Belfast Telegraph

We all have role to play if intimidation is ever to be beaten

The intimidation of four Catholic families from a flagship shared housing scheme in east Belfast by the UVF is a stain on the reputation of Northern Ireland.

Almost 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which was trumpeted as bringing a new era of inclusivity to the province, a gang of thugs can simply force families, some with young children, out of their home and do so with seeming impunity.

In a normal society, people could live where they choose irrespective of religion or race. That happens of course in Northern Ireland, especially where people have the money to buy their own home and can pick the area they want to live in.

In those cases, people from both communities live peacefully side by side.

But working class areas, and especially estates of social housing, are still largely segregated along religious lines.

The extent of this societal rift is evidenced by the fact that only 10 shared social housing schemes have been proposed.

It is a laudatory move but one, as this instance proves, which can be put to nought by a gang of unrepresentative thugs, motivated both by sectarianism and a desire to cow their own co-religionists into accepting their vile rule.

But sectarianism in Northern Ireland takes many forms. It is present in all sections and all strata of the community in spite of the herculean efforts of groups and individuals who try to make co-existence a more normal feature.

Another example of sectarianism is the pointless row over Londonderry Air/Danny Boy on a road sign in Limavady, which has provoked local Sinn Fein councillors to demand that Londonderry Air be removed.

That demonstrates the lack of respect and understanding which is at the core of sectarianism.

If we simply cannot bear someone else's culture or the names they give to places or even songs, then our default position is to deride that person and demand that they fall into line with our own thinking.

This is the sort of example - and there are a myriad of others - which could have made headlines in any of the decades since the late 1960s.

One of the most toxic legacies of the Troubles is that it made sectarianism ingrained in society.

At least two generations grew up witnessing and listening to the most vile language and acts and that poison will take a considerable period of time to leech out of this province's DNA.

Of course, what is needed is leadership, a willingness to stand up to the bigots or those who wish division to continue, for whatever motives. But politics is not immune from the cancer of sectarianism as recent elections have proved, with more and more people voting in a tribal manner and leaving the province rudderless.

Politicians can play an important part in changing attitudes, but the onus is on each of us as individuals to examine our own behaviour and see if we could be perceived as sectarian, even by unwitting actions.

It is easy to regard sectarianism as a problem for the 'other side', but it is also a problem for 'our side' as well. It makes people regard their fellow human beings as somehow lesser than themselves and that is not a road to travel down.

Belfast Telegraph

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