Northern Ireland leaders look to dismantle ‘peace walls’

A plan to dismantle the gates, fences and walls dividing Catholic and Protestant areas of Northern Ireland's built-up areas are to be dismantled within a decade, leaders will announce later.

David Cameron will sign an economic and social integration package with the province's first minister and deputy first minister in Downing Street, as world leaders prepare to gather in Northern Ireland for next week's G8 summit in Fermanagh.

Crossing-points continue to be locked in the 'peace walls' in a bid to contain simmering sectarian tensions 15 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The optimism which followed that deal has faltered in recent years amid stuttering momentum and a growing pessimism about the British government's commitment to breaking disillusionment in the province.

Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers was understood to have privately threatened to withhold financial aid from London unless more progress in creating "a truly shared society" was achieved.

Now the Lough Erne summit has prompted No 10 to provide a temporary surge in funding to help the Northern Ireland executive fund its 'shared future' programme.

It is also offering support for new private sector jobs, an investment plan for capital projects and other initiatives to drive investment, particularly in infrastructure.

"Next week in Fermanagh, we will show the world an increasingly outward looking Northern Ireland, that is open for business and focusing on the steps it needs to take to succeed in the global race," Cameron said.

"This agreement is a symbol of our ambitious vision for Northern Ireland – a genuinely shared society that is fulfilling its economic potential and strengthening the foundations for peace, stability and prosperity for the future."

The ten-year plan for bringing down the peace walls forms part of a broader social integration package featuring measures on shared schools and housing, as well as a surge on regeneration projects.

"Northern Ireland is already a great place to live, visit and do business," Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers said.

"This pact will go further in helping to fulfil its potential as a modern and dynamic part of the United Kingdom."