Ethnic Interfaces/Peace Lines
Belfasts partitions have outlived the Berlin Wall. While the Berlin Wall came down after 28 years, Belfasts continue to stand, and there is little likelihood, at present, of them being demolished.
There are over 20 Peace Lines in Belfast. Many were built as temporary structures in the early 1970s to separate Catholic and Protestant areas at the height of intercommunal violence. Welcomed by most residents then, they are still seen by residents as fulfilling an important function in keeping apart warring factions. Some of the walls are over a kilometre long and 20 feet high.The more modern ones, euphemistically known as Environmental Barriers, have been made less obtrusive with fancy brickwork, or railings and sensitive planting of trees and shrubs, but they divide communities in Belfast just the same as the corrugated iron and barbed wire barricades did. As Henry McDonald has said in The walls that wont come down The Observer 7.11.99:
One wall in north Belfast even cuts through a huge public park designed by the Victorian city fathers of the last century, creating Protestant trees and Catholic trees; Protestant grass and Catholic grass; Protestant flowers and Catholic flowers.
The wall at Cupar Street illustrates the scale of the construction of these barriers. This wall divides the community of the Shankill Road (Protestant) from that of the Falls Road (Catholic). The only opening in it is at Lanark Way (see photograph) and there there are gates which can be closed by remote control by the security forces. This was an attempt to combat sectarian killings in the area. Note the tourist bus passing through the gates. Belfast has become an important site for 'conflict tourism'.
Each of the areas separated by the peace lines are almost identical, at least to the outsiders eye. Each is often characterised by poverty and unemployment. Housing tends to be poor, although some attempts have been made to improve this. The urban fabric is often damaged with vandalism and what investment is made in its improvement seems insufficient. There is often a shortage of social provision.