Between the spleen and l’Ideal: sectarianism unacknowledged and unabated…

President Mary Mc Aleese once remarked: “There is a sediment of sectarianism in us all.” The former North Belfast law lecturer was speaking obviously about all of us who live in Northern Ireland. The president’s observation remained embedded in my brain and is a constant challenge.I had the sad duty some years ago to visit the home of a police officer shot dead by the IRA. A local protestant clergyman who came through the door greeted me with the salutation ” Hello Seamus.” I corrected him and pointed out that my name was not “Seamus” but “Eamonn.” Quick as a flash he replied “Same thing.”

To me this was contempt for my very existence. “What is your name Sir” I asked. “Robert” he responded. “Why would I call you William ?” I queried. He didn’t answer. The careless disregard of the clergyman for my true identity offended me. Consciously or subconsciously this man was ‘lumping’ me in with ‘ the other side.’

At no point was I ever going to physically retaliate but I was determined to settle a score. In this very minor but limited exchange between the protestant clergyman and myself that ‘sediment of sectarianism’ momentarily surfaced. That sediment of sectarianism reared it’s head.

The French poet Baudelaire engaged in a philosophical debate around the theory of ‘Spleen and Ideal’ in Fleurs du Mal. That battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is at the heart of our very existence. That is where the great fight starts. We have all a part to play in making sure ‘L’ideal’ wins over the ‘spleen.’ That means standing up against any and every manifestation of sectarianism.

Where is the campaign at Parliament Buildings to tackle this cancer in our society ? We all know. – It does not exist.