Did that Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring report miss the mark and hit the wall?

  “Are we leaving the Troubles behind or does the continuation of sectarian division mean that at some point in the future the underlying tensions could see a violent eruption?”

That’s a question from the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring report – a progress report on our society since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The report’s author is Paul Nolan and he should know that the conflict here was and is not a sectarian one. Not that there wasn’t a core of crazies, among both nationalist/republicans and  unionist/loyalists, who were sectarian. But the violence in Ireland has never been essentially about what religion people were or are; it’s been about Britain’s right to exercise jurisdiction in Ireland.   By referring to it as ‘sectarian’, you do two things: you label it as bad (for sectarianism is, by definition, bad) and you start looking for ways to cure this sectarianism, rather than look for a way to resolve the political issue.

In his report, Nolan appears to go after both the sectarian and the political. He points  to a lack of integrated schooling, a lack of integrated social housing and the absence of a new political party since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

OK, let’s try to untangle that particular ball of wool.  Dr Nolan has certainly mixed together stuff that shouldn’t be mixed together.

I. Integrated schooling: excellent idea. But then so too is segregated schooling when properly done, as in most cases it is. Sectarianism isn’t taught in segregated schools – the very opposite is the case. Besides which, as I’ve pointed out, the problem is not sectarian, it’s political. 
2. Segregated housing: it exists here because the political division is so central, most people feel more comfortable living with those who think along lines similar to their own. Just as we buy newspapers that offer a view of the world that matches ours. It’d be nice if we all thought the same way but we don’t. Hence segregated housing. And that applies to leafy suburbs as well as social housing, by the way.
3. No new political party: now Nolan has moved from sectarianism to politics. What would such a new party look like – the Alliance Party? The Workers’ Party? The problem is not that we don’t have a new party, it is that we haven’t reconciled ourselves to this notion of being governed by the next-door island. So we have parties that represent the different views on that question of union. Seems sensible to me.
4.  On TV last night, Paul Nolan himself got to the nub of it. Was the present “peaceful” state of affairs a permanent condition or just a passing interlude, like two boxers resting up between rounds?  His answer was that we should look at Irish history. He got that one right.  As I said to an amused Jon Snow on the occasion of QE2’s visit to the south,  the core issue hasn’t changed – the exercise of control from London over a part of this island. And that, I promise you, is a political problem, not a sectarian one. 

4 Responses to Did that Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring report miss the mark and hit the wall?

  1. giordanobruno March 1, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    You have touched on the subject of integrated schooling before. Maybe sometime you would do a post on it in more detail?
    I cannot see how keeping children apart on the basis of which version of God their parents believe in could be a good thing, done well or not.
    Sectarianism,I am sure, is not taught in segregated schools. It doesn't need to be. Sectarianism is implied in the very idea of segregation.Children know they are different because they go to a different type of school to themuns.
    Without contact with the other it is easy to assume the other must be wrong and we must be right.

  2. Jude Collins March 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm #


    Good to hear from you, even if you are luring me into comment again…
    If you think it doesn't matter which faith a child has, then integrated education is clearly for you. If you think the faith you follow makes most sense/answers your needs best, then it's reasonable to want a school that will educate your child with that central vision of life and its purpose in mind. You're quite wrong to says “Sectarianism is implied in the very idea of segregation”. Sectarian I judge to be antipathy/hatred towards those of another faith/religion. Separate schooling does not encourage that. Certainly you get to know other children of other faiths better at an integrated school – but not going to the same school doesn't mean you're a bigot. Btw – and I didn't want to introduce this cos it's another giant topic – what contact do working-class ADULTS have with middle-class adults – and vice versa? I think class division runs deeper even here than faith division.

  3. Colman March 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Good article Jude, good walls makes good neighbors. The higher the better, right, old son?

  4. giordanobruno March 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    Ha Ha made you comment!!
    Seriously though, a couple of points.
    No matter what your faith, you should be encouraging children to learn to respect other faiths, and indeed to be aware of the alternative of no faith.Then they can decide for themselves when they are able to.
    Separate schooling may not directly encourage bigotry but it is a good breeding ground for it.
    Of course not all those who attend segregated schools will feel antipathy towards the 'other' but some will.
    The fact is there are plenty of people here with deeprooted sectarian ideas. The vast majority will have been through separate schooling.
    How will we ever learn about the other side if we never meet them?