Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Shared society still seems a pipe dream

How can people living in the shadows of peace walls in Belfast, for example, ever come to see those living on the other side as anything than potential enemies? (Niall Carson/PA)
How can people living in the shadows of peace walls in Belfast, for example, ever come to see those living on the other side as anything than potential enemies? (Niall Carson/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

It is disappointing, but not totally surprising, that nearly 30% of people in Northern Ireland feel public facilities such as libraries, parks, swimming pools and leisure centres are not shared spaces, open equally to Protestants and Catholics.

Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, this is still a divided society.

It is not the place it once was, where to wander into the wrong area could mean death, or where opposing sectarian paramilitary gangs set out to kill each other.

But it is also not entirely the society we all hoped it would be more than two decades after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

One only has to look at the make-up of the various political constituencies to see how few have almost equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants within their boundaries.

A significant number of people live in their own silos. They may mix with others of different religions or cultures in the workplace and then return to their own community in the evening.

We may interact, but how many of us intermingle?

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Chatting in work is not the same as spending time together in a social setting, where we can find out about each other's cultures, interests and beliefs.

Essentially, when do many of us ever take an opportunity to understand each other?

Without understanding, without building confidence in each other's sincerity and without attempting to shed the prejudices we all have inherited, creating a shared society is an almost impossible task.

How can people living in the shadows of peace walls in Belfast, for example, ever come to see those living on the other side as anything than potential enemies?

If they are afraid to live side-by-side, there is no chance of them viewing facilities in their area as shared spaces.

What is most disappointing is that people aged 25 to 34 felt the greatest inequality.

They are largely the ceasefire generation. They did not experience the horror of the Troubles, but they have the nous to know that this is still not a normal society, despite the many advances made.

They have inherited past divisions. One might even say they are victims of divisions because the demographics, geography and silo mentality mitigate against inclusion.

Sectarian attacks on housing allocated to Catholics in north Belfast are the manifestation of those ills. We need to work harder to make the province truly inclusive. Toxic politics does not help.

Belfast Telegraph

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