“And isn’t this the basis of our political system?”

In the Belfast Telegraph Eamonn McCann picks up on some recent political faux pas – including this DUP one, and one by a. n. other..

Enhancing the political cv with a dubious song-reference is by no means the most egregious of the myriad inexactitudes which litter Mr Adams’ life-story. But it’s indicative. A party leader in almost any other country who showed the same disdain for accuracy about his political past would be ditched as a liability. But here, as long as you can persuade the punters that you have a sharper focus on advancing the interests of your own community vis-a-vis the other community, no probs. Which is why, despite all, Sinn Fein and the DUP are set to take the top two positions in the poll. In other words, the result will in large measure be dictated by sectarianism.

He also brings in to play another recent political set-to.

What is sectarianism other than the tendency to identify yourself in public life solely or mainly by reference to the religious group you chance to have been born into? And isn’t this the basis of our political system? What then are we to make of the pleas of politicians, including DUP and SF politicians, for an end to “sectarianism”? None of the four biggest parties advocates violent sectarianism of the sort which led to the murder of Kevin McDaid and which, at a lower level of intensity, is a regular feature of life in interface areas.

But they do advocate and exemplify peaceful sectarianism, of the sort which provided the template of the Agreement.

The dimensions of the problem of sectarianism were expressed in figures quoted this week by Peter Shirlow of Queen’s: the PSNI logged 1,584 sectarian incidents in 2007/2008, 1,595 in the same period of 2008/2009. A marginal increase only: but 15 years after the first ceasefires and 11 years after the Agreement, shouldn’t the figures be falling?

Commenting on the statistics and on the murder of Kevin McDaid, Shirlow told the Guardian: “It’s all very well for politicians to condemn murders. But there is no serious attempt to tackle sectarianism. If you listen to Unionist politicians … all they talk about is more money for Protestant areas. They emphasis only one community instead of talking about a shared, united society.”

The problem with this is that the Agreement which nationalist as well as unionist politicians take as the road-map into the future does not envisage “a shared, united society”. The ideal it envisages is of two communities living not as one but separately, alongside one another. The conventional wisdom has it that this is just the way things are, and that it is fanciful naïvety to wish or imagine things differently. And, true, the weight of history bears heavily upon us, compressing the psyche into the patterns of the past. It would indeed be fanciful, naïve, to deny that communal allegiance is part of what we are. But it isn’t all that we are.

And a reminder of Eamonn’s take on how those political parties, and some of the commentariat, react when “anyone [dares] to envision a political system no longer structured in accordance with sectarian designation”.

Living History 1968-74

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