Northern Ireland

'Peace wall' gate to open at Belfast's Alexandra Park

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Media captionThe moment the gate in Alexandra Park's 'peace wall' was opened

A new gate at an interface barrier - or "peace wall" - which has divided a north Belfast park since 1994 is to be opened on Friday.

The Alexandra Park fence was put up to try to stop sectarian fighting.

It is thought to be the only park in western Europe with a three-metre high fence running through the middle.

The new gate will be open from 09:00 to 15:00 on weekdays for a three-month period. The opening times will then be reviewed with full consultation.

Community relations have now improved to the point that the pilot project can be started, said BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said it was an "important day for Northern Ireland".

"How we as a society deal with our past is a challenge to us all," he said.

"On this occasion, the people of the Alexandra Park area have shown great courage to take the first step and open up an interface barrier that has been a symbol of division and segregation for so long.

Shared future

"Building a new shared future for Northern Ireland includes dealing with sensitive and difficult issues like the removal of interface barriers.

"Traditionally it is a debate that polarises opinion but we must find some way of removing these structures over time and with agreement from the community if we are serious about building a shared future."

Mr Ford said progress was also being made on another interface barrier in the area.

He said the transfer of funding from the Department of Justice to the Department for Regional Development would facilitate the day time opening of the security gate at the junction of Newington Street and Limestone Road.

The road barrier at Newington Street was installed more than 20 years ago after public disorder.

Mr Ford said residents in the Newington Street area had called for the gate to be opened during the day, as long as traffic-calming measures were installed.

The process for installing the road safety features and opening the barrier is expected to take two to three months. The barrier will then be opened on weekdays.

At present there are 49 "peace walls" in Belfast.