03 January 2006

Northern Ireland peace lines

Globe and Mail

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

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Click to view - 'peace' wall along Cupar Way - photo from >>here

While there are no restrictions on movement in Northern Ireland, a series of about 40 walls have been built to separate the most polarized Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods and minimize sectarian inter-communal violence.

The first so-called peace line was built by the British Army in 1969 as a temporary measure to keep Protestant rioters out of a Catholic area in west Belfast. When it proved effective, other barriers were erected, and today they stretch for a total of about 16 kilometres. They are made of corrugated iron sheeting, steel or brick, often topped with metal netting to stop firebombs. They are generally eight metres high, and range in length from a few hundred metres to almost five kilometres. The larger walls have gaps with hinged barriers at roads and pedestrian crossings, which are unlocked when tensions are low so that freedom of movement is not too severely restricted.

In 1969, the British Army's then commander in Ulster, Sir Ian Freeland, said, "This will be a very temporary affair. We will not have a Berlin Wall or anything like that in this city."

The peace lines have outlasted the Berlin Wall, and since the signing of the Good Friday peace accord in 1998, 15 new walls have been erected.

While there is broad support on both sides for the barriers, they almost entirely cut off any contact between the two groups in the affected areas. Surveys carried out in 2001 among 4,800 households in neighbouring estates separated by the barriers showed that among 18- to 25-year-olds, 68 per cent had never had a meaningful conversation with someone from the other community.

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