The peace lines or peace walls are a series of separation barriers in Northern Ireland that separate predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighbourhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighbourhoods. They have been built at urban interface areas in Belfast, Derry, Portadown and elsewhere. The stated purpose of the peace lines is to minimise inter-communal violence between Catholics (most of whom are nationalists who self-identify as Irish) and Protestants (most of whom are unionists who self-identify as British).
The peace lines range in length from a few hundred yards to over three miles (5 km). They may be made of iron, brick, and/or steel and are up to 25 feet (8 m) high. Some have gates in them (sometimes staffed by police) that allow passage during daylight but are closed at night.
Although temporary peace walls were built in Belfast in the 1920s (in Ballymacarett) and 1930s (in Sailortown), the first peace lines of "the Troubles" era were built in 1969, following the outbreak of civil unrest and the 1969 Northern Ireland riots. They were initially built as temporary structures, but due to their effective nature they have become wider, longer, more numerous and more permanent. Originally few in number, they have multiplied over the years, from 18 in the early 1990s to at least 59 as of late 2017; in total they stretch over 21 miles (34 km), with most located in Belfast. They have been increased in both height and number since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Three-quarters of Belfast's estimated 97 peace lines and related structures (such as gates and closed roads) are in the north and west of the city. These are also the poorer and more disadvantaged areas of Belfast. 67% of deaths during the sectarian violence occurred within 550 yards (500 metres) of one of these "interface structures".
In recent years, they have even become locations for tourism. Black taxis now take groups of tourists around Belfast's peace lines, trouble spots and famous murals.
The most prominent peace lines in the past few years separate the nationalist Falls Road and unionist Shankill Road areas of West Belfast; the nationalist Short Strand from the unionist Cluan Place areas of East Belfast, the unionist Corcrain road and the nationalist Orbins drive in Portadown and the unionist Fountain estate and nationalist Bishop Street area of Derry.
In 2008, a public discussion began about how and when the peace lines could be removed. While, on 1 September 2011, Belfast City Council agreed to develop a strategy regarding the removal of peace walls, a study was released in 2012 indicating that 69% of residents believe that the peace walls are still necessary because of potential violence. At the end of 2011, several local community initiatives resulted in the opening of a number of interface structures for a trial period.
In January 2012, the International Fund for Ireland launched a Peace Walls funding programme to support local communities who want to work towards beginning to remove the peace walls. In May 2013, the Northern Ireland Executive committed to the removal of all peace lines by mutual consent by 2023.
In 2017, the Belfast Interface Project published a study entitled 'Interface Barriers, Peacelines & Defensive Architecture' that identified 97 separate walls, barriers and interfaces in Belfast. A history of the development of these structures can be found at the Peacewall Archive.
In September 2017, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice published its Interface Programme, established to deliver the commitment made by the Northern Ireland Executive to remove all Interface structures by 2023 under the Together: Building a United Community Strategy.
In September 2019, a series of events are planned in Belfast to mark the anniversary of 50 years of peace lines in the city.
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- Peacewall Archive (An archive of photos, maps, texts and links relating to Belfast's Peacelines)
- Belfast Interface Project Interfaces Map (An interactive map locating all Interface barriers in Northern Ireland, surveyed in 2017)
- NI Department of Justice Interface Programme (established to deliver the commitment made by the Northern Ireland Executive to remove all Interface structures by 2023)
- Peace Lines
- Ethnic Interface in North Belfast
- Forty years of peace lines (BBC News web page detailing the various peace lines across Northern Ireland as of mid-2009)