On the folly of ‘separate, but equal..’

Kevin Cullen has a great piece on the slowly corrosive character of the ‘separate but equal’ principle in yesterday’s Boston Globe.

…why is there still an irredentist rump, still carrying on as if it’s 1972, reducing a complex dispute over power and equality and national allegiance to something as naively simplistic as Brits Out?

It could be the men who murdered Kieran Doherty look around and see that the supposedly new Northern Ireland looks suspiciously like the old one. It could be they see a society still so bitterly divided, still so deeply segregated, that they believe they can exploit historical animosities, that they can capitalize on an almost reflexive tendency among most people in Northern Ireland to view things along narrow sectarian lines, as “us versus them,” an “us” that remains largely defined by a combination of religion and national identity.

And they may have a point. While the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have shown a willingness to not kill each other, they have been less enthusiastic about the prospect of actually living with each other. Northern Ireland remains very segregated, physically and psychologically. Most people live in neighborhoods that remain overwhelmingly populated by one of the two main traditions: Catholic nationalists, who aspire to unity with the Irish Republic, and Protestant unionists, who want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

And it comes at great cost, not least in the duplication of services:

Not only is there an official ethos of separate but equal, but an infrastructure underpinning it. There are three times as many so-called peace lines — elaborate walls separating working-class neighborhoods — than there were at the height of the Troubles, 88 of them at last count.

I walked through Protestant housing projects in North Belfast and noticed many vacant apartments. On the other side of the peace line, the Catholic projects were overcrowded. But there is no attempt to move Catholic families into the vacant apartments because, as they say in Belfast, even the dogs in the street know there’d be riots.

With segregation the status quo, there is an enormous duplication of public services, such as schools, community centers, and health clinics. The Alliance Party, the only major political party that draws substantial numbers from both sides of the divide, estimates that duplication of public services costs more than $1 billion a year, this in a place the size of Connecticut with a population of less than 2 million.

You can read the whole thing here

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  • Drumlins Rock

    Would advise people to read the whole thing before commenting, it becomes a wee bit more realistic towards the end, but generally as an analysis of NI its a load of tripe.

  • Greenflag

    A good article and not a load of tripe as DR states above . Somebody once made the point that you can’t stack ‘poor’people who drink a lot into 16 story housing projects without creating even more conditions for social disruption , increased violence and crime .

    When you add in religion , history , politics and senses of grievance on all and every side then you just add to the pyre .

    Cullen is in his american way too impatient that’s all . Northern Ireland can look ‘forward’ to at least another two decades of political , economic and social stagnation before there the ‘walls’ come down between ‘working class communities’ in Belfast . The danger is that the ‘political ‘ peace which has got to where it is by the skin of it’s teeth may unravel due to a failure by the politicians to manage a decade or more of ‘stagnation’ .

    Despite the RC Church’s ‘scandals’ that institution will not give up it’s ‘control’ of education . Unkind skeptics might call it the Church’s last stand at trying to protect it’s future ‘revenue stream ‘ -business being business of course .

  • Kevsterino

    Greenflag, you use a curious expression “in his american way too impatient”. Not sure I get your drift there.

    One thing Irish readers may need to be made mindful of is that when an American writes the words “separate but equal”, he is invoking a reference to a US Supreme Court ruling that was overturned in the latter 20th century.

    “Separate but equal” was determined an abject failure here in the States, about 50 years after the highest court made it the law of the land.

    50 years to learn a lesson in basic human nature. Does not sound impatient to me. Stupid, maybe, but not impatient.

  • Greenflag

    Kevsterino ,

    I was commenting on what is perceived by many europeans as an American ‘failing’ i.e the tendency to want results now i.e to make the financial quarterly reports look good for shareholders -shades of the Bushian ‘Mission accomplished while several thousand americans had yet to die and still are being killed in the Afghan/Iraq quagmire . The kind of wolly minded optimism that can still believe after a decade and a half of economic emisseration and a quadrupling debt burden that would allow a USA President and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve claim in 2007 that all was well with the economy and that there was nothing to worry about but Al Quaeda ?

    There is of course a positive side to the american ‘failing ‘. Things get accomplished even if they are the wrong things . But good things get accomplished too . Right now it’s a toss up whether the good is outweighing the bad . Much will depend on how and if the new President can exit the current downturn to a brighter future . Many Americans are already showing signs of impatience that a problem which has taken 25 years to manifest itself has not yet been resolved within the first year of the new administration .

    ’50 years to learn a lesson in basic human nature.’

    Our ‘leaders’ political , economic , religious and cultural are forever forced to ‘re learn ‘ basic human nature . If you can be persuaded that the like of Ken Lay(CEO Enron) , Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) or Bernie Madoff . Alan Stanford or Raj Rajaratnam or our local equivalents here Fitzpatrick etc were all just genuine decent folks who would not take a penny from a handicapped senior citizen then you’re understanding of human nature is sadly askew .

    Likewise if you wish to persuade yourself that somehow the Irish /USA and now German Catholic hierarchy have always been paragons of virtuous truth then more fool you.

    BTW I’m aware of the Supreme Court ruling . As for separate but equal it is quite possible or was up until recently for somebody either Catholic or Protestant in NI to live a fully satisfying and complete life without ever having to deal or even meet or talk to a ‘member ‘ of the other tribe .

    An inconceivable concept for Americans . But then NI has a history of being ‘different ‘ often in a kind of quasi Balkan way . Appearances can be deceptive also . What might appear to be excessive separation and duplication of services is really only the traditional way since the states foundation and indeed before for each ‘tribe’ to have as much autonomy as possible in each other’s tribes hands . The poll today in the Belfast Telegraph revealed that only 18% of the people of NI stated that they were Northern Irish, the rest plumped for Irish or British with Irish in a small majority.

    Can you imagine a poll in the USA which had 18% declaring that they were Americans with the rest evenly divided between Canadian and Mexican ?

    What hope for the longer term existence of such an entity ?

  • Kevsterino

    The whole identity thing, British, Irish, Northern Irish etc. is perplexing for a foreigner.

    Then again, I live amongst hordes of hyphenated Americans of varying stripes. So it goes.

    One hypothetical question, would Unionists still want to remain in a United Kingdom if Scotland was no longer a part of that United Kingdom?

  • Greenflag

    kevsterino ,

    ‘ I live amongst hordes of hyphenated Americans of varying stripes.’

    It’s not the same thing even if on the surface it might appear to be . It’s also not the same as the Kurd/Sunni/Shiite standoff or the more amicable Fleming /Walloon nor is it as vindictive as the Serb /Croat/Albanian / Bosnian situation.

    ‘would Unionists still want to remain in a United Kingdom if Scotland was no longer a part of that United Kingdom?’

    It’s not Scotland that’s supplying the 6 billion pounds a year subvention to Northern Ireland to keep NI living standards at at least 80% of the UK average -it’s England . Based on my understanding of the morals of the Pied Piper of Hamelin methinks ‘unionists’ and some ‘non unionists’ will continue to follow the pied piper as long as said piper is paid enough by the King to keep the rodentians in lemming like rapt attention .

    As you said above ‘human nature ‘. Minus the tail the rodentians are mammals too 😉