Although Northern Ireland has been peaceful on paper for 23 years, the parties to the conflict have remained divided. Some argue that it is because of the so-called peace wall, which divides Republican and loyalist areas and thus prevents meetings and integration. Others say that the wall is a vital protection against aggression from the other side, and that if it is torn down, Belfast may once again be marked by violence, death and terror.
In western Belfast, life is flowing for most people. Although their everyday lives are similar to most others, the neighborhood they live in is completely unique. Here, two groups live side by side, but rarely together. As an outsider, I only understood when I came to Belfast that this division is not an abstract feeling, but a physical and tangible segregation of society. Republican (pro-Irish) and loyalist (pro-British) residents are divided by a wall that cuts through several kilometers of residential areas.
Eight meters high, it casts a long shadow over the two areas. The wall attracts every year thousands of tourists who takes photos, films and participates in political tours, but it is also a constant presence in the lives of the residents. Even if the passage is open during the day, the gates close every night at dusk, and only open when the sun rises again. Most people stay on their own side to work, go to church and send their children to school. Despite recurring discussions that the wall has served its purpose, it stands as solid today as when it was built in 1969.
The legacy of the conflict lives on
The year the wall was built was also the starting shot for "The Troubles", as the conflict in Northern Ireland is often called. The conflict was fought between loyalists supported by the British army, who fought for Northern Ireland to remain British, and Republicans who wanted to achieve a united Ireland. The wall was an attempt to prevent the groups from attacking each other's territories, but served as a strategic barrier for the British Army. During the three decades the conflict lasted was appreciated over 3 lives have been played, and more than half of these were civilians.
The peace agreement was signed 1998, and in addition to sporadic acts of violence, it has largely been maintained.
The peace agreement is often referred to as an end - a way to close the door on the conflict and be able to move forward together. For those of us who have not had to take part in a civil war, 23 years can easily feel like enough time to put the violence behind us and move on. However, for many living in Northern Ireland, the memory of The Troubles is still far too fresh. Many here have lost their parents, children, siblings or friends to the violence. Losses like these make it difficult to let go of disgust, distrust and fear of the opposing group. The transition between conflict and peace is seldom simple, few places show this equally clearly the division of Belfast and Northern Ireland.
Most people want the wall left
According to previous plans, Belfast's peace wall would be demolished by last year 2023, but the issue is so sensitive that few politicians are willing to initiate any change. Many believe that the wall contributes to the persistence of hatred and suspicion towards the other group. It is a constant reminder of the dividing lines between the groups, instead of what you have in common. When I walk along the wall in West Belfast, it's easy to understand that perspective. Children born in this part of the city constantly have walls, barbed wire and roadblocks within sight, which means that another generation risks growing up divided.
On the other hand, it is also important to understand that the memory of The Troubles lives on on both sides of the barrier. A majority of the inhabitants do not want the walls to disappear, but believes that they are necessary so that the conflict does not flare up again. To them, the wall is not a symbolic manifestation of division, but a safety net against attacks from the other side. The violent riots that took place in April has further strengthened the fear. For several days, both loyalist and republican areas were subjected to violence, explosions and vandalism. Concerns that violence will flare up again are constantly present, and few want to return to the nightmare of the conflict. Regardless of political ambitions for a dismantling, the barrier through western Belfast remains stable, and it does not seem to be able to be disturbed in the near future.