The BBC has throughout the day been promoting tonight’s ‘State of Minds: The Children’ programme which has been surveying children’s opinions about their identity. All of the children were born in 1997, and the findings, whilst not exactly surprising, once again underline the divisive nature of national identities in the north of Ireland today.
What is surprising, however, is the conclusions being reached by the programme’s researcher, Professor Paul Connolly of Queen’s University. Professor Connolly believes the way forward must involve “[encouraging] children’s sense of being Protestant or Catholic alongside also helping them to recognise that they are all part of a wider and shared identity as Northern Irish.”
Forgive me for being blunt, but describing identity in primarily religious terms here is an entirely bogus premise. Given that the issue of national identity runs to the core of the political problem, proposing we skirt over people’s primary source of identity-as British or Irish- and instead propagate an alternative ‘northern Irish’ identity sounds very Alliance-ish to me.
Surely a better conclusion would be to assert that we must find ways of equally legitimising and respecting the primary national allegiances of British and Irish here as a prerequisite to developing inter-communal trust from which shared identities may evolve. Ignoring primary identities and instead proposing artificial allegiances is more likely to arouse suspicion and mistrust on all sides. Let’s open this one to the floor.