The Community Relations Council (CRC) welcomes the interest shown by Belfast City councillors in exploring how the interface barriers which divide the city along sectarian lines might eventually be removed with the support of the local people who live in these areas.
CRC has played a central role in discussion and practical initiatives along these lines through the Interface Working Group involving local community organisations and the relevant statutory agencies. CRC has also been engaged over a number of years in supporting where possible the transformation of interfaces in partnership with those who live and work in these areas. CRC believes that interface communities are currently economically, socially and physically disadvantaged and this ongoing structural inequality needs to be addressed.
The aim we must all work to is the creation of conditions for the removal of all interface barriers across Belfast as part of an inclusive community approach towards building a shared city. Building physical barriers should be viewed as a last resort after all other avenues of intervention to establish safety and security have been tried and failed. Priority must be given to other forms of investment that will ensure safety without the need for physical structures.
CRC is strongly of the view that it is a central and local government obligation to lead efforts to find alternatives to physical barriers to secure safety and this will require a proactive approach. The policy which led to barriers being erected has not been accompanied by any systematic thinking about how and when such barriers might be removed. The involvement of Belfast City councillors in this is welcome but leadership from the NI Executive and community involvement is also necessary.