Government officials and officials were reluctant to appear to be doing ‘social engineering to realign religious and cultural boundaries’ when dealing with the Belfast peace lines in the early 1990s.
declassified in March 1994, the draft report of the working group on peace lines in the city also stressed that the segregation of Protestant and Catholic communities “must be accepted as a reality” and “no attempt should be made to alter the religious complexion of the areas on the Protestant side of the peace lines, thus easing the Catholic pressures on housing ”.
The task force report was drafted by officials from the Stormont Central Secretariat, Northern Ireland office, RUC and Department of the Environment for Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew.
Established in January 1993, the task force was tasked with examining all aspects of the Belfast Peace Lines, which were erected from the 1970s to separate Catholic and Protestant neighbors in order to prevent violence, and to examine whether it was possible to remove any of them. At the time, there were 15 areas in Belfast where a wall or fence was used to separate the two communities.
Regarding a future “peacekeeping policy” of the government, the working group said: “Future approaches to peacekeeping issues must be guided by a number of principles.
“First, the segregation of the two communities, whether desired or not, must be accepted as a reality by town planners and we must not try to force people to live together against their will.
“The physical separation does not, however, exclude the possibility of future intercommunity contacts on social and economic issues which, in the long term, could lead to the removal of physical barriers.
“Second, no attempt should be made to alter the religious complexion of areas on the Protestant side of the peace lines, thereby alleviating Catholic housing pressures. In some cases, stabilizing and improving interfaces may free up housing opportunities on the Catholic side of the peace lines, but the government should avoid giving the impression of social engineering to realign religious and cultural boundaries.
The group determined that the “overriding advice” of those consulted for the report was that the peace lines should be retained for security reasons and that the approach to these barriers should “continue to be reactive”, choosing the line. correct to adopt in each case as it occurs.
Much could be done to improve the appearance of the peace lines, the group said, and their surroundings.
“Continuous monitoring of the peace lines should be a priority and it is further recommended that MBW (Making Belfast Work, an economic improvement initiative), in collaboration with the Belfast Development Office, report regularly to the Secretary of State and to the ministers on matters of security, social and economic impact of peace lines and regularly seek opportunities to remove peace lines or improve their appearance, ”says the draft report of the working group.
A summary of the task force report, sent to the Private Secretary to the Secretary of State and to the Permanent Secretaries of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health and Human Services by Group Chairman Tony McCusker of the Stormont Central Secetariat, said there was “no prospect” of removing the peace lines “in the foreseeable future”.
The majority of Belfast’s peace lines are, to this day, still in place.