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Why exchange at train station proves that my hopes for a Northern Ireland without sectarianism is just a dream

 

I have a dream that sectarianism is fading in Northern Ireland. A dream which dimmed somewhat for reasons which I'm sure your readers will appreciate.

My eventful journey started after I got talking to two Italian visitors recently. We were waiting for the Bangor train to Belfast. The young women were saying how friendly everyone is here. They talked about going to the Giant's Causeway and other tourist spots.

I suggested they might want to visit the Irish Centre on the Falls Road, with its picture gallery, theatre and cafe. They seemed really interested, especially when I mentioned they might catch traditional music there. So far, so good. Until all hell broke loose as a man approached me, wagging his finger in my face.

"You're a Catholic. I know you're a Catholic. Go on, admit it." (I have left out his expletives.) I was quite shocked. I hadn't mentioned anything about politics whatsoever, but it was obvious that even the mention of something Irish had set his blood boiling.

My appreciation of the Irish Centre arose from interest in arts and culture and the same interest drew me to plays in the Skainos Centre and an Orange hall in east Belfast.

The Italians seemed to be having an "OMG" moment as the drama unfolded, putting their hands over their faces. So much for the friendliness of the place.

Before them was someone who epitomised what they had read about, but which was at odds with their actual experience here.

I was glad when the train arrived. The man seemed so full of naked hatred that I felt I knew what Anna Lo meant when she declared on television she felt "vulnerable" because of racism.

Despite this, I still have a dream of a Northern Ireland free from hatred towards those perceived as "other" - and I will vote in the forthcoming election in line with my dream.

PATRICIA MALLON

Belfast

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