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Aspects of Sectarian Division in Derry Londonderry - Second public discussion: Is Segregation Desirable?

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Second Public Discussion

Foyle Arts Centre, February 2, 1995.

Peace Line Communities: Implications for the Fountain.

Dr. Brendan Murtagh
Housing Research Centre
Magee College
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' .

Peace Line Communities: Implications for the Fountain

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:
'Thus, overall, at an early phase of Protestant-Roman Catholic contact in Belfast quite high levels of segregation were established. More importantly, it would appear that segregation since then has increased, suggesting a sharpening of differences between the two ethnic groups'.

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 and lifestyle.

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 and stigma.

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 of success.

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.
Liberals - The largest group. They tend to have the most positive attitude to the out-group and have regular contact and recognise the potential for cross community development. They tend to be in the middle income brackets, in the middle age ranges and have lived in the area for relatively long periods of time.

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:
-The majority of people living in interface areas have a positive attitude to the out group and to the role of community relations in local development. Leaders in each area provide an important point of reference.
-Extremists often determine the rules governing community life.
-Planning policy must therefore recognise the rules governing the community, the way they are imposed and with what effect.

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 emerge:

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 be maintained.

-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.

Responses to the presentation
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 suggest

* 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 down

* 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 communities.

* 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 fear.

* We need to raise the esteem within areas before we can talk about integration.

* 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.

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