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Plans unveiled to tear down wall separating Catholics, Protestants in Belfast

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland hopes to tear down the so-called ‘‘peace lines’’ of Belfast — dozens of walls of brick, steel, and barbed wire that divide Irish Catholic and British Protestant neighborhoods — within a decade, officials said Thursday. But the deadline of 2023 is a sign of how difficult the task will be.

The government unveiled the goal as part of plans to reduce divisions in what remains a profoundly polarized society 15 years after the Good Friday peace accord.

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First Minister Peter Robinson, a Protestant, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a Catholic, said 10,000 people aged 16 to 24 who were out of school and unemployed would be offered paid placements involving cross-community work designed to help them build friendships with peers from the other side. They said 100 summer camps would bring together younger children from across the divide.

And Robinson and McGuinness said 10 new neighborhoods would be built that recruit balanced numbers of Protestant and Catholic families. Nine-tenths of residential areas are overwhelmingly one side or the other.

The headline-grabber was their aim to remove the dozens of security fences that scar the urban landscape of Belfast. The biggest of the barriers dates to 1970 after major Catholic-Protestant street battles in the British territory.

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