Peacewalls 50

An international conference, exhibition and events in Belfast
to mark 50 years since the construction of the first ‘Peacewall’
in Northern Ireland on September 10th, 1969.

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10th September (Tuesday) 2019:
WALK – 50 years of the Falls-Shankill Peaceline
Meet at base of Divis Tower, Divis Street, Belfast BT12 4QA @16.30
FREE, but booking required

14th September (Saturday) 2019:
CONFERENCE – PEACEWALLS 50 International Conference
Conor Lecture Theatre, Ulster University,
25-51 York Street, Belfast BT15 1ED
FREE, but booking required

30th September – 5th October 2019:
EXHIBITION – Peacewall Archive
PS², Spencer House, 71 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1FE
FREE, no booking required
https://www.pssquared.org

4th October (Thursday ) 2019:
LECTURE – 50 Years of Belfast Peacewalls
Linen Hall Library at 13.00
17 Donegall Square North, Belfast BT1 5GB
https://linenhall.com

 

At 4.30pm on Wednesday Sept 10th 1969, British Army Engineers, escorted by the 2nd Grenadier Guards, started work on what became known as the ‘peaceline’ in two locations in West Belfast.  Working from either end to emplace pickets drilled and hammered through the road surface, and then unrolling coils of barbed wire between the pickets to create a barrier to movement, the engineers hoped to make physical a previously imaginary line “determined by a representative body from the city hall”.

This action was a response to a meeting held the previous day at Stormont Castle, where the Prime Minister Chichester-Clarke had met with his Joint Security Committee.  The conclusions from the meeting minuted that:

A peace line was to be established to separate physically the Falls and the Shankill communities. Initially this would take the form of a temporary barbed wire fence which would be manned by the Army and the Police. The actual line of fence would be decided in consultations with the Belfast Corporation. It was agreed that there should be no question of the peace line becoming permanent although it was acknowledged that the barriers might have to be strengthened in some locations.”   

Nearly fifty years later, this ‘barbed wire fence’ has multiplied and mutated into what are now known as the ‘peacewalls’ of Northern Ireland. In the latest Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, the authors note a level of confusion about clarifying the actual numbers of peace walls or physical barriers. The Belfast Interface Project’s (BIP) latest publication (Belfast Interface Project, 2017) identifies a total of 97 peacewalls and barriers across Belfast, 11 barriers in Derry-Londonderry, one in Lurgan and seven barriers in Portadown.  The Department of Justice claims ownership of 59 interface structures across Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is responsible for a further 20 structures. 

In happier political times for Northern Ireland governance in 2012, the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMdFM) set a target of “removing all walls by 2023”.  Due to multiple factors both local and governmental, only limited progress has been achieved to date.  

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the construction of the first ‘peacewall’ in Northern Ireland, there are a number of questions that it seems appropriate to address:

  • In 2019, are the ‘peacewalls’ still a required security measure?

  • How effective or detrimental have the ‘peacewalls’ been in constructing the peace in Northern Ireland?

  • What is the impact of the ‘peacewalls’ into ongoing communal segregation and division in Northern Ireland?

  • What do the ‘peacewalls’ communicate to the public in relation to the current phase of the Northern Ireland peace process?

  • How do we underpin the peace process by creating the conditions where interface communities are content to proceed with the physical transformation and ultimate removal of ‘peacewalls’ in their area?

Our objective is to mark the 50th anniversary of the construction of the first ‘peacewall’ in Belfast with an international conference and set of related events that will bring together interested parties and experts to think through the contentious pasts and possible futures of the ‘peacewalls’ and the interface areas adjacent to them. This conference is designed to bring local residents and international visitors together in a positive discussion of the future of the ‘peacewalls’, particularly with regard to the Northern Ireland Executive policy deadline of removal of all ‘peacewalls’ in Belfast by 2023. We envisage a broad spectrum of participation, from residents groups to government agencies.