Foyle Arts Centre, February 2, 1995.
Housing Research Centre
University of Ulster.
The paper reviews the development of segregated space in Belfast,
but concentrates on the problems of peace lines communities from
the perspective of the people who live there. Using empirical
survey data, it describes the complex and inter-related physical,
social, economic and security problems of life at the interface.
The paper also highlights the wider costs of these areas, as well
as drawing out the implications of the research for the Fountain
community in Londonderry. The paper supports the call for the
security wall to be maintained for psychological and practical
security, and further details four emerging themes. It concludes
with a recommendation that the sectarian realities of life in
Northern Ireland, including those behind the peace walls, should
receive parity of esteem by any policy makers who seek to be 'inclusive'
The development of ethnic segregated space.
Residential segregation between two ethnic groups is likely to
indicate some significant difference between them. The physical
separation of residence may contribute to, and reinforce, division.
Equally, however, segregation between groups may act as an integrating
force within each group. Boal (1982) argues that, in Northern
Ireland, residential segregation indicates that the two groups
are relatively unassimilated and segregation may indicate, and
contribute to, significant levels of integration with each group.
Jones (1960) suggests that residential segregation of Protestant
and Catholics may have been characteristic of the city from its
inception. The first year for which it is possible to quantify
ethnic residential distribution in Belfast is 1911. In 1911, 41%
of Catholics and 62% of Protestants were residentially segregated.
Between 1911 and 1969, levels of segregation increased, as by
the latter year the proportion of Catholics living in segregated
streets had risen to 59%, while the corresponding figure for Protestants
had risen to 69%.
Boal (1982:253) concludes:
Boal also points out that some degree of ethnic mixing had been
a feature of the city for a long time. However, more recent research
has tended to confirm increasing levels in segregation throughout
the 1970's and 1980's (Doherty 1990, Keane 1990).
Using data from the latest Census (1991) Shuttleworth concludes
that 'religious based segregation has increased in Northern Ireland
between 1971 and 1991' (1993:6).
Boal suggest three underlying reasons for the patterns of segregation
in Belfast. First, people, like to live with others who belong
to the same culture; share values, ideals and norms; understand
and respond to symbols and agree about child rearing, interaction
The development of Peace Lines
The most dramatic period of population movement as result of ethnic
turmoil in the city came between 1969 and 1973. It is estimated
that 60,000 people left their homes. This movement tended to be
concentrated in the working class areas of north, west and inner
east Belfast. The consequence was 13 peace lines, where a physical
barrier is used to separate respective communities.
The best expression of the impact of the peace lines is their cost to state and society. These costs can be described as actual financial costs, opportunity costs, social costs and image costs. The direct and indirect costs of the peace fences are minor particularly when compared to the human costs to local residents. The report by community groups on "Life on the Interface" shows that the peace line affects nearly every aspect of daily life: going to the shops and work; getting access to play or recreation areas; supervising children; the threat to life itself and the psychological problems created by the constant pressure and fear of peace line living (Life on the Interface, 1991).
Life on the Interface
'Territory' is how communities work and is how communities are
maintained and protected. There are positive and negative aspects
of segregation. The positive aspects of segregation are that it
maintains communities, maintaining identity and safety of communities.
The negative aspects of segregation are the compounded deprivations
Peace Line communities experience compounded deprivations. The
research of three interface areas in Belfast showed that interface
areas experience significantly higher levels of poverty, that
both communities on either side of the interface are deprived
because of restricted access to services and facilities perceived
as trapped in the territory of the out group. Interface communities
are stigmatised as having bad attitude and being nakedly sectarian.
The image of these areas make it difficult for internal and external
solutions to local economic development to have real prospect
The recognised indicators of social deprivation illustrate the
extent of the problem. For example, if the case areas are considered
as typical of peace lines zones, then 69% of the community earns
less than £5,000 compared to only 45% of Northern Ireland
as a whole (Northern Ireland statistics from the Continuous Household
Survey). Similarly, the unemployment rate for Northern Ireland
as a whole is 14% but at the interface, it is more than twice
that estimate (31%).
High benefit dependency underscores the nature of poverty at the
peace line. A total of 41% of households receive Income Support
compared with half that for the province as a whole (21%). Similarly,
2% of the province's families received family credit compared
to 5% at the peace line. Educational attainment levels complement
the economic data.
Twelve percent of the economically active population in Northern
Ireland achieved Advanced level standard as their highest qualification
and the same proportion a University degree (12%). The comparative
figures for the peace line were 2% and 1% respectively.
Attitude to area
The research highlights the negative attitude to locality among
peace line communities. For example, 27% complained about the
amount of bricked up properties. Nearly one third (30.8%) complained
about broken street lighting and 18.9% about the condition and
amount of vacant land. In terms of ideas to help reduce the problems
of the peace line, 14% thought that physical improvements were
necessary while 13.5% wanted to see local services and facilities
developed. A total of 11.8% wanted security improvements in the
locality and, together with 4% who wanted the peace fence strengthened,
this reflects the immediacy of the problem of local people. Less
than one quarter (22%) thought that cross community projects had
a role to play in addressing problems.
Overall, 62.1% were satisfied with their area. Lowest levels were
experienced in Protestant Suffolk (42.6%) and Protestant Ardoyne
(48%). However, only 50% of Catholic Ardoyne were satisfied with
their area. Highest rates of satisfaction were in the Short Strand.
Inter community attitudes
When cross community attitudes are measured in a structured way
it shows that positive opinions and attitudes are prevalent at
the peace line. For example, 81% would allow a member of the out
group to join their clubs and societies. This figure progressively
rises when entry into neighbourhood (90%), country (94%) and visiting
rights to area (94%) are considered. However, a constant theme
across all case study areas is the lower rate of acceptance of
Protestant communities compared to Catholics.
Contact across the Peace Fence
Despite the physical and psychological impact of the peace line,
this does not mean there is little or no contact or interaction.
28.2% of respondents had friends or relatives on the opposite
side of the peace fence. Most visited each other once a week or
more. A total of 38% never visited their friends or relatives
on the other side of the peace fence.
People crossing the peace fence feel that, to some extent, movement
patterns and feelings of threat depend on the level of tension
or violence locally. A total of 90% of the total sample state
that the level of tension or violence increases at different times
of the year. In particular, there was a feeling that traditional
anniversaries and marches and parades were the main reasons for
increases in tension. The implications is that this is where local
community relations efforts should be targeted. Actual physical
sectarian assaults, such as rioting, stone throwing and sectarian
graffiti amount for very little of the overall explanation for
the increase in tension.
There seems to be little change in community relations over time.
The majority of respondents in this research feel that attitudes
and relations will stay the same. The emphasis of improving future
conditions is on increasing employment opportunity.
Who lives at the peace line?
While there are important differences between Protestants and
Catholics, both peace line communities contain sub-sets of people
characterised by common attitudes. These groups are recognised
in each community.
Leaders - A small group, who display attitudes and behaviour
on which sustainable cross community contact and development can
be based. Recognised leaders have been involved in youth or church
based activities or tenants associations. They have positive attitudes
to the out group and are often directly engaged in cross community
projects. They tend to be younger, are in full time employment
and on higher than average incomes. They tend to be among the
better educated members of the community who have also a greater
confidence about their own community identity.
Extremists - A small number who have the most hostile attitudes
to the out group and least likely to accommodate cross community
initiatives. They wield significant power and are often backed
by paramilitaries and can impose a degree of control. This control
'frames' the amount of independent action that leaders or liberals
can exercise. Part of any prescriptive strategy must recognise
and attempt to understand the way in which the controlling frame
is structured in order to develop a realistic community development
policy in peace line areas.
Toughs - Young toughs are a key element. They are largely
unemployed, experience high benefit dependency and achieve relatively
low levels of educational attainment. They have little investment
in their area and are often directly involved in violence and
vandalism at the peace line. They often sit outside the control
frame imposed by the extremists leading to punishment responses.
Apathists -It would be wrong to assume that all members
of the peace line community have an interest in or position on
ethnic issues. The research revealed that a small proportion of
respondents had not allegiance to any religion, political party
or ethnic code.
By assessing the community profile and attitudes, the constraints
and opportunities for the development of a co-ordinated programme
of action becomes clearer. Three factors are highlighted:
Implications for life in the Fountain
The overriding need for psychological and practical security,
reinforced by empirical research in Belfast case studies calls
for the maintenance of the wall around the Fountain. In setting
out the implications of the research for the Fountain, four themes
The four themes are:
-The role of segregation and physical walls in the areas future.
Separate living has brought both communities of peace line areas
significant benefits in terms of community protection and the
preservation of a distinctive and cherished way of life. If these
benefits are to be maintained, then physical barriers should also
-The need to address demographic imbalance. The Fountain community
are threatened by a changing population balance in the city.
-The role of policy makers in the future design of the area. The
Housing Executive should monitor housing and tenant mix and area
strategies should identify community stability.
-Community participation and 'inclusivity' in area planning and
development. Recent investment has helped transform the city.
But big retail names, big car parks and offices may ultimately
be lost on marginalised communities such as the Fountain. The
sectarian reality of life behind the peace wall must receive parity
of treatment by policy makers if a more inclusive vision for Derry,
in which all its citizens can share, is to become a reality.
Summary of points raised in the public discussion
The following are points made during small group discussions.
Should the peace-lines be removed, as Government Ministers
* Should Templegrove Action Research be talking about the wall
around the Fountain?
* At an earlier meeting in the Fountain, discussing the fence
and the ministers proposal to remove it, a public meeting on the
issue was proposed by Templegrove Action Research.
* The people of the Fountain should lead the way in any discussion
about the fence.
* The people of the Fountain should decide if the fence comes
down and the people of the Fountain don't want the wall taken
* The wall around the Fountain is NOT a peaceline, and people
from the Fountain do not like it being called a peaceline.
* Whether the wall goes or stays, should only be decided by the
people of the Fountain.
* There are people within the Fountain community who would be
pleased if there came a time when the wall could come down, and
everyone could still have a feeling of security.
* The wall is a reflection of the barriers in our minds: we need
to tackle these barriers in our minds
* Government ministers are far removed from the thoughts and wishes
of the population, if they can suggest the removal of walls between
* Cease-fires don't make much difference to the feelings about
the wall needing to stay
* If the wall wasn't there, people would be easier targets.
* Communities should always be consulted, listened to and wishes
respected on any matters relating to their areas, such as the
removal of a security wall or building of a watch tower.
* Civil unrest causes segregation
* Forced segregation is wrong, especially if it is carried out
by the authorities for reasons such as to save money
* Children don't have the same freedom in segregated areas.
* Most people are not uncomfortable with segregation
* Outsiders to segregated areas are the ones who see it as sectarian.
* Displacement (out of areas into other areas) causes bitterness
more so than segregation itself.
* There is a need to begin to climb the physical and psychological
barriers that we have created.
Fears of and Hopes for Integration
* People mix with each other when they are comfortable
* Barriers (such as walls) should not restrict us.
* As Protestants, we have fears about integration and especially
within formal education services. The fear and danger is the
loss of Protestant identity.
* It is pointless talking about integration until we talk about
* We need to raise the esteem within areas before we can talk
* Jobs are crucial to this process.
* Why do people talk only about religious/political integration?
Why not integration across class division?
Other general points.
* A resident from Rosemount (a predominantly Catholic area on
the city side) expressed an appreciation of the opportunity to
discuss issues such as these with Fountain residents.
* Suspicion of projects operating with government funding and
cynicism about government agencies was expressed.
* A discussion about segregation was difficult to have because
people had only met and needed more time to get to know each other.