What Future?

It’s not often that i go beyond my blogging remit of providing what i hope are interesting and thought provoking photographs. But after an incident this week I feel compelled to put a few thoughts down as to the future of NI and what i consider to be the biggest problem facing us…sectarianism and the religious divide.

I’ve been living in East Belfast for 5 years now and the proximity to the city centre (a brisk 15 min walk has me in town) is very appealing as i would cover a lot of events there.

A couple of years ago i moved to what can only be considered an interface area and a staunchly Loyalist area. I did so with an open mind, but with a certain amount of trepidation it has to be said. My 8 year old son who stays with me 2 nights a week, doesn’t go to a local school and attends a faith school (not my choice but i am not the primary carer). Walking home from his school i am always aware that his uniform would mark him out as not being from the area. I always take care to ensure it is covered up as best i can.

I mention this as a couple of days ago whilst walking home a 6 year old boy (certainly no older) asked me, after maah boy had passed him by with his school shirt peeking from his jacket,

“What school does your son go to?”

“Up the road” was my reply walking on but i was frankly dismayed that a child of that age would ask me such a question.

I’d never seen the kid before and for him to even ask the question shows a knowledge way beyond his years and understanding.

If, as the saying goes, the children are our future, then i am unsettled as regards the future. I can only hazard a guess that that particular 6year old is learning from his parents, peers and siblings but when you have a child of that age, asking such a leading question of a complete stranger, we really should be concerned for the future.

I remember when i first moved into the area a couple of years ago.

Boys being boys, maah boy met a couple of the locals boys, the upshot being that they came round to play a game of table air football.

The 3 boys were happy enough setting up the game chit chatting and laughing amongst themselve. Various flags of the world are part of the game (they wave when a goal is scored) and when i heard one of the local kids ask

“What’s that papist flag doing in here?” I jumped up from the other end of the room and asked him what flag he was referring to.

He pointed to the Italian flag saying “Thats the Popes flag”

I corrected him by telling him it was the Italian flag and that the Pope had a different flag because the Vatican is in fact a separate state.

I didn’t question him as to where he had got the misconception from or who had told him. The upshot of that was that since that day the kids have never been back into my house and that budding friendship was nipped. Not by me i hasten to add but by maah boy because of a couple of other incidents on the street, the following week.

So the point of this blog is really to ask who should any anti sectarian training/education be aimed at?

The young and impressionable or the bitter and twisted parents who the young are taking the lead from?

Either way i do think it will take a couple of generations at the very least to eradicate what is an insidious and hateful scourge of our society.

And for the record, i will be moving fairly soon as i wish to protect maah boy as he grows, matures and gains more independence. And when the time is right i will try to explain to him some of the reasons, but in the meantime i want him to have a childhood of happy memories uncontaminated by hate and bitterness.

Sadly this doesn’t appear to be possible for some in our society.

Photographer and visual artist based in Belfast.
I have facilitated community based workshops with groups as diverse as visually impaired individuals in Dungannn, Travellers across Northern Ireland, Young Offenders and many community groups across Belfast.
My work has exhibited extensively here in Northern Ireland in group and individual shows and has been shown in North America and i had my first solo international exhibition in New Zealand. I have been the recipient of a number of grants from the Arts Council Northern Ireland.
I’ll be blogging about Arts and Culture, primarily in Belfast
check out www.moochinphotoman.tumblr.com