Security wall separating west Belfast communities dismantled

Handout photo of work to remove a three-metre high security wall that divides Springfield Road and Springhill Avenue in west Belfast.
Handout photo of work to remove a three-metre high security wall that divides Springfield Road and Springhill Avenue in west Belfast.

A security wall which has separated unionists and nationalists for almost three decades in west Belfast is being dismantled.

The three-metre high division between Springfield Road and Springhill Avenue was erected in 1989 to protect residents and a nearby police station.

The local communities backed its demolition following careful relationship building, organisers of the initiative said.

Seamus Corr, project coordinator for the Black Mountain Shared Spaces Project, said: "The removal of the Springhill Avenue barrier is a significant step forward for the local community.

"This is about more than just changing the physical look of this area, it shows that communities are willing, with support, to work towards positive change.

"The removal of a wall is not a starting point nor an end point, but a significant milestone on the journey towards a positive future."

Stormont has promised to eliminate all of Northern Ireland's dozens of barricades or "peace walls" by 2023.

People defend their need for a barrier or peace-line by claiming that it will provide them with a degree of security against attack from the other side, researchers have noted.

The barriers and interface areas in general, however, are also a significant location of violence, and interface communities are frequently the subject of persistent and recurrent, if often low-level, violence.

The latest removal project received financial assistance from the International Fund for Ireland's Peace Walls Programme and its chairman, Dr Adrian Johnston, said: "There should be no place for physical separation barriers in a truly reconciled society.

"While we have not yet reached that stage, the community-led decision to remove this division demonstrates a desire for change.

"The communities' decision to remove the wall at Springhill Avenue and the alterations that are taking place illustrate what can be achieved with strong local leadership and by fully engaging those who live next to physical barriers."

He said the vast majority of barriers are located within communities that continue to suffer disproportionately due to the conflict and the risks associated with removal lie almost exclusively with the residents and communities most impacted by their presence.

"Through our Peace Walls Programme, Black Mountain Shared Spaces Project has worked with local residents to envisage a positive future and collectively enable this project to be delivered."