Can Northern Ireland pick up where it last left off in the 1960s?

Nice piece from Alex Kane:

The year 1963 was an interesting one. The Beatles released their first album; Harold Wilson became leader of the Labour Party and spoke of a “new Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution”; Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech; President Kennedy promised a Civil Rights bill and “the kind of equality of treatment that we would want for ourselves”.

A new generation of young nationalists – many of them inspired by King and Kennedy – were entering teacher-training colleges and Queen’s University. The world was changing and O’Neill wanted Northern Ireland and unionism to be part of that change.

He didn’t succeed, of course. The widespread differential in employment patterns were long in the setting and pitched the interests of two classes of people in Northern Ireland (broadly pro and anti state) fatefully against one another.

Controversialist outsiderly figures like Paisley and Craig merely dropped the match onto well paraffined lumber.

By the end of that decade, the state almost collapsed under the weight of its own democratic contradictions, and saw some of the most traumatic events of the whole troubles: the uprooting of 1000s of citizens who then sought safety in their own single identity silos.

Reform of employment laws have substantially (though not entirely) erased the differential in employment and educational opportunities. Single identity communities are now concentrated in areas of high public housing density.

The Republic is no longer a foreign country. Cross border policy, if anything, is being led by the actions of hard line Unionist ministers like Ed Poots in search of means to support the delivery an expensive health service through resource sharing.

Even educational institutes which are not officially integrated are slowly integrating pupils from both communities into their student bodies. It’s hard not to think that the citizens of Northern Ireland are actually well ahead of the capacity of its political parties to lead.

You sometimes get the impression that people in authority still think we are all back where we were in 1969. Living with the conflict – and the politics it produced – allowed many of us to take comfort in a number of simple binaries that are just not sustainable in peace time.

Escaping them won’t be easy. But the answers will only come by politicians who are prepared to act by moving decisively through the middle by putting policy concerns first, and framing constitutional issues in the far term.

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