Plans to dismantle Belfast’s network of so-called peace walls dividing loyalist and nationalist neighbourhoods must be driven by both communities, Stormont First Minister Ian Paisley said today.
During his last ministerial question time in Stormont before he steps down next month, the outgoing Democratic Unionist leader welcomed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s argument during the US-Northern Ireland Investment Conference last week that the walls must come down if the city wanted to maximise American investment.
He told DUP Assembly colleague Nelson McCausland: “I welcome those remarks but I must also say that any plans to remove peace walls must primarily be a community-driven plan.
“The people must act. Outsiders pulling down walls will accomplish nothing.
“But when those on both sides of the wall mutually come to agreement and say we are taking down these walls, then we will have won a great victory and I look forward to that victory being sealed over and over again in these areas where there has been great trouble in the past days.”
More than 40 so-called peace walls have been erected in sectarian flashpoint areas in Belfast, Derry and other parts of the North.
The first 25ft iron, brick and steel walls were built during the 1970s.
However a debate has begun about whether the peace walls can be dismantled in the wake of last year’s power sharing agreement at Stormont involving unionists and republicans who were once bitter enemies.
Communities in Belfast were sounded out about the symbolic tearing down of one wall by the organisers of a special symposium last month marking the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
The US Ireland Alliance which organised the symposium did not manage to have a wall torn down but detected a willingness to discuss the idea.
The issue was reignited last week when Mr Bloomberg told an audience of chief executives from senior US business: “The historic cultural barriers between the two communities here are slowly coming down.
“And the sooner they do, and the sooner the physical barriers come down as well, the sooner the flood gates of private investment will open.”