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Sectarianism still alive and well in middle-class, insists unionist Danny Kennedy

By Noel McAdam

Published 05/11/2016

Danny Kennedy
Danny Kennedy

There is no evidence that the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland is narrowing, a high-profile unionist has claimed.

Danny Kennedy, the UUP's former deputy leader, said he believed the two communities were living in "splendid isolation" from one another.

"There is contact when there needs to be contact," the MLA claimed, adding that despite a focus on working-class communities, sectarianism is "alive and well" in the middle-class.

"It seems to me that a considerable amount of work has been done and progress made on what is traditionally termed the working-class divide," he said.

"But more problematic is reconciliation between those who are better off and might consider themselves middle-class, with sectarianism alive and well in the drawing rooms and parlours of our middle-classes."

His comments came as Executive office officials gave a report on the progress of the Together: Building a United Community initiative (TBUC), which was launched by then-First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness more than three years ago.

Following the meeting Mr Kennedy said: "It is very clear that if we are to truly rid our society of sectarianism, then we need to recognise that our population as a whole must deal with it.

"This is not solely an issue that affects the working-class, and it would be incredibly short-sighted to deal with it as such."

Executive Office official Dr Mark Browne said that even defining reconciliation was quite difficult, so coming up with a mechanism to measure it would be extremely difficult.

"We have identified that we need to get a better understanding of how people perceive reconciliation and how we might go about identifying the extent to which the situation is changing, and that is a work in progress," he added.

"I do not think that anyone is suggesting that sectarianism is confined to one particular element, be it class or whatever. It can emerge anywhere.

"Likewise, the sort of work that we are doing in TBUC is targeted at everyone.

"It is not focused solely on those who come from working-class areas. We recognise that it is a problem elsewhere."

Speaking about the summer clubs where scores of Protestants and Catholics aged between 11 and 19 are brought together, another official, Donna Blaney, said: "Young people have said that if they were not on this programme, they would be involved in paramilitaries or out doing goodness knows what.

"Some of them are moving on to university, doing qualifications, and they would just do your heart good. They are so positive about their outcomes."

Questioned by the DUP's Christopher Stalford, she also added: "The feedback that we have indicates that not only are we having attitudinal change among our young people, but we are having behavioural change in that people are going with people from a different community background to social occasions in areas of towns that they would not normally have gone."

Mr Stalford said that some cynics would think of "people sitting around the fire singing Kumbaya".

But Ms Blaney responded: "It is not about everybody being sweetness and light, but it is a journey, because so many young people do not know what certain symbols in their own communities mean."

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