Northern Ireland

Cross-community carol service at west Belfast flashpoint interface

Security apparatus being removed from the Peaceline at North Howard Street and Northumberland Street between the Falls and Shankill. Picture Mal McCann.
Security apparatus being removed from the Peaceline at North Howard Street and Northumberland Street between the Falls and Shankill. Picture Mal McCann. Security apparatus being removed from the Peaceline at North Howard Street and Northumberland Street between the Falls and Shankill. Picture Mal McCann.

A CROSS-community carol service will take place beside interface gates less than a mile from where violent scenes have been playing out at another peace barrier.

Community workers on west Belfast's nationalist Falls Road and loyalist Shankill Road have worked behind the scenes with clergy to organise the event at the Northumberland Street 'peace wall'.

It follows a year of intermittent but fierce violence, reminiscent of the most turbulent periods of the Troubles, sparked by the protests against the Northern Ireland Protocol at nearby Lanark Way.

The violence began in April after illegal parades across loyalists areas in the north in opposition to the Brexit agreement which created a trade border between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Just last month, community workers were patrolling the Springfield Road side of Lanark Way following a night of trouble in the area.

Members of Clonard Residents Association said they were providing "reassurance" to residents and liaising with police after up to 100 youths and young adults armed with missiles and fireworks attacked police following a loyalist protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol on Shankill side of the interface.

The carol service will be held at 6.30pm on Monday December 20, after a festive football match between the Falls and Shankill roads.

Two five-a-side football nets will be placed at the gates and local clergy and community representatives will have a kick about in `No man's Land' between the gates.

"Given the negative, violent activity that has happened recently at the interface gates it was felt we needed a more positive, hopeful message this Christmas," Robert McClenaghan of Falls Residents Association said.

The association has organised the event along with Feile an Phobail, St Peter's Cathedral and New Life Church.

It follows cross community support between the two communities during the pandemic, including a Masonic lodge's donation of more than 750 toilet rolls across the peace line to elderly and vulnerable people in west Belfast during an initial period of shortages in March 2020, which was welcomed as "a selfless act of generosity".

"The organisers hope that the true spirit of Christmas, of peace, love and caring for all our citizens regardless of their background or beliefs will be the overriding message of the night's events," Mr McClenaghan said.

It is the latest in a series of peace building efforts in the area.

In June work began on the construction of a new `see through' peace line at another west Belfast interface.

Solid security gates have been removed at North Howard Street and replaced with railing style gates and a pedestrian gateway replaced at the interface, which also separates the Falls and Shankill roads.

The Department of Justice said the existing gates were being replaced "with a see-through construction".