Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds

Walls of Shame: Northern Ireland’s Troubles

A look at life on both sides of the barriers dividing two warring communities.

It matters little what they are called – walls, barriers or fences – the intention is the same: to redefine human relations into “us” and “them”.

The Walls of Shame series is about division, and about the barriers that men erect, in calculation or desperation, to separate themselves from others, or others from them. When diplomacy and conciliation fail, this is the alternative, and not since medieval times have walls been so in demand around the world.

Tens of new walls, barriers and fences are currently being built, while old ones are being renovated. And there are many types: barriers between countries, walls around cities and fences that zigzag through neighbourhoods.

This series looks at four examples of new and extended walls around the world. It examines the lives of those who are living next to them and how their lives are affected. It also reveals the intention of the walls’ designers and builders, and explore the novel and artistic ways walls are used to chronicle the past and imagine the future.

Taking its name from John F Kennedy’s reference to the Berlin Wall in his state of the union address in 1963, this series examines four new walls: the one on the American-Mexican border, the West Bank wall, the Spanish fence around Ceuta, and the walls inside the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Belfast: The Troubles of Two Communities

The modern history of Northern Ireland has been dominated by one thing, “The Troubles” – a violent, bitter conflict, both political and religious, between those claiming to represent the predominantly Catholic nationalists and those claiming to represent the mainly Protestant unionists.

But what Northern Ireland has now is not so much peace as an absence of conflict after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Far from disappearing, the walls have grown. Instead of reconciliation, there is partition – an ill-tempered stalemate of separate identities and separated lives.

Broadly speaking, the nationalists – also called Republicans – want Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland while the unionists want it to remain part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Wales and Scotland.

This episode of the Walls of Shame series looks at life on both sides of the barriers between the warring communities.

Update: Al Jazeera returned to Belfast, almost a decade after this film first aired in 2007, to touch base with Catholic muralist Danny Devenny. As the walls of separation – or “protection”, as some view the barriers – start to come down, much of Danny and his muralist friends’ work is also being destroyed, with calls to “reimagine” their art. 

The government has vowed to destroy the walls but the community is reluctant, scared and not appreciative of attempts to gloss over a difficult past.