Page last updated at 07:25 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Walls remain in divided Belfast

By Arthur Strain
BBC News

Drumming at the Lanark Way security gates
There was the sound of a different drum at the security gates

In Berlin they have been marking 20 years without their wall, in Belfast the division of the city remains set in concrete, wire and fencing.

But that does not mean people are happy with the status quo.

On Monday, a group of youths gathered at the peaceline on Lanark Way, which separates the Protestant Shankill Road from the Catholic Falls Road.

It is one of the 42 interface barriers in Belfast, the most recent of which was built in 2008.

The young people were from both sides of the interface and they had a common message; they wanted the walls consigned to the dustbin of history.

They played some basketball with the PeacePlayers basketball group and made some noise with the Gathering Drum workshop along the interface.

It was a different beat to the one normally heard in the area and was part of the Up Against the Wall initiative that helps children and young people living in interface communities have a voice on the future of the barriers that divide and occasionally protect them.

Andrea Maskey, from Falls Road said that the walls should be removed.

"I don't really think there is a need for them any more, they should be taken down. Everybody else in the world has taken theirs down, so why can't we?"

Matthew McMullen from Springmartin said that only when people came together would the walls fade into the past.

"They're protective but I don't like the sight of them, I would prefer them to come down," he said.

One of the organisers, John Peacock from Youth Link, said it was important the voices of young people were heard.

"Throughout the province the barriers are really in people's hearts and minds, there are the physical barriers in Belfast, but throughout the country we are divided," he said.

"In different areas people are seeing that it is now the time to have that conversation about bringing down the walls.

"It might take a generation but we can begin the conversation now."

Tony Macaulay wrote a discussion paper last year aimed at starting a process that might make it safe enough for the walls to come down. He said it was very important for young people to be involved.

"There are still young people who throw stones around the walls, that's part of it too, but the majority of young people who live in interface areas like this don't do that but they don't get as much attention," he said.

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Patricia Lewsley said she saw hope that some day the walls would be gone. "When you look back to May when this project started some of these young people couldn't even understand why these peace walls were here," she said.

"They can make a difference, because they are not carrying the baggage or the myths that are around this, they want to make a difference and want to work together as young people - very often when you give them ownership you'll see them delivering."

Naomi Long is lord mayor of a divided city but one, she said, that had changed dramatically over the last 15 years.

She said the walls were a symptom of the "division and fear" that remained between the two traditions that dominate the city. But she said that this did not always have to be the way.

"When you have got young people that have this sort of hope, imagination and courage to tackle very difficult issues you can't help but have hope for the future," she said.

US Congressman Jeff Miller, who represents the 1st District in Florida, was present for the event.

While Hillary Clinton attended celebrations marking two decades since the Berlin wall came down, he found himself in a city where the walls remained.

"It is a shame that we have places in this world today where instead of walls being torn down we have walls being erected," he said.

"It's exciting to see young people from both sides of the wall coming together and playing a very simple sport game of basketball."

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