The International Fund for Ireland today announced a £2m programme directed towards interface communities to help bring about the conditions that would allow for the removal of peace walls and barriers in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland.
The Fund, which is an independent, internationally-funded organisation promoting reconciliation between Unionists and Nationalists throughout Ireland, said considerable momentum had built up in recent years for the removal of peace walls/barriers but there was still fear in many communities about them coming down too quickly.
The Peace Walls Programme announced today is designed to be the first stage in a process leading to the physical removal of barriers. It aims to deliver a range of confidence and relationship building initiatives within and between interface communities to help them arrive at a position where residents feel it is safe and appropriate for peace walls to come down.
Dr Denis Rooney CBE, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, said: “There are some 88 peace walls/barriers, mainly in Belfast, stretching over 21 kilometres in total. Since the 1994 ceasefire, the number of barriers has grown. However, many community groups, some with the support of the Fund, are doing courageous work across interfaces and in the past few years their conversations have moved towards when, rather than if, the barriers will come down.
“The physical removal of these barriers is a matter for the Department of Justice but the Fund believes that its Peace Walls Programme, which is complementary to other initiatives that are underway, will help create dialogue, build trust and confidence and develop greater cross-community cohesion with a view to communities reaching agreement that it is time to start removing the barriers.
“Although there will be clear criteria for funding, this programme will allow applicants to come up with their own solutions and move at their own pace. It will be flexible by recognising that different communities in Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland are at various stages of both willingness and readiness to move along this path.”
Dr Rooney said that while there was a growing momentum and desire to move to a position where physical barriers could be removed, it was clear that local communities need help – particularly funding and local political leadership – to remove the mental barriers which will ultimately lead to the removal of physical barriers.
The Fund is inviting expressions of interest from community organisations for financial assistance. Expressions of interest (see below) should be returned to the Fund at PO Box 2000 Belfast BT4 1WD.
Initially, £2m has been allocated to the programme but this could be increased depending on the number and quality of applications. Funding will be primarily for confidence and relationship building initiatives. However, the Fund will also consider confidence and relationship building initiatives that include a modest capital dimension, such as providing a shared community space.
The Peace Walls Programme has been devised by the Fund following consultation with all the key stakeholders. Consultations, in particular, with the Department of Justice and the Office of First and Deputy First Minister included the need to dovetail the successful completion of individual initiatives, funded under the programme, with the leverage of additional funding for the removal of physical barriers and any associated infrastructure needs.
The Fund said that the speed at which the programme progresses will largely be dictated by interface communities but it hoped that programme activity will start in June 2012.
Click here to download expression of interest form