Monday, 28 May 2007

Hate walls

Despite the peace process, there are still dozens of peace walls in Belfast keeping sectarian factions from laying into each other. And the number isn't going down, it's going up.

There's a big controversy around the plan for a brand-new 25-foot peace fence next to, of all places, an integrated* primary school. It seems thugs are going through the school grounds to attack nearby Catholic homes.

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education is saying, hang on a minute, why a 25-foot fence? What attempts have been made to find a less drastic solution through negotiation, discussion and the involvement of the local community? Why is the only answer a crude physical barrier?

At this rate, North Belfast will finish up as one long peace wall from end to end, Berlin-style. Is this the best we can do?

The irony is that we in South Belfast never see the peace walls, unless we have reason to go through the north of the city. For us, they're as unreal as they are to the rest of the world, bizarre structures we only see on TV when there's a local flare-up.

One reason for the permanence of the peace walls (or should I say hate walls) is that the politicians find them a big embarrassment. They prefer to ignore them and pretend sectarianism has died and we're all saying a cheery hello to the neighbours over the freshly-trimmed privet.

They're unwilling to admit the walls are a continuing scandal and that some serious work is needed to get them all dismantled.

They may be a fashionable attraction for tourists who fancy a little frisson of ghoulish horror, but the long-suffering residents are desperate for a normal life that doesn't involve being in a Colditz-type compound 24 hours a day.

When are the warm handshakes at Stormont going to be matched by warm handshakes across the real-life sectarian divides?

* with both Catholic and Protestant pupils


  1. Apologies in advance for not replying to comments. Ditto not commenting on all my favourite blogs (you know who you are). Our BT Broadband connection has been down since Friday lunchtime. But will catch up eventually!

  2. Right, Nick, why spend 100,000 Sterling to build an ugly and outdated structure when you could just sit down and talk to people? There should be more integrated schools and the walls taken down.

  3. Exactly - sit down and talk to people - that quaintly old-fashioned concept!

  4. Walls have never been and never will be a solution.

    They probably only encourage some people to rise to the challenge.

    Hope your connection is better again :-)

  5. You know Nick, studies have shown that our environment has to be inviting and POPULATED to encourage interaction among people and to hinder crime, etc. Walls do everything to discourage this. I see benches, fountains, birdbaths, flowers, and a splash of green grass. Cost about the same - maybe with citizen cooperation.
    Have we learned nothing?

  6. Conor - indeed, some people will just take one look at the fence and grab the biggest wirecutters they can find.

    www - absolutely. An attractive public space that encourages people to mingle rather than think in terms of them and us.