Peter Robinson figures that Catholic schools are standing between us and an integrated society. Sorry, Peter, there’s more to it than that. A lot more.
Take your daughter. Let’s assume she’s middle-class – been to university, has a degree, is working maybe as a teacher or a doctor or an accountant. And she announces she’s getting married to this chap. He works for the local council. He’s a bin-collector. Your reaction? Right, none too ecstatic. That’s because Daughter has breached the line, the very very firm line, between middle-class and working class. In fact, if you had to choose between a chap who kicks with the other religious foot and one who kicks with the other class foot, nine times out of ten I bet you’d choose the religious foot difference.
I thought about this as I went for a walk around lunchtime today. It’s along the edge of Belfast Lough and in the sunshine, people appeared good-humoured as they walked along and chatted or called their dogs or just leaned on the rail, looking out onto the Lough and beyond, in the distance, Scotland. But while people were talking to those they’d arrived with, not a word was exchanged with those they met on their walk. Dozens of people, passing within inches of each other, not even establishing eye-contact let alone communication. And I was the same. Myself and the present Mrs Collins talked like billy-o to each other but we didn’t crack the invisible wall between us and all the other walkers.
After we’d finished the walk we went home. To suburbia. That’s the place where people keep themselves to themselves. I’ve been there thirty years now and while I know the names of most of my immediate neighbours, don’t ask me what they’re children are called or what they’re doing. And don’t ask me anything, once we leave the cul-de-sac. In short, there are people into whose living-room I could literally throw a stone and I don’t know who they are. And they don’t know who I am.
I know, I know. You don’t want to have people crowding in on you, living in your pocket or whatever the phrase is. But there’s something weird and sad about a society that organizes itself so that people pass each other by, live squeezed up against each other, and yet know and care next to nothing about each other. There must be a better way. Catholics and Protestants not meeting? You’re mistaking a clump of whin bushes for the forest, Peter.