8ft high peace wall dividing north Belfast communities to come down
THE removal of an 8ft high peace wall in north Belfast has been hailed as a watershed moment in cross-community relations in the area.
The brick wall that separated nationalist and unionists homes on the Crumlin Road near Ardoyne has given way to railings and landscaped greenery as part of on-going efforts to remove the physical divisions of the past.
The wall, which overshadowed homes, was demolished in February by the Housing Executive, three decades after it was first erected and yesterday a special celebration event was held to mark the completion of a project to transform the former trouble spot.
The first of the Housing Executive’s 21 peace walls to come down, it has been replaced by a family-friendly landscaped area and railings with decorative panels, which residents helped to design.
The community-led decision to transform the interface came after years of talks, which first began eight years ago.
Integral to the work is the Twaddell Ardoyne Shankill Communities In Transition (TASCIT) who, along with representative from Housing Executive, Department of Justice, Belfast City Council and PSNI, helped to bring about the change.
"It didn't happen in a bubble, it has been a long process to get here," said Rab McCallum, North Belfast Interface Network Coordinator and TASCIT member.
In the past eight years fortnightly talks have been held with representatives from the different communities to improve relations.
"It's been quite an intense, ongoing programme, but the difference has been amazing," Mr McCallum said.
At the end of last year, three homes near the wall were attacked within three months in incidents linked to plans to remove the wall, but Mr McCallum insists the community is very much in support of the change.
"In terms of the conflict we still live in one of probably the most conflicted areas of the north, the Twaddell camp is only a short distance away, but to me that shows the confidence the people have," he said.
"Hopefully people will take a bit of inspiration from what's happened here. If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he added.
The interface between the Ardoyne and the adjacent unionist Woodvale/Twaddell area is still the source of intense community tension, with a dispute over an annual Orange Order parade a major obstacle in the path of progress.
Paddy Copeland has lived beside the peace wall for 30 years and never thought he would live to see the wall come down.
"I have 17 grandchildren and they're playing out here almost every day when they come up, it's class looking," he said.
"They're going to start thinking about opening the gates on the Crumlin Road down there at Flax Street and hopefully it happens, you have to move on," he added.
Speaking at the celebration event deputy first minister Martin McGuiness said progress on the planned removal by Stormont of all 50 interface barriers by 2023 can only be made with the support and cooperation of the community.
“Reconciliation has been hampered by physical divisions so to help build a truly shared, united and reconciled community, we need to remove these structures," he added