Belfast Telegraph

Why hand-wringing won’t halt sectarian intimidation

It’s time to choose our future. Do we want it to be shared or scared, asks Duncan Morrow

This week, Mary Kelly was targeted with pipe-bombs in her home - for the third time in five months. Mary's crime? Working for a better future on the interface where she lives.

On the same night, hooded men attacked houses in Belfast's Village area, which happened to be houses where Poles and Catholics lived.

Not far away, an Indian and a Filipino family were traumatised when their cars were set alight by brave sons of Ulster.

Sectarianism, racism and the other sorts of hatred which provide 'reasons' for attacking people in their homes are alive and well in Ulster.

I don't know what any of the victims will decide, but who could protest if everyone asked to be relocated? (If they haven't been forced to flee already.)

As usual, the intimidated pay. Separation is enforced by violence.

Later we will be told separation is about choice. People want to live apart. Fear is not a factor. Aye, right.

On whose behalf did this take place? Where are the names and witnesses? Are there community leaders who know what is going on? Is it the case that these things happened with widespread local support - and we have a horrifying problem - or is intimidation so deep that everyone fears for their safety if they say anything?

We are still settling for the shameful idea that if you don't fit, you break barriers at your own risk. We'll spend money to move you back where you should have been all along - with your own - but we don't stand up against the 'norm' that only certain people can live in some places.

Worse, we cannot stand up against people who force others out, because it is too hard and too dangerous. Where are human rights and equality when you need them?

This week, the Executive considers a policy to promote 'Cohesion, Sharing and Integration'. It could be a key policy to foster a totally different future.

But there is a serious danger that it will be a missed opportunity, more concerned with dividing out, cutting budgets and getting rid of an independent Community Relations Council than getting serious about tackling the institutional fear and mistrust in the way we live.

The policy will be worthless if it does not spell out what we are doing to end intimidation of minorities, still after 40 years.

What will we do through education to build tolerance and real solidarity? Tackling threats is also critical to any serious economic policy which wants to attract investment, retain talent and tackle poverty. It is time that the business community said so. The omens are not good. After years of Executive delay, consultation may be done and dusted by September. But we need a long public debate.

Some seem to content themselves with 'getting a document out' rather than driving a shared and better future. And apparently there are no resources.

Yet £9.2m is spent to move people from their homes - compared with the CRC budget of £3.5m; and it costs £500,000 policing one night in Ardoyne, but there's no money for serious youth work.

Only weeks ago, the education minister decided that investing in young people's chance to work together in a segregated society is an optional extra, to be traded against school meals.

So, the mothers of Ardoyne and the Shankill Road building real relationships through the work of groups like Community Relations in Schools should just stay put?

And the kids in Ballymurphy, Mount Vernon, Claudy and Portadown getting chances to imagine and build a real future with public achievement should focus on their GCSEs and leave?

Until we get serious about this, all our regret for the experiences of minorities is just hand-wringing.

The choice is between a shared future and a scared future. It was visible on Monday night.

Duncan Morrow is chief executive of the Community Relations Council

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