Theten-year target to take down all of the peace walls is both ambitious and yet timely given the recent fifteenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, according to University of Ulster experts Dr Jonny Byrne and Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan.
Those tasked with implementing the policy priorities around the removal of peace walls should be interested in the findings of recent research conducted by theUniversity of Ulsterin late 2012, say the researchers.
Findings from two surveys(1451 respondents) – one of residents that lived in close proximity to peace walls and anotherof thewider population providean insight into the public’s views on the impact of the peace walls in their communities;their attitudes towards anyattempts to remove the peace walls; andtheir assessment ofthe role of government departments inrelation to such a policy intervention.
The headline results indicate that58% would like to see the peace walls come down now or sometime in thefuture. That said, only 38% canactuallyimagine a time when there willno peace wallsin their community
Essentially, residentscontinue toframe the issue of peace walls infour main ways– in terms of theirsecurity,their attitudes towardscommunity relations,their sense of healthandwell-being, andtheir attitudes towardsculture and identity.Therefore, several key factors need to be taken into account to progress the issue of peace walls from anagreed policy objective to animplemented policy within the next decade.
The primary challenge for policy makers is reconciling the mixed messageof fear and optimism revealed within the survey(whilst 69% maintain that the peace walls are still necessary because of the potential for violence, 58% would still like to see the walls come down at some point).
The academics say:
"In terms of developingspecific strategies to underpin the implementation of the policy objective to remove walls within ten years,our research findings suggestsix keyactions going forward:
1. There is a need to improvethemethods of sharing informationbetweenthe devolvedgovernment andlocal communities, alongside aneed to undertake further community consultations with those who reside closest to the peace walls (63% of residentsareinterested in finding out more aboutcurrentinitiatives);
2. There is a need to promote further engagementbetweenandacrosscommunities divided by peace walls (57% want opportunities for two communities to come togetherto keep people infomed);
3. There is a need to address existing security concernsprevalent withinlocal communities(58% worried about the police’s ability to preserve peace and maintain orderin the event of the walls coming down);
4. Thereis aneed forgreater emphasis at the macro (Stormont) level in terms of ‘encouraging thepublicimagination’ around whatlocal environmentmight look like in the absence ofpeace walls (only38% can imagine a time when there willbe no peace walls);
5. There is a responsibilityto treat the peace walls as an issuein need of real ‘joined up’ government(64% peace walls should be a big priority for the NI Executive);
6. There is a need for clarity around roles and responsibilities of thevarious stakeholders including local residents, wider civil society and governmentin the operational design of any peace walls policy(31%believe thatthe community has overall responsibility for making decisions about peace walls)."