‘Residents deeply unhappy’ at plans to remove NI interface fence says MP

A post ceasefire steel interface fence at Margretta Park in Lurgan, County Armagh, as there are plans for it to be transformed with work due to start in the summer months. The structure dates back to 1999 and is one of dozens of remaining peace wall structures which remain to separate communities in Northern Ireland. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday February 23, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Interface. Photo credit should read: Rebecca Black/PA WireA post ceasefire steel interface fence at Margretta Park in Lurgan, County Armagh, as there are plans for it to be transformed with work due to start in the summer months. The structure dates back to 1999 and is one of dozens of remaining peace wall structures which remain to separate communities in Northern Ireland. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday February 23, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Interface. Photo credit should read: Rebecca Black/PA Wire
A post ceasefire steel interface fence at Margretta Park in Lurgan, County Armagh, as there are plans for it to be transformed with work due to start in the summer months. The structure dates back to 1999 and is one of dozens of remaining peace wall structures which remain to separate communities in Northern Ireland. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday February 23, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Interface. Photo credit should read: Rebecca Black/PA Wire
Residents at an NI interface fence, which is due to be removed this summer, are ‘deeply unhappy’ at the plans, says DUP MP Carla Lockhart.

The fence was erected in 1999 after several years of sectarian tension following the Drumcree parade crises.

It cuts across a pedestrial access route from an area of housing on teh Tandragee Road and runs along the side of the garden of a property.

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The barrier is owned by the Department of Justice - one of dozens which separate unionist and nationalist communities.

Carla Lockhart at WestminsterCarla Lockhart at Westminster
Carla Lockhart at Westminster | Freelance

DUP MP Carla Lockhart said: “I have and continue to take soundings from the residents of the area and they are deeply unhappy about the proposals to remove this fencing and gate.

“I would challenge the level of consultation and the lack of information available on what it potentially will be replaced with.

“I have today written to the Minister of Justice and Council to ask them to slow this process down and to carry out real and meaningful engagement with residents to allow for community led change.

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This is a quiet residential area with many older people residing in it. It is essential that they are front and centre of any proposed change.

Dolores KellyDolores Kelly
Dolores Kelly | other

“This process will not work if the community are not listened too.”

Meanwhile SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: “I warmly welcome the removal of this barrier and the improved relationships across the community. We are far from where we would like to be as a reconciled society but we in the SDLP are committed to continuing to play a leadership role in promoting and improving a respectful, tolerant, shared society. This barrier was erected during some of our darkest days, it’s removal should be welcomed by all. On a more cautionary note I can recall the interface also being used as a location for anti-social behaviour. Hopefully this won’t be the case and everyone living in the vicinity must be able to feel safe and reassured that if there is any slipping back that all community safety agencies will respond swiftly.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: “‘Peace Walls’ created more than just a barrier or the denial of a route at an interface, they created confidence during periods when tension was high. Without a doubt we need to normalise Northern Ireland society and the removal of these structures goes towards that normalisation. That said it is important that any change or removal of ‘Peace Walls’ in general must have completed support of local residents for it is they who will see the benefit or otherwise of this action.”

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“Having had family members living in the area of Margretta Park the issue of this particular barrier - not a wall but an open gated fence - had no effect on their daily lives as it is no longer an interface area. If removing it helps our communities and the people, who it affects the most, are supportive of removing the barrier then it must be supported. Any deep rooted concerns must be listened too and the area must be monitored post removal to ensure it is not exploited by anyone bent on anti-social behaviour.”

Doug BeattieDoug Beattie
Doug Beattie | other

Alliance Cllr Peter Lavery said: “I want to thank all those who worked hard to help get to the stage where this wall is being removed, including Justice Minister Naomi Long.

“It is understandable some residents living close to the structure may express concern but I am confident they will see there is nothing to be apprehensive about. It is well documented the damage these barriers cause to both the health of people living nearby and the economic wellbeing of the area.

“It is vital work continues to take down these structures across Northern Ireland. It is a major step in creating the united community in which people can live, learn, work and play together.”

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SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson said: “I welcome the removal of this barrier. As long as barriers like this remain, separating communities, then it makes the job of reconciliation so much harder. Communities must learn to trust each other and political parties by their actions do not positively encourage this. I hope to see these all obstacles to lasting peace removed, not only in Lurgan but right across the North.”

Alliance party member - Peter Lavery.    Picture by Bernie BrownAlliance party member - Peter Lavery.    Picture by Bernie Brown
Alliance party member - Peter Lavery. Picture by Bernie Brown | Copyright ©Bernie Brown 2013

Sinn Fein Cllr Liam Mackle says he looks forward to the day when there are no so-called peace walls.

He said: “Reports that the gates at Margretta Park are to be removed is a welcome development. This area was quite a flashpoint in the past but thankfully there have been no incidents in years.

“As a council we will work with residents and the PCSP to improve relationships through our good relations strategy, working to have structures like this taken away wherever they are.”

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A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice told the PA news agency that the gate has not been closed in almost a decade.

“This area would not now be considered as an active interface,” a spokesman for the department told PA.

“DoJ believe that the existing structure is no longer needed for ‘the preservation of peace and the maintenance of order’; the legal basis for keeping such structures in place.

“Departmental officials have a working partnership with colleagues in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council to progress interface reduction and removal work across the district.

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“Following engagement with local residents, support for the removal of the current structure has been achieved.

“Council and DoJ officials are currently working towards getting the necessary approvals to progress the removal project.

“It is expected that the fence will be removed by the end of the summer 2020.”

The barrier is expected to be replaced with a small decorative fence.

Mrs Long welcomed the move.

“I welcome the work that has taken place around the security structure at Margretta Park and the fact that one more interface structure is due to be removed,” she said.