Walls Go Up, Not Down in Cease-Fire Belfast
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ As President Clinton will see Thursday, a year’s experimental peace in Belfast has not brought its walls tumbling down.
Eighteen perversely named ``peace lines″ of brick, steel and barbed wire separate Protestants and Catholics, monuments to a quarter-century’s bloodshed. Many locals want to keep them up.
Clinton may see several of them during visits to a factory near the Springfield-Springmartin peace line and a small business center in Protestant east Belfast near another wall protecting the vulnerable Catholic enclave, the Short Strand.
``There’s still a psychological fear within people and it applies in all areas where there have been a lot of murders or attempted murders _ people living on the edge of the troubles,″ said Brenda Murphy, a short-story writer who lives on the Catholic side of a wall.
Work began on Belfast’s biggest and most solid wall yet on the same day that the Irish Republican Army announced a cease-fire 15 months ago.
A million bricks later the 30-foot-high, $1.2 million structure runs along a ridgeline of west Belfast, keeping neighbors in Protestant Springmartin and Catholic Springfield Park separated by 100 yards and a 10 minute drive. It’s not far enough.
``We’re still getting attacks _ stones threw over, bottles threw over, metal bars, metal bolts,″ said Rosaleen Donnelly, a Springfield Park resident. She had campaigned to get the wall built to protect her family from Protestant ``loyalist″ gunmen, who called a cease-fire in October 1994.
``And they still shout abuse over, you know. If they hear the kids playing football down there, they’ll cellotape bangers (firecrackers) together and throw them over, scare the life out of people. It’s gonna blow some child’s eye out.″
The walls running through Belfast’s most downtrodden districts draw comparisons with yesterday’s Berlin and tomorrow’s Sarajevo, and provide a marker for how difficult reconciliation will be.
In Londonderry, the other city on Clinton’s schedule Thursday, tensions are lower partly because the River Foyle broadly bisects the town into secure Protestant and Catholic areas.
``Obviously there is much less violence overall since the cease-fires. But there is probably a higher level of low-level, disorganized violence along the peace lines than before,″ said Mari Fitzduff, director of the government’s Community Relations Council.
Fitzduff noted that more than a third of Northern Ireland citizens lived in religiously mixed areas in 1969, the year violence erupted. More than 120,000 people were forced from their homes within the first five years of ``the troubles.″
The IRA quickly drove police and soldiers out of Catholic areas, while Protestant assassins forced Catholics from their lands.
Today only 7 percent of Northern Ireland’s 1.6 million people live in a religiously mixed area.
On the Protestant side of the Springmartin-Springfield wall, Protestants think the barrier should be lowered or torn down _ a reflection, perhaps, of that community being more a base than a target for attacks.
``The wall is a bigger source of trouble than there ever was before. We have stoning, petrol bombing on a daily basis. The walls have just been a red flag to kids of both sides,″ said community worker May Blood.
On the other side, Murphy says residents will not campaign for any walls to be dismantled until a Northern Ireland settlement is negotiated. That looks to be years away.
``There’s the fear, that if the whole peace process crumbles, and that wall has been taken down, we would be on the cutting edge of the killing zone,″ Murphy said. ``It would definitely happen on this street, someone would definitely get killed. I think it’ll take maybe a generation before people psychologically feel they could do without the wall. It’s like a security blanket.″