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

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty