Could a shared space be capable of addressing the value of our separate identities?

I got an emailed press release from the local Tory press office this morning with a statement from my old friend Trevor Ringland. It highlights a parade in in the mixed town of Castlederg:

Castlederg was affected particularly badly by the IRA’s campaign of murder and this parade seems to ignore completely its deeply sectarian nature.”, Trevor remarked.   “For the future of everyone in Northern Ireland, we must challenge any group which wants to promote, glorify or justify the unlawful, illegal acts which made a mess of our past.  That applies as much to those who would wish to fly UVF flags, as parks named after IRA men or events lionising terrorist organisations.”

“It’s incredibly important that we don’t pass on the wrong messages about our past to young people. Violence was never going to, and will never, solve the problems on the island of Ireland and that is the clear lesson we should be telling our children.  For that reason it’s vital that we keep challenging the movements who created that violence and who want to airbrush history to cast their actions in a kinder light.  That is simply not acceptable and it is not the way to heal divisions and build a better and genuinely shared future for Northern Ireland.”

I note he doesn’t call for its banning, which is something of a relief. But still, there is no real suggestion of how those good things in the last few lines might be achieved. And to be fair to Trevor, few are.

It keys in with something I was reading last night in Mary Alice Clancy and John Nagel’s great academic work, Shared Society or Benign Apartheid? who cite Henri Levfebre as arguing that his ‘right to the city’ entailed “the right of citizens not only to inhabit an urban space but also to participate in the city as an oeuvre, an ongoing work of creation, production and negotiation.”

Clancy and Nagle go on to ask, in the context of post conflict Northern Ireland, whether it is…

…possible to create public spaces that do not merely confirm or valourise ethno national separateness and immutable difference between groups? Alternatively, can a shared space be created as a truly public sphere that engenders the meeting and encountering of different groups to place their identities under scrutiny and debate their social value for the purpose of conflict transformation?

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