Who do we think we are?

I just finished listening to a fine piece of radio presented by Gerry Anderson and would recommend a listen. It covered the area of identity and what factors make us what and who we think we are. It’s certainly timely given the present impasse we are stuck in, unable and unwilling to perfom a basic function of democracy and govern ourselves. Perhaps a better or more confident sense of identity or achieving some permission to allow ourselves to claim shared identity would be useful at this time. (I heard a certain Mr Fealty credited on the show, but will have to listen again to catch his contribution.)The point has often been made in this forum that our sense of identity in Northern Ireland is one of the key issues we need to explore and understand. Edward Moxon Brown says:
The differences between the two communities in Northern Ireland are palpable. The lines of division tend to reinforce each other. There are few, if any, overarching institutions or foci of loyalty that can transcend the cleavages. Although the lines of division are often considered to be religious in character, religion is best seen as a badge of difference – the visible symbol of deeper and less tangible attachments to national ‘roots’

This point is nicely taken up on the show with examples of how we can claim sporting or other figures as ‘our own’ when it suits, but that by and large we have very few common icons or symbols that we can share. It seems that the people of Northern Ireland would rather self destruct than admit that these differences in root and religion should not continue to define and determine our present and our future.

That idea of self-destruction was brought home to me during the summer, and the impliactions for our society at large. A friend was out observing a parade in East Belfast and heard a young child, about 8 or 10 starting to shout over at the people going to Mass at St Matthew’s. The usual epiteths were being shouted, when my friend turned to the wife of a local politician to see if she was going to censure the kid. She looked and said ‘He’s just right, them ones shot at us during a funeral’. The missing part of the story is that the funeral was 30 years ago and the hatred, confusion and intolerance is being passed from one generation to the next depriving all of us of hope for a shared future.