Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Sectarianism undermines the primacy of democratic politics

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998

During the Haass negotiations Sinn Féin stated that sectarianism and segregation were at the heart of our divisions and disagreements over parades, flags and identity.

We put forward the analysis that sectarianism and segregation are central to our contested past, and for as long as that continues, they will frustrate proper address of legacy issues.

Sectarian attitudes are an incendiary catalyst for violence, and perpetuating communal instability and division. This reality is the biggest barrier to a shared future, and to successfully dealing with the past.

The polarisation, societal and political ambivalence fostered by sectarianism, means northern society has yet to address in a mainstreamed discourse the nature of sectarianism and how it should be tackled.

Our society still has to agree there is no acceptable level of sectarianism, and that every sector of our community must demonstrate zero tolerance against its influence in our midst.

For as long as the attitudes and agents of sectarianism and segregation go unchallenged, bigotry, intolerance and instability will be constant.

The failure by all sides to positively embrace the Good Friday Agreement’s principles of mutual respect, parity of esteem, equality and right to live free from sectarian harassment, means the primacy of democratic politics is undermined by sectarianism.

True democratic politics, uncontaminated by sectarian culture or attitudes needs to be seen to work within our institutions, under the agreed GFA principles.

To eradicate sectarianism, we need to change our political and social context by developing authentic reconciliation and more inclusive political processes.

Sinn Féin believes that a dedicated Reconciliation Strategy, a Bill of Rights, incitement to hatred legislation, and a new Civic Forum are all essential.

If a minority intend blocking the Haass proposals, then agreement on tackling sectarianism and segregation should become common ground for the majority in our society.