Segregation, Folk Memory and Political Interests

Henry McDonald interviews Peter Shirlow, co-author of a new book on segregation. Shirlow et al argue the pattern of killings near “peace-lines” (some of which they say date back to the 1830’s) and at people’s homes have been hammered into selective folk memory leading to a community desire for segregation. They also believe that both leading political parties are happy to acquiesce in as it makes control of their respective voting blocs easier.Picture from http://www.belfastinterfaceproject.org/index.asp

  • Garibaldy

    The article ends saying that major no political party wants these walls to come down, and that nobody wants to talk about this issue. I guess the lack of comments shows this.

    They are a physical manifestation of sectarian hatred, and the de facto religious apartheid we all endure. What is it, 75% of Belfast people live in areas 95% one religion or the other. This is the major challenge facing our society

  • elfinto

    Maybe FD, as a DUP member, would like to comment.

  • kensei

    Tackling the problems mean that the peace lines come down. Which leads to inevitable sectarian violence, which obviously isn’t going to be supported by any political party – not just the leading ones. It’s a chicken an egg sceranio, as is euled to in the post – the acts cause segregation. The attacks need to stop before segregatin can be tackled.

    The reason Unionists don’t push for it in Belfast is simple – if Catholics could move into any area, North Belfast would be a Nationalist seat within ten – fifteen years.

  • elfinto

    Kensei,

    The Boundary Commission helped them out there again recently.

  • Bemused

    Of course Unionists are hideously silent on all of this – the malicious undercurrent of sectarian violence has suited them, keeping East and North Belfast ‘British’ for generations. Now, of course, (like most objectionable and logically indefensible sorts) they’re being shafted by the harsh and cold reality of ‘the market’. The number of non-Unionists buying houses in East Belfast has exploded (just ask any estate agent). Cregagh, Ravenhill, Belmont, Ballyhackamore, Stormont etc. etc. all now have rapidly expanding non-Unionist populations. Young professional non-Unionist couples are starting to ask themselves why it has been that Unionists have for generations had a steady supply of attractive comfortable housing while they have been saddled with the high prices of South Belfast or the innate dodginess of the Antrim Road. They’ve now spotted the Emperor’s new clothes.

  • elfinto

    Well, fair play to Fair Deal for bringing our attention to this. I would point out though that, certainly in north belfast anyway, the DUP has been pressing for MORE walls not less. Thus in the last 10 years walls have gone up at White City and also in the Limestone Road area. The attempt to impose a barrier at Ardoyne Road failed however. Loyalist paramilitaries have been particularly active in their efforts to enforce residential segregation.

    OK so that’s the past. We need to look to the future. It’s hard to see where the political will to start taking these walls down is going to come from but somewhere along the line it needs to be addressed. The walls surrounding the Torrens area of the Oldpark Road could be removed as a start as this area is now derelict.

  • kensei

    “The walls surrounding the Torrens area of the Oldpark Road could be removed as a start as this area is now derelict.”

    Course if you did that, and Nationalists move in, that would be evidence of ETHNIC CLEANSING.

  • aquifer

    And now we have a political system that guarantees these parties a place in government no matter how extreme and polarising their politics. In the past there was a political payoff for being in the middle ground. In a jurisdiction divided along sectarian lines but with a requirement for a cross-community consensus for government, you could reasonably expect to be part of every governing coalition.

    With a voluntary coalition there has to be at least courtesy between the partners to remain a credible team. Now the ethnic cheerleaders get in as of right without having to moderate anything.

    The roots of this lie in the schizoid pedigree of the GFA institutions. Unionists started from wanting scrutiny by proportionally elected committees. The SDLP wanted departmental commissioners appointed. The Shinners wanted in as of right. (The DUP were offside wishing everything to be someone elses fault, for God loves martyrs)

    Nobody really wanted to negotiate with anyone else. Fearing to disappoint their national patrons and the war-weary poplace, we got government picked like a school class soccer team, with first choice to the biggest hackers.

    Not having to negotiate anything in return for inclusion in government, the electoral ethnic offering remains undiluted, with consequences for community relations.

    And with the allocation of departmental responsibilities essentially randomised, ‘real’ politics will not displace the sectarian narrative anytime soon, even as the housing market looks like leaving the past well behind.

  • Garibaldy

    Elfinto,

    The political will to take these walls down, as you say yourself, just doesn’t exist. And it won’t come while voters, never mind politicians, continue to be locked into sectarian blocs. EVERY voter who votes for any of the big four parties, and their smaller nationalist/unionist cohorts, bears moral and political responsibility for fostering divisions in our society. That’s over 85%.

    Strong and determined government action is needed to enforce societal change. Perhaps we could start with Torrens. But on a wider level, I would personally advocate the total overhaul of the education system. Selection is about to bite the dust, let’s remove religious segregation altogether along with it.

    The sectarian blocs rely on the education system and defend it. I used to hear John Hume say it would be absurd and unreasonable to bus catholic and protestant children out of their home areas to schools in other areas. Well, the bussing of children to other areas was exactly one of the results of the US civil rights movement that he took great delight in saying he was inspired by. We can, and should, do it here.

    Integrated social housing made available by government would also be useful, but is an even more distant prospect.

    But in the interim, every individual could look at themselves, their actions and their political choices.

  • Nevin

    [i]He argued that continued sectarian separation was creating a ‘Balkanised Belfast.'[/i] .. Shirlow

    Perhaps he could have said Derryised? Could the Shankill become a bit like the Fountain?

  • elfinto

    Check out FD’s link for proof that the UK taxpayer is being well and truly screwed!

  • Alan

    One problem here, is that issues dealing with the profound sectarianism that has penetrated our communities has to become an issue for more than the “nice people”.

    I despair of the DUP ever getting there, but it needs to start by all of the political parties being asked to accept their own part in stirring the pot. And Derry is the prime example, the number of post hoc rationalisations I have heard for the actual movement of 12000 people from one side of the city beggars belief. North Belfast is as bad.

    I would also query the notion that East Belfast is seeing a movement into it of nationalists – this is a movement of young people ( catholic, and protestant, but predominantly neither )looking for an affordable step onto the housing ladder.

  • Henry94

    Why not start with the major sectarian division. The border that is.

    It seems inconsistent to defend the existence of a state which is based on sectarianism and nothing else while getting worked up about how sectarianism manifests itself within that state.

    Pleas for “real” politics, forced closure of religious schools or government imposed solutions are expressions of an unwillingness to face the real issue which is that Northern Ireland remains a failed political entity.

    The peace lines are the border applied locally. Politics remains and will remain about the border until we get rid of the border. Then and only then will politics get real.

  • Garibaldy

    Henry94,

    As you say yourself the border is a manifestation of sectarianism, rather than the other way round.
    Sectarianism is the reason for its existence, and has to be defeated for it to be removed.

    A united Ireland achieved by 50%+1 due to demographic change in an environment where politics remains a sectarian zero sum gain will be a travesty of the name. If it happens that way, sectarian division will remain and won’t magically disappear. Internal borders would remain.

    It is both a political and moral responsibility of all of us not to just accept sectarianism, but to face up to it.

  • slug

    It would be interesting to see if middle class areas are integrating. A lot of the depressing material is on the low-income areas but as one who lives in a mixed middle class area, it does not seem to me as though things are ghettoizing.

  • “The number of non-Unionists buying houses in East Belfast has exploded (just ask any estate agent)”

    Bemused

    How would an estate agent know if his potential buyers were non-Unionist or not?

    Slug
    “It would be interesting to see if middle class areas are integrating”

    But as this article and others have pointed out, there are very few areas of the city which are truly mixed (ie 50-50, 60-40, so it’s very difficult to say whether more integration is happening amongst the middle-classes than at the lower-income groups level.

    I think it was Newton Emerson who pointed out last year, that when many m/c people speak about feeling comfortable living in a “mixed area”, generally what they really mean is that they are comfortable about living in an area which has at least a 70-30% ratio in favour of their political/religious affiliation.

  • fair_deal

    Garibaldy

    Little chance of Torrens being a mixed community as pretty much all the Protestant community left a few years ago.

    elfinto

    I am with elfinto on this issue “The attacks need to stop before segregatin can be tackled”. The walls are seen to deliver safety (whether they actually do or not) so the debate needs to be how can we deliver a perception/feeling/belief of safety without them.

    For the 100th time I am not a member of the DUP.

    “The Boundary Commission helped them out there again recently.”

    So why did Sinn fein welcome the proposals?

    Bemused

    Ballyhackamore in 1991 had a 20% catholic population. Ravenhill has had a growing Catholic community since I moved to Belfast in the early 90’s.

    “saddled with the high prices of South Belfast or the innate dodginess of the Antrim Road.”

    So who was it buying up nice new properties in country villages like Crumlin etc? The Unemployed of the Shankill and Falls?

  • Garibaldy

    FD,

    As I understood it elfinto was referring to a number of houses in Torrens that people moved out of into new homes, leaving these homes empty and a gap between the two areas that would allow the peace line to be removed. My point about mixed communities was a separate one, but re-reading my post I can see that is unclear.

  • elfinto

    FD,

    OK, you’re not in the DUP.

    SF and the Boundary Commission. I wasn’t aware of a response to the most recent recommendations.

    Back to the peacelines. According to the Interface Website there are 41 in Belfast with 20 odd in north Belfast alone.

    Whatever happened in the past (and I accept that it is contentious)) knocking down the three at Torrens would be a start.

    There are also a large number of barriers along Duncairn Gardens – 7 or 8 according to the website. Some of these could come down (at the rear of Hillman Sreet for example) and some low density public housing provided on Duncarin Gardens itself. Currently this area still resembles the war zone it was in the 1980s with too many derelict houses and areas of waste ground. Again, not a solution to the underlying issues but a start.

  • fair_deal

    elfinto

    North Belfast News 20th May had their response. Meehan and Kelly both welcomed it. I must admit I was a bit surprised about it myself.

    I don’t have a particular problem with the Torrens stuff. Consultation with whoever lives there should decide it.

    The last I heard there are some plans for houses on Duncairn Gardens, can’t remember if it is public or private. Is the idea of making them one of the NIHE’s new planned mixed communties too wild or not feasible? Although there are still ongoing interface issues around Duncairn, the sunday life mentioned a petrol bomb attack a few weeks back.

  • DK

    I don’t know if this is a deliberate strategy or not, but it seems that peaceline areas are being reclaimed as business units. This is especially noticeable on the duncarin road. It would also remove the need for peacelines if the borders are occupied by warehouses and the like.

  • DK

    Duncarin Gardens, not Road. The one parallel to the limestone road.

  • elfinto

    FD,

    North Belfast News 20th May had their response. Meehan and Kelly both welcomed it. I must admit I was a bit surprised about it myself.

    If that’s the case, I’m both surprised and annoyed. They have allowed Dodds to get away with pulling a reasonably effortless fast one.

    Re: Duncairn Gardens. I would assume any housing development there would be public. And on a small scale rather than a large scale. Fill in some of the unsightly gaps in the middle of the street.

    Re: mixed areas. I’m all for it. Try a small scale development on a voluntary basis and push it out from there. I’m surprised no-one has tried it before.

  • Garibaldy

    We’re at a point where while small-scale stuff is well and good, they have little impact. Integrated education being a case in point. It’s too early to put in large scale housing projects probably, but not to totally overhaul the education system

  • elfinto

    Well, we could always try bulldozing all the peacelines one weekend and seeing what happens. What fo you reckon!?

  • Garibaldy

    I might like that idea, but I figure the people who live behind them wouldn’t be best pleased.

    I’m sure we could come up with other suggestions. Churches?

  • elfinto

    Again, integrated education is a great but it needs to be built up gradually and consensually. Forcibly integrating religious schools with the controlled sector is a non-starter. I agree that the Catholic Church’s policy (I’m not sure if it’s still in place) of not appointing chaplains to integrated schools is a shocker though probably in line with policy worldwide.

    Short of some kind of unforssen seismic political breakthrough it’s hard to see any dramatic change in cirumstances on the ground. Getting loyalist paramilitaries to stand down and decommission their guns and sorting out the Parade’s Commission would be very positive developmets which would help. The DUP speaking to Sinn Fein is another. Forming an executive? Well, we won’t go there.

  • fair_deal

    elfinto

    “integrated education is a great but it needs to be built up gradually and consensually”

    “we could always try bulldozing all the peacelines one weekend and seeing what happens.”

    Is this not where thinking the great thoughts starts to fall apart? Communities calling for grand gestures what concerns them less but anything that does concern them has to be done by slowly and only with consent?

    Generally Prod communities are more reluctant than Catholic communities around the removal of peace lines while Catholics keenest to maintain a separate education system.

  • fair_deal

    Elfinto

    On the schools shared campuses should be looked at. They are being introduced in Scotland but even that met with resisitance and recalcitrance from the Catholic church. In rural areas they may be the only option to maintain a primary service for either community

  • elfinto

    FD,

    I was only joking about tearing down all the peace lines. It’s a bit premature for that.

    My only experience of Catholic schools comes from having worked in one in England. Campus sharing sounds like a good idea with regards to the anticipated education cutbacks.

  • slug

    Engouraged to see some consensus on sharing.

    I agree campus sharing seems better than not sharing anything, and is a great solution to closing local schools altogether, however one would hope that other shared initiatives could happen on a shared campus:

    -sports lessons could be shared (and people given choice of all sports)
    -small subjects like languages could be made viable by sharing
    -extra curricular activities like debating societies could be shared.

  • Garibaldy

    Campus sharing. Total wuss out, to appear progressive while continuing to perpetuate segregation

  • elfinto

    Better than nothing Garibaldy.

  • fair_deal

    garibaldy

    I personally put it in the something better than nothing category. The state should provide one secular system for everybody but if a Unionist grasps the nettle to argue for it they get accused of sectarianism ie its not about secularism but about attacking Catholic schools and no naltionalist seems willing to pick up the batin Although Alasdair McDonnell did say it was worth looking at.

  • Garibaldy

    Elfinto,

    I agree entirely. Just concerned that people would try and use it as a final, not an initial, step

  • Garibaldy

    FD,

    I think it depends in what terms the argument is made. If it’s made in terms of civic discourse and secularism, like the French, then it makes it harder to argue it’s sectarian. Norman Porter might be useful here.

    What we need is a new language of civic politics that those who want a secular future based on civil rights can ascribe to regardless of position on the constitutional question.

  • barnshee

    How can I put this politely -nope I can`t

    I like the walls build them higher I WANT to remain separate from the society that promoted the murder of my co religonists as a political statement.
    I LIKE not having my children educated with them If they would all just FUCK OFF even better.– There now I feel much bettet

  • Dread Cthulhu

    barnshee: “I like the walls build them higher I WANT to remain separate from the society that promoted the murder of my co religonists as a political statement.
    I LIKE not having my children educated with them If they would all just FUCK OFF even better.– There now I feel much bettet.”

    The beautiful thing about your petulant statement is that its wonderfully non-sectarian and could reasonably be applied to either side in this conflict.

  • JohnKingII

    2001 Census Ravenhill 25% Catholic community background. Ballyhackamore 11.6% Catholic community background.

  • trent

    “2001 Census Ravenhill 25% Catholic community background.”

    I’m sure this figure has risen in the last 5 years, probably nearer 33% in 2006

  • JohnKingII

    No way of knowing unfortunatley till nxt census.