Building on peace and a shared future together through reconciliation requires mutual respect, for without it how can there be compromise, an essential ingredient in any recipe for prosperity where there is religious, cultural or social diversity let alone a community that has been polarised through a prolonged period of conflict following decades of discrimination.
So why is this seemingly so impossibly difficult?
Throughout the year, we work together, live together and share the place without any issues, in general we all get along regardless of religion or identity. I assume we all want what is best for us economically, better standards of living, better health care, better public services, better prospects for our children. When we travel, people from all over Ireland often unite over our common roots, all being Irish abroad in a foreign land.
A single economy on one small island makes total sense.
So how come every year when summer approaches and the marching season begins, the 12th of July once again focusses our attention on what divides us, both traditionally, culturally and religiously. Yet even with more orange marches today than ever before, only a small number cause any offence, and this is where the orange order shows its true colours. How hard would it be you would think it sit down face to face and show common courtesy and respect to the people in those communities where you wished to march with orange regalia to show no disrespect or desire to cause offence is intended?
So what is the problem?
In the case of the Orange Order, their whole ethos is that of Protestant supremacy, their role to keep Ireland loyal to the crown.
Members are not permitted to be Catholic or to marry a Catholic and are to scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act or ceremony of Roman Catholic or other non-Reformed worship.
Consider that for decades they had their hooks in many of the churches and within the political leadership of unionism which with their outdated mentality firmly set in another century and many still acting like the penal laws were never lifted. This is now so deeply ingrained into the unionist psyche it eclipses everything else and it has resulted in a fear, mistrust and a deep rooted hatred of Catholics in a larger percentage of unionism than they would like to admit to.
In the 1960s this manifested itself in appalling attacks against Catholics seeking civil rights and resulted in a emergence of the UVF who started killing again in 1966. Paisley rallied people onto the streets, raising tensions and resulting in more violence with thousands of Catholics driven out of their homes and fleeing across the border to safety by unionist mobs assisted by the RUC and B specials who murdered innocent civilians in their homes for no reason other than they were catholic which culminated in the battle of the Bogside in 1969.
All of the murders in this period were driven by unionism which was in a state of fear and paranoia which it has since been accepted had no justification and led to the start of the troubles for no reason whatsoever which resulted in 30 years of bloody conflict for which unionism has yet to acknowledge any part in starting.
And now almost 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we have a permanent end to the conflict and what have we learned?
Political unionism remains as intransigent as it ever has been.
It lacks the charisma of people like Paisley but the bigotry remains though is better dressed. Despite 20 years of Dublin bending over backwards to accommodate them and to convince them there is nothing to fear from unification, unionism still refuses to discuss it and still uses the fear factor and sectarianism to help prevent its community from buying into it.
And I don’t mean the Willie Frazer types that are given a fool’s pardon, but if you pay attention, it is those who pose as moderates who promote this fear which encourages others usually in working class impoverished communities to come out and do their dirty work for them, while at the same time condemning the very actions that they help to inspire.
I recently suggested a Boyne festival to celebrate the 12th in a way which could be family oriented and would help keep the tradition of the 11th night bonfires alive into a future united Ireland. And what is the response? So called moderates suggest that it would be controlled at gunpoint. Not only is it ridiculous but it was this unfounded promotion of fear and loathing that resulted in conflict in the first place.
Then you realise the truth, that Unionism in Ireland cannot change, it needs these sectarian divisions for its very existence, for without them reconciliation has only one outcome, an end of the union and an acceptance we are stronger together on this island than we are divided. Hence, unionism has developed into a culture of fear. By inciting this fear of a united Ireland, the same fear that led to the start of the conflict, they can control public opinion and use it to help achieve its political aims which is the continued division of Ireland and the prevention of a single Irish nation for as long as is possible.
But what is the logical outcome of such a culture? I would imagine fight or flight.
Some will face up to it and find their fears were unfounded and they will go through a honeymoon period when the south will welcome them like long lost brothers and sisters at the expense of their fellow Irish citizens in the north who will be taken for granted once again. But then there are others who will choose to flee across the water unwilling to risk the revenge and harsh treatment expected after decades of such beliefs no matter how unrealistic they are.