Welcome to Cluan Place – a street failed by the peace process
A joke? Or health and safety with no sense of irony attached? I don’t know, but for some time we standing looking at the building site safety sign in blue, telling us that hard hats must be worn.
It’s on a wall. Well a wall and then a high fence atop the wall adding up to 30 feet or so of barrier defending loyalist/unionist Cluan Place from nationalist/republican Short Strand.
Or…defending the Short Strand from Cluan Place. Perspective is everything.
“Peacelines” they call them – as in: imposing peace by massive barriers between communities still unable to rub along together in all the years since the Good Friday Peace agreement.
“So if I say peace process to you – what would you say?” I ask Danielle Brown, a young mum with two children living in Cluan Place.
“I’d laugh,’ she says, “I’m trying to get out, move away. Last weekend was terrible. One of my wee ones with a birthday recently – couldn’t even celebrate it here at home. Every time the kids go out in the street to play, stuff comes flying over the walls.”
Another resident declines to be identified but talks to us – back to camera – clutching three golf balls lobbed over the fence at her house, she tells me, the previous night.
“We get no support here from our politicians. One DUP man does come but that’s about it. I want politicians to look at what they’ve done.”
“You mean the peace process” I asked.
“The peace process has failed us. It’s not helping anyone here. Politicians sold us down the river – the whole lot of them. We’re living in a cage here, a prison.”
Community worker Jim Wilson walks around Cluan Place with me, its neat houses with plastic protective windows instead of glass; union flags hanging from most front walls – and the monstrous “peaceline” looming up over it all:
“Loyalist and nationalist workers on both sides have worked hard to try and resolve things,” he says.
“No, it’s difficult. It’s very hard to turn back youths from chucking stuff over the walls because they think they’re defending loyalism, nationalism, whatever. There’s peace of a kind but these young people have still known nothing but hatred.”
He talks of 23 families forced out of Cluan Place by attacks since the peace process began.
Underlining the deep sense of alienation in this largely jobless world, the recent announcement of the dire state of the voting register in this politician-infested place.
Perhaps one in five improperly registered and around 400,000 missing altogether. These are colossal figures across the Northern Ireland.
Locals here all know voting rates in areas like this are not as high as those over the fence in the Short Strand where they will tell you the same stories of siege and attack from the Loyalist estates surrounding.
Few in Cluan Place have much enthusiasm for voting. All agree the paramilitaries will step into the vacuum. Are stepping in.
Here at the edge of the union, symbols matter. A woman carrying her union-flag tea-mug proudly shows off her union-flag. But it’s no flag – it’s her bathroom: union-flag loo: seat, lid, the works.
In Cluan Place this merely underlines the sense of loss, futility and impotence.