Leading article

Political will needed to remove our peace walls

It is a depressing reflection of our divided society that fifty years on from the first peace walls being built, more than 100 remain in place in parts of Northern Ireland.

Some of the walls that were erected in 1969 and in subsequent years are considerably higher than the Berlin Wall, which was so memorably demolished 30 years ago, an anniversary that has been widely marked in recent weeks.

But still our peace lines loom over homes and divide communities, mainly in Belfast but also in Derry, Portadown and Lurgan.

In 2013, the Stormont executive committed to the removal of all peace walls by mutual consent by 2023.

The issue of consent is clearly important.

People living in close proximity of the barriers need to feel safe enough that they can be removed or re-imaged.

Research published yesterday by the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) shows that some progress is being made in this regard.

Around 76 per cent of respondents to a survey of residents were strongly in favour of peace walls being removed within the lifetime of their children or grandchildren. This finding compares to 68 per cent two years ago.

While the improved figures are welcome, there is little sense of urgency about the removal of the walls.

Increasing anti-social behaviour, including drug misuse and organised fights in the vicinity of the barriers, is a worry for residents.

Findings indicate a steady increase in inter-community engagement on either side of the barriers since 2017, which is a positive development.

But the research also found a gap in support for communities where walls are removed.

IFI chairman Paddy Harte pointed out that considerable work is needed to deliver significant change for those impacted most by the peace walls.

However, he says that ongoing political uncertainty means progress is being hampered.

This is indeed regrettable as the process of reassuring communities, dismantling walls and ensuring there is economic and social regeneration following their removal, will need careful management, a collaborative approach and the necessary resources.

Valuable work is going on to address the issue of peace walls but as Mr Harte says, political will and leadership is essential to get us to a position where the peace walls can finally come down.

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Leading article