TransConflict is pleased to present the key findings of research into attitudes to peace walls in Northern Ireland, which show that more than three quarters of the general population (78%) in believes that segregation is common in the absence of peace walls.
By Dr. Jonny Byrne, Dr. Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Professor Gillian Robinson
Until now, there has been a minimal amount of quantitative research, which has looked at public awareness and attitudes towards peace walls in Northern Ireland. Aside from the USIreland Alliance commissioned survey of six interface communities in 2008 (Vargo, 2008), there existed an absence in knowledge, data and information around this issue. Therefore, to address this knowledge gap and to help inform policy we undertook these surveys to determine the public’s awareness of and attitudes towards peace walls with a view to contributing to any future policy making process on this issue.
The following section draws together the key findings of the surveys under three distinct headings: the views and attitudes of the general population; the views and attitudes of those residents living near peace walls: and view and attitudes broken down by religion of those living near peace walls.
- 82% believe peace walls are ugly
- 78% believe that segregation of communities is common even where there are no peace walls
- 76% would like to see peace walls come down now or in the near future
- 64% believe that peace walls should be a big priority for the Northern Ireland Government
- 60% can envisage a time when there are no peace walls
- 38% believe that peace walls are necessary because of the potential for violence
- 38% believe that peace walls are a tourist attraction
Most striking is the view that more than three quarters of the general population (78%) in Northern Ireland believes that segregation is common in the absence of peace walls. In a sense, this suggests that respondents see segregation and division as something much bigger than simply the physicality of the walls and the problems that the walls themselves continue to perpetuate. For the general public then, focusing on the problem of peace walls might not be enough to address the broader issue of segregation in our society. Nevertheless, 64% of the general population still maintain that solving this part of a bigger problem should be a key priority for the Northern Ireland devolved government.
Peace Wall Residents
- 69% maintain that the peace walls are still necessary because of the potential for violence
- 63% would like to know more about initiatives and discussions on the peace walls
- 58% would like to see the peace walls come down now or sometime in the future
- 58% were very/fairly worried about the police ability to preserve peace and maintain order if the peace wall was removed
- 38% can envisage a time when there will be no peace walls
- 37% believe that if the peace wall was removed there would be some significant incidents but only during particular dates/anniversaries or marches; but 23% believe there will be constant problems
- 34% know a little and/or a lot about initiatives and discussions on the peace walls
- 31% believe that the community has overall responsibility for making decisions about peace walls
Generally, residents frame the issue of peace walls in relation to violence as opposed to one of segregation. Despite the progress in the political and peace processes, only 38% of residents can ever see a time without peace walls. However 58% would like to see the walls come down now or at some point in the future. This gap of 20% suggests that while residents want to see these changes made, they do not believe/expect that it will happen. This pessimism may be as a consequence of a lack of knowledge and awareness (only 34% report knowing a little or a lot) of the various initiatives currently underway in developing a peace walls ‘policy’ through the Programme for Government. That said, there remains a strong desire for information on such initiatives and discussions (63%).
In short, it seems that a majority of residents would like to see the peace walls come down at some point (58%). They accept that while there may be some significant incidents (37%) only a minority (23%) believe there will be constant problems. However the majority remain concerned about the ability of the police to deal with issues that could arise should the walls be removed (58%). The policy agenda is not usually determined by either local politicians or the police. Because of this, the policy framework within the Programme for Government around peace walls needs to be clearer about those various stakeholders who should be included in the agenda setting and decision making part of the policy process. To reduce their roles to that of ‘street level bureaucrats’ tasked with the implementation of policy decisions taken at a more macro level runs the potential risks of undermining any implementation process.
Issues of Identity for Peace Wall Residents By Religion
- 59% of Protestants compared to 42% of Catholics think that the peace wall allows them to celebrate their culture freely
- 43% of Protestants compared to 20% of Catholics think the peace walls protect their sense of identity
- 41% of Protestants compared to 10% of Catholics believe that without the peace wall their community would disappear
Previous research (Byrne, 2011) has shown that the issue of peace walls has been framed, to some extent, in terms of a community’s sense of identity and a feeling that the walls protect that identity, community and territory. These survey findings reinforce this notion, particularly for those from a Protestant background that the walls act as a protection for their community amidst the changing demographics within the cities.
Issues of Engagement for Peace Wall Residents By Religion
- Catholics (45%) are more inclined that Protestants (32%) to think that community leaders need to be working across the political divide to create the necessary conditions for the removal of peace walls.
- Catholics (40%) are also more likely than Protestants (30%) to think that there should be more opportunities for both communities to come together to create the necessary conditions for the removal of peace walls.
Previous research (Byrne, 2011) has shown that there is a perception and fear within the Protestant community that by engaging in discussions around the subject of peace walls, they are, de facto, endorsing a ‘predetermined’ agenda that the walls will actually be removed.
Issues of Security for Peace Wall Residents By Religion
- Protestants (65%) are more likely than Catholics (52%) to think that more CCTV cameras are a necessary condition for the removal of peace walls.
- Protestants (57%) are also more inclined than Catholics (42%) to think that more policing will be necessary to facilitate the removal of peace walls.
Previous research (Byrne, 2011) has shown that safety remains an underlying concern for both communities. That said, Protestants have continually placed a greater emphasis on security, which can, in part, be explained by the primacy of their expressed need to protect their territory as an extension of the protection of their identity.
The survey results presented here are mixed. While a proportion believe that things will get better in the coming years, there remains a sizeable degree of pessimism about what the future physical landscape might look like. Questions around levels of optimism, pessimism and/or ambivalence need to be considered in relation to further discussions of how Northern Ireland might ‘be’ in 10 years time. Predicting Northern Ireland has always been difficult. Such predictions have always been set in the context of different anniversaries or commemorative periods. For example, there were many predictions about where Northern Ireland would ‘be’ in 2016 (100 years after the Easter Rising) and in 2021 (100 years after the creation of the state). 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of the construction of the first, and arguably still the most prominent, peace wall in Northern Ireland – Cupar Way – which divides the Falls and the Shankill in West Belfast. The Army major, overseeing the construction of the wall said at the time: “This is a temporary measure, we do not want another Berlin Wall situation in western Europe…. It will be gone by Christmas”. The seeming acceptance and the ‘normality of the abnormality’ of an almost 50 year old ‘temporary’ structure means that policy makers have a considerable undertaking in actioning the key priorities around peace walls in the current Programme for Government.
Dr. Johnny Byrne is a Lecturer in the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at the University of Ulster. Dr. Cathy Gormley Heenan is Director of the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRISS) and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at the University of Ulster. Professor Gillian Robinson is Director of ARK and Professor of Social Research in INCORE (International Conflict Research Institute) at the University of Ulster.