Page last updated at 10:33 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 11:33 UK
Forty years of peace lines

Peace line overlooking houses
The peace line overlooks houses in west Belfast

They are not really wanted but there is no real sign of Northern Ireland's peace walls coming down.

Eleven years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement they mark out the sectarian divisions of Belfast.

The interfaces they straddle are quieter now, but the potential for trouble remains.

The walls themselves represent more of an illusion of security, they did not stop the Shankill Butchers murder gang preying on Catholics.

Nor did they prevent the IRA from planting a bomb in a Shankill Road fish shop.

Neil Jarman from the Institute of Conflict Research said that the walls had provided an imperfect sense of security, bricks and other missiles can be thrown over them and they can also become a magnet for disaffected youths looking to cause trouble.

He said the comparative peace at interfaces now was due mostly to community workers moving quickly to keep a lid on trouble.

North Howard Street security gates between Shankill and Falls
The peace line gates still close at night

"If there are problems between groups of youths in places like Manchester say, then the automatic response isn't 'put up a fence'," he said.

"You have to find other ways to deal with these things, it became too easy to stick a fence up rather than find some other more expensive solution."

He said that as areas are regenerated moves should be taken to remove the walls and added that some smaller fences had been removed.

Sinn Fein's Tom Hartley said he wanted to see the walls come down, but accepted that it would not be quickly.

"They are an indictment of our society, a failure," he said.

"In terms of the communities that straddle the peace lines, they represent a degree of security or a sense of safety.

"I believe they will come down, but only when the communities that straddle them have confidence in each other."

In 1994 Hugh Smyth became the city's Lord Mayor, in his installation speech he said the walls should come down.

"Unfortunately there are now more of them now than there were then," the PUP councillor said.

"The people who live in behind these walls are very reluctant to vote in favour of bringing them down."

He said that possibly after a further period of devolution and with agreement on parades the situation on the interfaces would change enough to seen them start to come down.

"It's all a matter of confidence," he added.

"Both sections of the community have to learn to trust each other."

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra has a section of terraced homes from Cluan Place in east Belfast. Built in 1884 they are kept now as a reminder of how people in the city used to live.

Someday, maybe, part of the peace line will find its way into history there. For now they remain.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific