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PEACEWALLS 50 - Walk

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Meet at base of Divis Tower, Divis Street, Belfast BT12 4QA

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At 4.30pm on Wednesday Sept 10th 1969, British Army Engineers, escorted by the 2nd Grenadier Guards, started work on what became known as the ‘peaceline’ in two locations in West Belfast. Working from either end to emplace pickets drilled and hammered through the road surface, and then unrolling coils of barbed wire between the pickets to create a barrier to movement, the engineers hoped to make physical a previously imaginary line “determined by a representative body from the city hall”.

This action was a response to a meeting held the previous day before at Stormont Castle, where the Prime Minister Chichester-Clarke had met with his Joint Security Committee. The conclusions from the meeting minuted that:

A peace line was to be established to separate physically the Falls and the Shankill communities. Initially this would take the form of a temporary barbed wire fence which would be manned by the Army and the Police. The actual line of fence would be decided in consultations with the Belfast Corporation. It was agreed that there should be no question of the peace line becoming permanent although it was acknowledged that the barriers might have to be strengthened in some locations.”

Nearly fifty years later, this ‘barbed wire fence’ has multiplied and mutated into what are now known as the ‘peacewalls’ of Northern Ireland. In the latest Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, the authors note a level of confusion about clarifying the actual numbers of peace walls or physical barriers. The Belfast Interface Project’s (BIP) latest publication (Belfast Interface Project, 2017) identifies a total of 97 peacewalls and barriers across Belfast, 11 barriers in Derry-Londonderry, one in Lurgan and seven barriers in Portadown. The Department of Justice claims ownership of 59 interface structures across Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is responsible for a further 20 structures.

In happier political times for Northern Ireland governance in 2012, the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMdFM) set a target of “removing all walls by 2023”. Due to multiple factors both local and governmental, only limited progress has been achieved to date.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the construction of the first ‘peacewall’ in Northern Ireland, we take a walk along the first 'peaceline' in Northern Ireland.

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Meet at base of Divis Tower, Divis Street, Belfast BT12 4QA

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