The International Fund for Ireland is launching a new “Community Consolidation-Peace Consolidation” strategy for 2016-2020. The effort seeks to move beyond creating conditions to remove some of the more than 100 “peace walls” in Northern Ireland to actually start dismantling the physical barriers.
“We have a role to take risks that governments can’t take,” IFI Chairman Dr. Adrian Johnston said during a 28 September briefing at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, D.C. The new strategy will be officially unveiled in November.
While cross-community outreach has continued to expand in the North, “paramilitaries still have a stronghold on the housing estates, with masked men on the streets looking for trouble or in the middle of trouble,” Johnston said.
He was accompanied on his U.S. visit by eight young women and men who are involved in various community programs across the North and the border communities of the Republic of Ireland. They told stories of how dissident republican and loyalist gangs continue to disrupt life through drugs, extortion and other criminal activity.
According to a brochure outlining the new strategy:
- an average of 3.4 sectarian attacks occur daily in Northern Ireland
- there are nearly three times as many daily attacks on police
- threat levels are still considered “severe,” according to British intelligence officials
- the Independent Monitoring Commission says republican dissidents are recruiting young men with “no previous terrorist experience.”
The new IFI strategy will put “renewed emphasis on addressing the factors that prevent young people from positively influencing their own lives and their communities,” the brochure says.
The first peace walls were constructed by the British Army in 1969 as a temporary, military response to sectarian violence. But many of those walls have now been in place longer than the Berlin Wall, and 30 new walls have been erected since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“Community appetite for interface barrier removal continues to gather pace,” IFI says, “yet statutory authorities face an increasing challenge to secure the necessary funding for the required economic and social regeneration interventions that make physical change sustainable.”
In other words, if and when the walls come down, there better be jobs and other opportunities in place to fill the gap. “Right now, we are in a state of limbo,” Johnston said.