Belfast Telegraph

It's not just working class who are stuck in sectarian bunkers

By Gail Walker

There is a grim irony in DUP and Sinn Fein politicians warning about the dangers of sectarianism but Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson were correct in saying that bigotry isn't just a working-class thing: "Many communities may not paint their kerb stones or put out flags, but scratch the surface and you find the prejudice and the hate whispered behind closed doors or joked about in golf clubs or over dinner parties."

Both have had to apologise for offending the golfing community. Could you imagine Anderson and Bell having to apologise if they had had a pop at football supporters' clubs (either of the soccer or GAA variety)? Which goes to show the power of those with little white balls.

You don't expect much of people from the Falls and the Shankill. But Malone? Comber? Cherryvalley, where they only have mice not rates? It's amazing what a second car and the odd Alliance councillor can do for your self-image.

Still, behind the Leylandii, you'll find that there are solicitors for Catholics and solicitors for Protestants, dentists for Protestants and ones for Catholics, vets, grocers ... you get the idea - a white-collared Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee world where the cars are expensive, the shoes handmade and the bigotry as subtle and noxious as the cologne.

As for their sons and daughters? Packed off to segregated schools where they play rugby or GAA, learning different histories, different literatures and their 'distinct' cultural ethos. And after their A-levels they go to different teacher training colleges. It would be fascinating to find out the percentage of maintained sector teachers who have taught in the state sector and vice-versa.

But that's not having an investment in sectarianism, that's just - to quote Bruce Hornsby and His Range - the way it is.

The idea that our middle class represents an oasis of enlightenment in a desert of intolerance is an obvious nonsense.

Yet Bell's and Anderson's statement of the obvious comes under sustained attack. It's only a few years since some golf clubs decided to let women in, but we are meant to believe such leisure institutions are never founded on a set of shared and assumed cultural attitudes. There's no longer a rule banning members of the security forces from playing GAA. But how many Protestants and unionists would feel 'happy and at home' in a GAA club? Or Catholics and nationalists in a rugby club? Both will point to a smattering of 'the other side' in their ranks but that only points to a more fundamental truth - these institutions have an obvious bias. But it seems just plain rudeness to point this out, while it's a sign of tolerance and sophistication to sneer at Celtic and Rangers supporters' clubs.

The middle class had the brains both to help wind up the clock and make sure they were on a mid-term break when it struck. The middle class (all those dull boys and girls whose daddies paid for their tortuous education) played a real role in our Troubles, providing by far most of our political class, our intellectual class, our cultural class, our leadership class.

Tutting over the latest atrocity, they helped to provide cover for the gunmen. The working class fought for and paid for the quiet nasty ambitions of their betters.

Of course, one of the reasons there was so much opprobrium against Anderson and Bell is because so many people who aren't middle class like to think they are - many thousands who rush to take offence at remarks which aren't actually directed at them at all, in their sub-prime dormer-window suburban heavens. Living in Moira doesn't make you middle class, darling.

Still we're supposed to believe that in the clubs and private gatherings, the associations and professional bodies of the county GPs, the barrister barons, the Chelsea tractor sets of north Down and the primped associations of half-bright part-time teachers, there was never a sectarian word and never a sectarian thought.

When it comes to sectarianism, just like sex with the servants, it's the rich wot get the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame ...


From Belfast Telegraph