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Belfast peace wall communities 'want barriers removed within next generation'

By Rebecca Black, PA

There has been a rise in the number of residents who live beside Northern Ireland's peace walls who want them removed within the next generation, according to research.

More than 100 barriers remain between communities across Northern Ireland 20 years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

On the 50th anniversary of the erection of the first barrier in 1969, a peace fund chief has pressed for both political leadership and funding to bring them down.

There have been minor alterations to some, including most recently the change from a solid steel gate on Townsend Street to a see-through barrier.

The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) has been sponsoring community initiatives to help residents feel safe enough for their re-imaging or removal.

But IFI chairman Paddy Harte said while progress is being made, the delay in the delivery of a promised aftercare package is slowing these efforts.

New research by the IFI has found a rise in the number of people living beside the barriers who now want them removed entirely.

Some 76% of all respondents to a survey of nearby residents were strongly in favour of the peace walls being removed within the lifetime of their children or grandchildren, compared to 68% two years ago.

However the survey has also highlighted a rise in the number of anti-social behaviour incidents - including organised fights - taking place in the areas.

Some 34% of respondents reported anti-social behaviour (including drug misuse) as the key issue of local concern, compared to 10% in 2017

Findings also indicate a steady increase in inter-community engagement on either side of the peace barriers since 2017.

While the Catholic, nationalist and republican (CNR) community favours change sooner (85% compared to 72% of Protestant, unionist, loyalist residents), both communities want to see barrier removal within the next generation.

The research also found a gap in support for communities where barriers are removed.

An aftercare package promised under the Together Building a United Community (TBUC) strategy is not yet available to residents.

Since 2012, the IFI has invested more than £5.2 million in its peace walls programme, but Mr Harte has urged politicians and government to step up.

"We cannot fund the physical removal of barriers nor fund the much-needed economic and social regeneration of interface areas following removal," he said.

"These are the responsibilities of the relevant departments and agencies who own the barriers and/or who have responsibility for regeneration programmes.

"The IFI is the only funding organisation carrying out sensitive dialogue around peace walls but it simply cannot undertake the level of physical work and financial and resource investment required alone.

"We are calling for collaboration between all statutory agencies to ensure necessary resources and investment are put in place. Considerable work is still required to deliver significant change for those impacted the most by peace walls."

Mr Harte added: "Regrettably, ongoing political uncertainty means that progress is being hampered. Political will and leadership is essential alongside the necessary ring-fenced resources and funding. Increased collaboration is critical to advance barrier removal and regeneration for local communities living in interface areas."

The report is set to be launched at Girdwood Community Hub, a former army barracks, on Tuesday.

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