Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shankill Road

Shankill Road in West Belfast.
Our group listens to our guide on the loyalist side of the peace line.

Loyalist mural honoring the UDA.

Today we examined another perspective of the conflict as we travelled to the strongly loyalist neighborhood along Shankill Road. Though just a couple hundred yards from nationalist Falls Road, which we toured yesterday, we observed the clear physical and psychological divide between these two areas, and gained additional insight into the background and attitudes of the players in the Northern Ireland conflict.

We met with a former UVF member who provided a very honest and personal glimpse into his part in the conflict. He described his motivations for becoming involved in loyalist paramilitary activity, his conviction for four murders for which he served eighteen years in prison until being released following the Good Friday Agreement, and the effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland in the past decade. We then took a tour of important sites along Shankill Road and observed the more numerous murals on this side of the peace line.

After a light lunch during which we met with another former UVF member, we visited Alternatives, a community-based restorative justice program operating across Northern Ireland. The staff described their efforts to end the cycle of violence by specifically focusing on the punishments traditionally meted out by paramilitary groups policing their own areas.

Aside from a short debriefing and dinner we had a free night to rest, recreate, and prepare for our trip to Derry tomorrow.

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