Stormont executive committed to removing peace walls by 2023
WALLS dividing Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland should be down within the next seven years, a government minister has said.
Megan Fearon said the Stormont Executive remained committed to removing all interface barriers by 2023.
Addressing a community festival in north Belfast, which has 16 so-called peace walls, the Sinn Fein MLA said: "By removing a peace wall we open a door to a new shared space and I believe we should be ambitious in our efforts.
"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."
Peace lines include a mixture of traditional walls, fences and gates and are the most visual reminder of the region's troubled past.
They were intended as a temporary protection from violence during the 30-year conflict but remain almost two decades after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the Troubles.
According to figures from the Department of Justice, 50 barriers - 39 walls and 11 gates - are still in place.
Some structures stretch for miles and tower up to 18ft high through areas of dense housing.
Most are located in areas of heightened sectarian tension in Belfast and Londonderry but others have also been erected in parts of Portadown and Lurgan in Co Armagh.
Ms Fearon added: "Taking down these barriers can only happen by engaging with, by building relationships with, and by seeking the consent and support of the people who live in their shadows.
"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. Progress is being made."
The minister was speaking as part of a panel discussion run by the Duncairn Community Partnership alongside Progressive Unionist Party councillor Julie Anne Corr.