There’s a design fault in Northern Ireland: sectarianism

As the brown stuff hit the fan in Northern Ireland over the last two days, I got into a bit of hot water for saying scuzzbuckets on both sides are incapable of letting go because they’ve no other identity than being an opponent, an archenemy…and bog all else to do in-between, despite the amount of money, pipe-dreaming and rejuvenation of the last 16 years. Within a few hours of last night’s recreational rioting You Tube Clips were up on the net, complete with Kaiser Chief’s I Predict A Riot sound-tracks. It’s summer time and the kids need something to do…

After spending three and a half years there, living in neutral, Catholic and Protestant areas (my last address was a rented coastal castle house with a Ranger’s Club at the end of the garden), I felt it would be inappropriate to let it all pass without comment. I attended University there, half-enjoyed a stunt in a tabloid, a summer in PR and researched/wrote a non-fiction book about a paramilitary moll, the sum total allowing an opinion regardless of who that pleases or riles. There seems to be passport-type rights when hauling ‘Northern’ hypothesis about which is a kind of partition of the mind!

And talking of passports, a lot of folk ‘up there’ happen to have a harp on theirs too. About 45% of the NI population aspire to unite with me, allegedly. What goes on is my business because unity would have massive social and economic implications for me and the society I live in. This is, after all, one island with ties of blood, commerce, ideas and history. In my opinion there’s an essential design fault in Northern Ireland that hasn’t been fixed despite agreements and power sharing – namely, sectarianism. Even on the day of the IRA ceasefire back in September 1, 1994 (it was 24 hours old) foundation stones were being laid for a new peaceline which would cut up a park into Catholic and Protestant zones in north Belfast.

People are educated separately, they play different sports, they don’t even share common sports facilities and fields, more than 90% of public housing is segregated, and so on. Obviously children growing up in that environment will see the “other side” as the constant unflappable enemy, even in so-called peace times. I’ve seen this first-hand with kids as young as six. Fond memories of escorting a German photo-journalist around the ‘walled’ areas of Belfast two summers ago and tiny kids on both sides lobbing stones at one another. “Those Orangies are nasty and threw them stones first,” a 6-yr-old freckled girl told us. “My Ma said ye can’t trust those Fenians,” an 11-yr-old boy explained when we drove around the other side to see who was throwing the stones back. It quite took my breath away. The first place they were hearing the sectarian sludge was at home.

Children of the ceasefire are definitively learning the bad lessons of the past. On the republican side the dissidents have a powerful if warped argument. Sinn Fein continues to laud what the IRA did – and what its street army of rioters got up to – during the Troubles. Therefore riots against Orange marches even in post ceasefire 1990s were a legitimate expression of communal anger. They commemorate and lionise those who took part in these protests as well as those who bombed, killed and maimed. Now suddenly there’s an ideological 360-degree turn which nationalists must accept. That any more of that kind of thing is wrong and unacceptable. To which the dissidents will say to both SF and crucially the kids spoiling for a fight in places like Ardoyne: just keep on doing what successive generations were doing, you are no different from them. Unless someone takes the axe to the root and tells a new generation that all that violence, both terrorism and street disorder, was futile and wrong, others will keep emulating it.
On a purely social ground the nihilism and destructiveness of youth in the North knows no bounds. In Lurgan they attack a train linking both main cities on the island of Ireland and endanger the lives of their fellow passengers. The overall damage is going to cost millions but to a generation brought up to expect that the state will pay for everything, financial considerations mean nothing. They won’t have to pay the bill! There is a collective lack of public responsibility that is not being tackled. Why? Because during De Troubles it was easier for the Brits to throw money at the problem as a means of counter-insurgency. This ‘strategy’ somewhere along the line became habitual. That’s why there’s more “community” workers than real workers in the North! It has one of the highest rates of civil service workers per capita in Britain. I saw this most glaringly when I applied for ‘Disability Living Allowance’ (DLA). The visiting doctor who came to my house to assess me admitted they were “too scared” to refuse applicants from flashpoint areas like Ardoyne, Shankill, Falls Road, Tiger’s Bay, etc., for fear of repercussions. It’s easier to process the paperwork and flush away any potential grief. I knew of someone who was getting full DLA benefits – including a people carrier, because they romanced a terrorist during the Troubles and were handily claiming ’depression’ from this dating decision all these years later. The money was spent on silver wallpaper, holidays, DFS couches and bikini waxing.
Last night’s recreational rioting made me sick on so many levels. A journalist pal rang to say people were “sitting outside on their garden furniture” in the Ardoyne, drinking beer, cheerily watching the riots in the way most people do with a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A young boy aged about 10 was on his mobile to his mum telling her he’d be home soon if the “cops don’t lift me”. The new mini street armies are desperate to reclaim the hallmarks of a war they weren’t even born in time to recall. It’s a strange kind of sectarian serendipity, is it not? And as for being from Dublin and having an opinion on it, you don’t own the North matey, you just happen to live there.
**This post was originally published on the Anti Room Blog, click here to see comments

About junecaldwell

June's short story collection Room Little Darker is published by New Island Books in May 2017. She's a prizewinner of The Moth International Short Story Prize and has been shortlisted and highly commended for many others including: Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award, Sunday Business Post/Penguin short story prize, Lorian Hemingway (USA), RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland and Over The Edge New Writer of the Year. In 2010 she received an Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) bursary for fiction. Her work has been showcased at the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange in Nogarole Rocca / Verona (May 2012), Read For The World (June 2012) and Bloomnibus (June 2013) at the Irish Writers' Centre, Galway Pro Choice (Aug 2013), Over the Edge Galway (Dec 2013), Stinging Fly Spring Launch (March 2014), At The Edge, Cavan (May 2014), The Winding Stair Prizewinner's Reading (Sep 2014), One City One Book: DLR Lexicon Barrytown Trilogy reading (April 2015), Hodges Figgis Book Festival (Oct 2015), Bogman's Canon Fiction Disco (Nov 2015, April 2016), Doolin Writers' Weekend (March 2016), Five Lamps Arts Festival (Mar 2016), National Concert Hall: Kevin Barry Recital Room series (April 2016) and the Eastrogen Rising: A Rebel Cabaret. Her creative writing has been published in Woven Tale Press, The Moth, The Stinging Fly, Literary Orphans and Popshot, as well as a non-fiction biography of a Trouble's moll with Gill and MacMillan in 2006. Her short story 'SOMAT' is published in The Long Gaze Back: The Anthology of Irish Women Writers, edited by Sinéad Gleeson/New Island. Journalism: The Gloss, The Guardian, The Observer, Sunday Times, Sunday Life, Sunday Tribune, Sunday Business Post, Sunday Independent, Ireland on Sunday, Irish Independent, as well as a number of women's magazines and trade journals.

Posted on July 13, 2010, in Arseholes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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