Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Still little sign of an end to sectarianism

The suggestion that a department should be established at Stormont, if devolved government can be restored, to tackle religious bigotry in all its insidious forms is new thinking on the subject
The suggestion that a department should be established at Stormont, if devolved government can be restored, to tackle religious bigotry in all its insidious forms is new thinking on the subject

Editor's Viewpoint

It is hardly surprising that sectarianism continues to flourish - overtly and covertly - in a province where the two main communities hold mutually opposing aspirations, allegiances and identities. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement 21 years ago produced a wave of euphoria, largely because it heralded the end of Troubles. But the promise that it would end or erode the underlying cancer of sectarianism has never been fulfilled.

The suggestion that a department should be established at Stormont, if devolved government can be restored, to tackle religious bigotry in all its insidious forms is new thinking on the subject. But if commitment and money could banish sectarianism from people's minds then it would have happened a long time ago. The European Union has spend hundreds of millions of pounds on peace and reconciliation projects, and the indigenous Community Relations Council worked unceasingly in attempting to create a more inclusive society. Yet, can we truthfully say that bigotry is on the wane?

It is not just a problem in working class areas where never the twain communities will meet, but it exists also among the more genteel classes, who find their own reasons for denigrating "the other side". Comedian Patrick Kielty's call for a reform of our segregated education system also has merit, yet the integrated sector remains steadfastly small, showing that most parents do not buy into it voluntarily.

Perhaps they need to be educated better on its potential benefits.

Sectarianism is essentially tribal, again hardly surprising given that politics is based not on policies but on headcount. As the numerical gap between the two communities narrows, one becomes emboldened, the other more nervous. Both become more determined, not less, to avoid compromise.

That is not a promising foundation for a department that needs cross-community political buy-in.

But changing attitudes is not just the job of politicians. We all have a part to play.

When was the last time any of us attempted outreach to someone from the other community? Have we ever been curious about their cultural touchstones and sought to find out why they are important? Or have we simply shrugged our shoulders in despair and said things will never change?

People should not have to deny their background or apologise for it, but they should show the same respect to other people's culture.

Belfast Telegraph

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