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01
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Part
01

Peace Walls in Northern Ireland - Movements For Removal or Awareness

To date, two Peace Walls have been removed in Northern Ireland. In 2016, the Crumlin Road Peace Wall, which was under the jurisdiction of the Housing Executive, was the first one removed.

In September 2017, the International Fund for Ireland's Peace Walls Programme backed the removal of a three-meter-high wall in western Belfast. Additionally, the International Fund For Ireland has spent more than £4 million on projects in Belfast and Derry, all with the ultimate goal of removing Peace Walls.

After extensive searching, we did not find any organizations that have tried to raise, or were currently raising, money to drive awareness and understanding specifically between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Outside of the Peace Walls Programme, we did not find other organizations working on any awareness issues regarding the walls, religion-based or otherwise. Furthermore, the Programme's movement is secular in nature, using the terms, “Nationalist,” and “Unionist.”

Peace Wall Removal efforts

The Peace Wall Programme was founded in 2012 by the International Fund for Ireland. The Programme has continuing efforts to remove Peace Walls in Northern Ireland, and in 2017 successfully removed one wall in western Belfast. The wall, at Springfield Road and Springhill Avenue, stood three meters high and had originally been built in 1989.

That wall was the second Peace Wall to ever come down. In 2016, the Crumlin Road Peace Wall, which was under the jurisdiction of the Housing Executive, was the first one removed. To date, those are the only two Peace Walls that have been fully removed.

While the Programme's ultimate goal is the removal of Peace Walls, the organization understands the need for residents to desire, and feel comfortable with, the removal. The Programme describes itself as being, “aimed at developing and delivering a range of confidence and relationship building interventions within and between interface communities to help residents reach a position where they feel it is safe and appropriate to proceed with the removal of Peace Walls in their area.”

As of July 2017, The International Fund For Ireland has spent more than £4 million on projects in Belfast and Derry, all with the ultimate goal of removing Peace Walls. One such project in Belfast is being carried out in the area surrounding Greater Whitewell Community Surgery. Riots still occur in the area, and wall removal has been met with resistance. So far, the greatest success to come of the Greater Whitewell project has been the training of 12 security personnel, six Unionists and six Nationalists. The plan is for these men to steward community events that are held in the area. None of the men had worked with someone from the "opposite tradition," before, and are now doing so willingly.

According to The Irish Times, the Northern Ireland government has plans to remove all 116 Peace Walls by 2023. This end date is now in question, as critics point out that 21 of the structures were not taken into consideration when the 2023 deadline was set. The article further states that 74 Peace Walls are under the jurisdiction of either the Department of Justice or the Housing Executive.

Additionally, there is disagreement over how many Peace Walls actually exist, and who controls them. In February 2016, The Belfast Telegraph reported that there were only 109 Peace Walls, with 71 under the government's jurisdiction. A reported 38 walls are privately owned, or controlled by a non-government public agency. A lack of a clear understanding of what structures are in fact Peace Walls, and who has jurisdiction over them, could prove to be a roadblock in the removal process.

Awareness and Understanding Between Catholics and Protestants

We first searched reputable media sites, first in Northern Ireland and then globally, and could find no evidence of an organization raising money specifically to drive awareness between Catholics and Protestants regarding the Peace Walls. A broader, more general search also did not have any results. Outside of government efforts, the only agency we found that is funding Peace Wall efforts at this time is the International Fund for Ireland, through their Peace Wall Programme. The Fund’s language is secular in nature, and uses the terms, “Nationalist” and “Unionist.

A 2015 survey, Public Attitudes to Peace Walls, lends insight into Catholic and Protestant views of Peace Wall removal. While we typically do not consult sources older than two years, we felt the survey results would still be relevant and of interest to you.

The survey was conducted by Ulster University, in communities where Peace Walls are present. When asked if they knew much about the government's campaign to remove all walls by 2023, 53% of Protestants and 45% of Catholics said they knew, "nothing at all." Furthermore, 52% of Protestants and 25% of Catholics said there had been "no benefit," to the peace process efforts. Lastly, 46% of Protestants and 42% of Catholics said they, "never," interacted with the community on the other side of the wall.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the International Fund for Ireland's Peace Walls Programme is working to facilitate relationship building measures, with the goal of having communities feel safe about Peace Wall removal. To date, the Programme has funded the removal of one wall.

The Northern Ireland government has a goal of removing all walls by 2023. Roadblocks to wall removal include disagreements over how many Peace Walls actually exist, and who has jurisdiction over them. The Ulster University survey revealed that the government could be doing more to make the public aware of their wall removal campaign.

We were unable to find any organization that has tried to raise money specifically to drive awareness and understanding between Catholics and Protestants regarding the Peace Walls in Northern Ireland. The Peace Walls Programme uses the secular terms, “Nationalist” and “Unionist.” Best of luck with your book!

Part
02
of four
Part
02

Peace Walls - Comparing and Contrasting

Peace walls are more likely to be targeted for removal compared to security walls, historical walls and art-themed peace walls.

Below you will find a deep dive of my findings.

PEACE WALLS vs other large walls

Based on available public data, peace walls seem to be targeted more for removal compared to other large, significant walls. I found only one large group of peace walls built to separate groups of people, currently in the process of being dismantled. These are the Northern Ireland Peace Lines. These walls were built nearly 50 years ago to separate the Protestant/unionist community from the Catholic/nationalist community. There are currently over 100 of these barriers separating these Northern Ireland communities. Ongoing efforts aim to completely dismantle all existing walls by 2023.

Similar to large walls built to protect against security threats such as the Israels security walls, Kabul's anti-blast T-walls and the Atlantic Wall, peace walls also receive their fair share of votes for dismantlement. However, while security walls are defended against these attempts on the basis of their defense against physical threats such as terrorist attacks and unwanted immigrants, peace walls do not seem to have the same significance. On the contrary, some critics are of the opinion that "peace walls" are a barrier to true security founded on peace and order. Northern Ireland Sinn Féin Junior Minister Megan Fearon said that "Reconciliation has been hampered by physical divisions so to help build a truly shared, united and reconciled community, we need to put in place the conditions and circumstances to remove these structures."

And in contrast to historical walls built to honor the memory of historical events and places such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Jerusalem's Wailing Wall and Hadrians Wall, peace walls do not seem to offer any value to posterity. In fact, majority of surveyed residents (62% of Protestants and 73% of Catholics) within communities with peace walls in North Ireland stated that they wanted to see the walls "removed within the next generation."

As additional findings, I also found other "peace walls" which function as artwork and memorial more than as forces for segregation. These are the Peckham Peace Wall in London, the Philadelphia Peace Wall, the Yekaterinburg Peace Wall in Russia, and Prague's John Lennon Peace Wall. These walls were built not to separate but to bring people together in appreciation of art and ideas.

RESEARCHER OPINION

Based on survey findings published by ITV in 2017, two-thirds of surveyed residents who live in Northern Ireland with peace walls said they would feel unsafe if existing peace walls were removed. However, the same group of surveyed participants indicated they don't want the next generation to grow up with the same peace walls. Respondents said they were not ready for the wall to come down, indicating a desire toward change yet fear of the unknown. Indeed, Minister Fearon stated that tearing down the walls and welcoming progress will take courage.

I agree with Minister Fearon's comments. My opinion is that locals do not need peace walls as both security and insecurity can be propagated without physical barriers. Moreover, conflict and resolution are not physical challenges but community issues to be addressed. Fearon said, "It takes courage to engage on such difficult issues, but the courage that many in the community have shown, and continue to show on a daily basis, can, and will change our society for the better."

WALLS TORN DOWN

Accounts of other significant walls torn down indicate underlying motivations similar to those battering the North Ireland peace walls. For example, the Atlantic Walls were dismantled or allowed to slip in the sea as Germany rebuilt itself following the war. Kabul's security walls which are also being currently dismantled are seen as traffic obstructions that disrupt daily life and social development.

In both cases, the walls were removed as the community moved on from times of danger and uncertainty. The walls, once seen as protection and defense, had become barriers to progress.

The same could be said for the Northern Ireland peace walls which, once used as necessary partitions to prevent conflict and community unrest, are now seen as impediments to progress.

CONCLUSION

To wrap it up, peace walls are more likely to be targeted for removal than historical/memorial, security walls and art walls. Significant walls such as the Atlantic Wall and Kabul's T-walls were once seen as defense against threats but became impediments to progress as communities moved on from times of danger. Finally, the Northern Ireland Peace Walls which were erected over 50 years ago to prevent community tension and unrest, will be completely removed by 2023.
Part
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of four
Part
03

Peace Walls - Credible Plans For Removal

The Together Building a United Community Strategy of the Government of Northern Ireland established a commitment to remove all Peace Walls by 2023. The removal process is led by the Department of Justice and is supported by the Housing Executive and the International Fund for Ireland. Each wall is treated separately, with an individual removal plan developed by the government, local residents, and affected communities. So far, 9 Peace Walls have been removed. Details about the removal process are included below.

TOGETHER BUILDING A UNITED COMMUNITY

In May 2013, as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland (NI), the strategy Together Building a United Community (TBUC) was approved by the NI government. It outlines a series of strategies, goals, and commitments in order to encourage the development of “a united community, based on equality of opportunity, the desirability of good relations and reconciliation—one which is strengthened by its diversity, where cultural expression is celebrated and embraced and where everyone can live, learn, work and socialise together, freed from prejudice, hate and intolerance.”

The strategy was designed with 4 key priorities, each one hoping to accomplish a specific aim through the achievement of several commitments. Please find a brief summary of each priority below.

The aim is to improve social relations among children and young people in NI. To achieve this, a series of social programs for this population are proposed, including sport summer camps and summer programs, provide anti-sectarian training to teachers and students, create shared educational campuses, and develop cross-community sports activities, among others.

This priority aims to reduce the influence of social divisions in order to provide opportunities to all citizens. Since the main goal is to achieve social cohesion, the commitments refer, for the most part, to establishing commissions and institutions to develop integrated social policies. For example, the Equality and Good Relations Commission engages in policy and advisory work to make sure good relations and equality are principles applied across government. Additionally, shared housing developments, policies, and recommendations about how to enhance them are also part of this priority's commitments.

The main goal of this priority is to allow all citizens to feel safe while using public and private spaces, "where life choices are not inhibited by fear." This also refers to the common appropriation of public spaces by all members of the community. Commitments within this section entail a series of improvements in infrastructure and architecture, in order to create a sense of trust among citizens.

Since integration is an overarching theme throughout the strategy, the main commitment listed under this priority is the creation of a 10-year program to reduce and remove all interface barriers (or peace walls) by 2023. This goal is supported by another commitment listed which establishes the creation of an Interface Barrier Support Package, which details and funds a targeted removal plan.

Finally, the aim of this priority is to encourage cultural expressions that promote respect and understanding between the members of the community. Additionally, the result of these cultural activities can motivate a shared sense of community and belonging strengthened by diversity. The commitments include the development of programs and events by the Art Council, using these activities to improve good relations and find joint activities and celebrations.

PEACE WALL REMOVAL PLAN

As mentioned before, the TBUC established a commitment to remove all Peace Walls by 2023. However, the specific details of removal are not included in this strategy. Nonetheless, the government has already begun the process. Research shows the Peace Wall removal plan focuses on two distinctive activities. First, engagement with communities surrounding the Peace Walls is necessary in order to reduce risks of future disturbances or animosities among neighbors. In this case, the program is supported by the Peace Wall Programme, which is funded by the International Fund for Ireland or IFI (a fund from the NI and British governments). Its activities focus on working with communities by organizing joint activities and creating spaces for dialogue in order to develop trust and implement interventions and consultations to help residents agree on removing the dividing peace wall in their community.

Secondly, the government has developed a removal plan that considers the funding necessary for removal, as well as engagement activities with the relevant authority who owns or supervises the Peace Wall. This effort is overseen by the Department of Justice’s Interface Programme Board with the assistance of the Housing Executive, the local councils, and the IFI. Each Peace Wall or interface removed is supported by a specific plan agreed to by the authorities and the local residents. The plan includes a schedule for removal and also determines how the architecture and surrounding areas will change once the wall is removed or transformed.

A document funded by the IFI details that for a successful removal, all relevant stakeholders need to be taken into account, especially local residents. Additionally, it is important for authorities and communities to agree on the final design and architecture of the space previously covered by the walls. These decisions may take time but it is necessary for authorities to ensure all details are considered and for local residents to feel ready to remove the walls.

According to the TBUC Update Report, a total of 9 structures have been removed, while 50 are continuing the process of consultation with local residents and neighboring communities. Several news articles and reports doubt the deadline, set by 2023, will be met. However, it is expected that as more walls are torn down, and younger generations participate in the consultation process, removal will happen faster.

CHALLENGES FACED BY THE REMOVAL PROGRAM

The IFI and the Belfast Interface Project (BIP) note one of the major challenges for planning this program is identifying all walls and interfaces. The government has identified 59 walls and all of these are considered in the removal plan. However, the BIP has identified 97 walls or fences in Belfast, and an additional set of 19 in Derry Londonderry, Lurgan, and Portadown, totaling 116 Peace Walls or Peace Lines across Northern Ireland. Of these, 70 are owned by the Department of Justice, 25 by the Housing Executive, 8 by other government agencies, while 5 are private and 8 are undetermined. Therefore, some of the walls or lines (those private and undetermined) need to undergo a different and more costly removal process. Here, it is also relevant to mention that capital funding for wall removal and redesign has not been properly appropriated, resulting in delays and, occasionally, in community tensions.

Another identified challenge is the inability to develop a standard plan for all walls. The IFI has determined the best practice to develop individual plans for each wall, depending on the needs of the community and the local residents. This practice results in long-term consultations which can be contentious and difficult. Furthermore, the existence of the deadline (set by 2023) makes some residents and government officials feel pressured to accelerate the process, which can negatively affect the overall perception of residents who may not be ready for wall removal.

Finally, the long timeline needed to develop and execute a wall removal plan may be interrupted by sudden instability and external circumstances which further delay agreements between the communities. For example, tensions regarding flags and religious celebrations may derail consultations and influence residents who may change their minds.

CONCLUSION

Currently, the Government of Northern Ireland is undertaking a Peace Wall removal process as part of the TBUC. Each Peace Wall is treated as an individual entity, therefore there is no general plan for removal. Instead, affected communities and local residents are approached by the government and engage in a consultation process where they determine whether they want the wall to be removed and what will be the final design of the space.
Part
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of four
Part
04

Peace Walls - Effects On Children

Nearly twenty years after the cessation of hostilities, Northern Ireland remains a country divided, with the vast majority of its schools being completely segregated, for example. While there are many theoretically-neutral parks and other public places, many of these remain divided by peace walls. Even when they are not, unofficial "walls" between Catholics and Protestants continue to segregate children, with stands of trees, lakes, or even fields serving as geographic boundary markers—and consequently, as barriers to inter-cultural friendships between Northern Ireland's children.
Below you will find a deep dive of our findings.

BACKGROUND

Built after the official cessation of hostilities between Protestants and Catholics (or, perhaps more accurately, the Protestant Unionists and the Catholic Nationalists, as the divide is not simply about religion) in the late 1990s, there are currently 116 "peace walls" in place in Northern Ireland. While there are gates and gaps in the walls which allow passage across, Éric Desrochers writes, "most residents of Belfast have learned to stay away from neighborhoods that are not 'theirs,'" including the children.
The effect of this division on Northern Ireland's children has been economic as well as sociopolitical: "One in four children in Northern Ireland grow up beneath the poverty line, and both the wards of North and West Belfast are in the top ten regions in the UK for unemployment." Yet Josh Adam Jones, a photographer who set out to understand the effects of the division on Northern Ireland's youth, notes that the disadvantage had not hardened them. "People might not have a lot, but they will give you what they can. That’s true of so many people in Northern Ireland. They’re a very warm and friendly and welcoming people. They will tell you stories and their lives and give you their time."
While Northern Ireland's first integrated school, Lagan College, opened in 1981, the vast majority of schoolchildren are still educated separately: In 2017, only 6.9% of children were enrolled in integrated schools. In fact, the integrated schools movement has largely lost its momentum. This is partially due to the simple fact that it's hard to integrate schools in segregated neighborhoods, but some also cite a lack of government commitment to integration.

PARKS ON THE BORDERS

It might be hoped that the existence of geographically neutral parks and other public spaces near the peace walls would give children the opportunity to meet and build friendships, but this has not been the case. In many public places, like Alexandria Park, the space itself is divided by a peace wall. As noted by Jones: "Across the series, unionist and loyalist colours are present in subtle ways, from clothing to cars, and children play in peace in parks across from divisional walls." Even in parks which are technically integrated, unofficial boundaries such as football fields or lakes, become de facto walls between the two groups, "with little opportunity for free movement, social gathering and children’s activities."
There are a very few exceptions to these rules: The Botanic Gardens in the Queen's Quarter of Belfast, for example, enjoys "a relatively neutral position in Belfast as a ‘public’ space per se." The Gardens have the benefit of a neutral student community, multiple access points, and frequent visits by school groups, turning it into "a very popular and trouble-free urban park." However, such locations are rare and have proven insufficient to build cross-cultural friendships among children.

RELATIONSHIPS AMONG CHILDREN

Unofficial boundaries are as restrictive to children as the actual peace walls. As noted in a CBC News article, Catholic and Protestant children nominally will not even cross the street to talk to each other. Madeleine Leonard and Martina McKnight note in a 2011 research paper specifically looking at the segregation in Belfast: "Young people often access public spaces as members of groups and this often results in them making territorial claims over the spaces they commonly use." (The complete paper has not been made public but is available at a nominal cost and may prove very insightful and useful.)
To this day, children in Northern Ireland ask, "Are you a Pig or a Cow?" In other words, "Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?" As Desrochers points out, the question's "widespread use among children, shows to which extent Northern Ireland, although now free of the sectarian paramilitary terrorism that had plagued it from the late 1960s to the 1990s, remains a deeply divided society." Likewise, Jones relates talking to an 11-year-old who asked him about his religion: "I would say ‘I don’t have a religion as such’. One of them said ‘You want to be careful where you say that, because in places around here, that will make people argue with you.’ Basically, he was warning me." As a result of this natural tendency in children to keep to their own "side" of an area, the simple existence of theoretically neutral and integrated parks has not been sufficient to create support and friendship. Instead, it has taken programs which actively bring together children from both sides, like the EU-funded PeacePlayers International, which uses basketball to bring young people together.

CONCLUSION

In May 2013, the Irish government committed to bringing down 4/5ths of all "peace walls" by 2023 in their "Together Building a United Community" strategy. Unfortunately, the existing data shows that the lack of a wall does not equal the lack of a barrier to building friendships between Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland—even a street, a field, a lake, or a stand of trees may still serve as an effective borderline. Without government commitment to integration, which has, thus far, been lacking, and the advancement of programs like PeacePlayers, it is likely that the children of Northern Ireland will remain separated by invisible walls long after the physical walls are torn down.

Sources
Sources