A new barrier dividing communities at a notorious interface in east Belfast will only be used in times of tension, Stormont’s Justice minister has insisted.
Stressing the net structure in the grounds of St Matthew’s Catholic church on the lower Newtownards Road was not a new peace wall, David Ford said he envisaged that it would be retracted for most of the year.
The installation of the new security measure at the interface between the nationalist Short Strand and loyalist Newtownards Road areas comes at a time when the Stormont Executive has publicly committed to removing permanent barriers separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods within ten years.
The area around St Matthew’s has been the scene of violent clashes in recent years, with residents on both sides claiming they live in fear of attack from missiles.
Mr Ford said the net was being installed at the request of local people.
He said its default position would be rolled up on poles.
“My department has been working with the community in east Belfast looking at measures which would assist in reducing recent tensions in the area,” he said.
“The structure has been designed to support netting in such a way that it can be retracted when not required.
“The default position will be that it will remain open and indeed I envisage that this will be the case for the majority of the year. When closed, it will act as a barrier to projectiles thrown from either side of the interface.
“I believe that this proportionate and innovative measure will assist in stopping attacks from either direction across the interface adjacent to St Matthew’s Church and reassure residents who are concerned about the safety of themselves and their property.
“I continue to believe that the best way to keep people safe is to build connections between communities, rather than barriers. So reducing the number of interfaces remains a priority.
“Significant progress has been made by community groups and statutory agencies, by working together to reduce these structures. Indeed we have been able to reduce the number of DoJ (Department of Justice) structures from 59 to 53 since devolution (of justice powers).
“We will continue to work in partnership with others to make further progress in this respect.”