Protestants in east Belfast, Londonderry and on the Shankill Road are not ready for peace walls to come down – and some may never feel safe without them.
Those were the views of workers in the three areas talking to the News Letter yesterday after the release of the latest University of Ulster study on the issue, commissioned by the Department of Justice.
A 2012 survey found that 58 per cent of nearby residents wanted the walls down immediately or in the future but this has now dropped to 49 per cent in 2015.
Many more Protestants - 44 per cent - wanted the walls to remain, compared to only 23 per cent of Catholics.
Jeannette Warke, a youth worker in the Fountain estate in Londonderry for 43 years, said: “It is critical that they stay. People don’t feel safe enough for them to come down.”
The Fountain estate is a Protestant enclave on the nationalist city side of Londonderry, consisting of some 295 homes surrounded on all sides by a security barrier.
“People here have reinforced windows, bulletproof glass and metal oil tanks to protect them against petrol bombs and stones being thrown in,” she said.
Shankill Road pastor Jack McKee believes that there is growing interest in the walls coming down at some point in the future, although he accepts his views may be coloured by the members of his church - the New Life City Church
It is situated on the peace line, with 90 per cent of its 200 members from the Shankill Road and some 10 per cent from the Falls Road.
“As I sit talking right now I can see an ex-Provo and an ex-UDA man sitting together drinking coffee in our cafe,” he said.
“But we cannot ignore the fears and concerns of those living close to the peace walls - their views must be paramount.
“It would be foolish to consider removing our wall next week but we could start moving towards this by opening the gates in it for longer periods.”
The four gates in the Shankill Road wall close at 6.30pm daily, which means that those coming from the Falls Road must drive along the Shankill Road to reach his church.
“They would feel safer if they could simply use the gates in the evenings,” he added.
East Belfast UUP MLA Andy Allen was very cautious about any suggestion that the peace wall could be removed from around the tiny Protestant enclave of Cluan Place.
Like the Fountain estate, it persistently suffers from missiles being thrown in from outside the barrier.
“It is quite clear that they can only come down after consultation with those that live at these walls,” he said. “After all, they are the ones that have to live here.”
There are 52 peace walls, located in Belfast, Portadown, Lurgan and Londonderry.