Belfast picture-book reveals patchwork of walls
Photogapher, Louise Jefferson, documents the ever increasing number of ‘peace walls’ since the Good friday Agreement
IN 1998 the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement along with the UK and Ireland devolving powers from the British government and creating an independent decision making body in Belfast.
It marked a turning point coming after a drop in violence and preceeded the decommissioning of arms by armed groups setting the political landscape for full independence or reunification with Ireland depending on any future vote.
However, deep social divisions and mistrust were so entrenched between Catholics, who are largely considered to want to be reunited with Ireland, and Protestants, who are associated with wanting to remain part of the UK, that the assembly was suspended several times while walls keeping the groups apart continued to be built.
BY the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, there were 30 ‘peace walls’ dividing the protestant and catholic communities of Northern Ireland.
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The Agreement was supposed to signal the march towards a more united and functional state.
Thirteen years later there are 87.
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On discovering this alarming trend photographer Louise Jefferson booked a flight, packed her camera and headed over to document them.
She said: “I was quite astounded to hear there were now 87 of these monstrosities, as there were only about 30 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. I decided to go over and investigate. I wanted to demonstrate that in spite of political talks, this is how people on the ground are living on both sides of the divide.
“It was like a patchwork quilt of walls. People say a lot of it is down to anti-social behaviour but people have been separated for too long now. They should come down.
Louise captured 1000s of images of the barriers and murals and graffiti that adorns them many of which she has crammed into her new book, Belfast: Walls and Barriers – Symbols of Seperation.
The London based photographer also collected a series of insights and reflections from citizens, cross-community groups, politicians and charities which she has included in the book.
She said: “I found in general that local residents know the walls should come down, but feel safer with them up. Nobody wants to rock the boat, and many have settled for a benign kind of apartheid.
“And through the separation people become afraid of the unknown. When I told people on one side I was going to the other they warned me to be careful.
“I can’t see this problem being solved in the near future,” she said as she signed copies of her new book at the Willesden Green Centre, in High Road, Willesden.
“The hard work that cross community workers are doing is admirable and the sectarian divisions may dilute over generations but really more support is needed higher up the political ladder.”
Ironically as our interviewed concluded, Brent’s last publicly funded St Patrick’s day parade could be heard forming in the background where people of all religions were preparing to march down the Willesden High Road in unity.
* For copies of the book contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 404 3219