How can we rid our society of our sectarian shackles? Guest post by Fr Martin Magill…

Recently Rev Dr Lesley Carroll and I were interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence on the issue of sectarianism. Over breakfast together afterwards, we both acknowledged there were things we would like to have said had there been more time. This article includes some of those things I would have said. 

The interview came on the back of a riot in North Belfast following the stopping of the anti-internment rally. I witnessed at first hand that riot which left me feeling shocked and saddened. I had the opportunity through the media to acknowledge these feelings and the sense of frustration and anger which some parishioners and residents felt about the policing operation. In my imagined interview on Sunday Sequence, I heard myself recognise the very difficult role the police have at the time of contentious parades as they end up caught between different sections of our community. In the contact I’ve had since the riot with Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, I was struck by something he said: “Nobody would be happier than the PSNI for parading tensions to be resolved”. 

I would have explained as I saw it how we as a society are showing signs of ridding ourselves of some of our sectarian shackles – I had all sorts of examples in mind – I regularly see politicians of different parties meeting and even eating together. I would have commented on some of the work which organisations like Intercomm were doing such as facilitating conversations with loyalists, unionists, republicans, nationalists and the faith community. I had wanted to acknowledge the comment of the Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast at a meeting of young people saying how important he saw it that the Lord Mayor of Belfast (Sinn Féin’s Arder Carson) and he Guy Spence (DUP) would stand together on International Day of Peace (Monday 21 September) at an event in Belfast City Hall. With more time, I would have referred to some of the “reconciliation” events that were part of this year’s Féile an Phobail programme as well as the valuable contribution of the Aperture festival in Corrymeela. I might even have talked about some of the encouraging feedback the organisers of Four Corners Festival, Belfast have been receiving as well as the requests for more of the same. In this “decade of centenaries” as it is sometimes called, I would also have pointed to some of the steps that are being taken to develop a shared understanding of First World War events and how some of the commemorative events have also been very helpful to peace making. I would have referenced especially the work of the Causeway Institute for Peace Building and Conflict Resolution International. 

No doubt, for some reading this piece, this may appear to ignore some of the reality “on the ground”. As it happens, I would have been pointing to some of the issues around sectarianism we need to address. I would have referred to a point made by Dr Paul Nolan in a peace monitoring report: “the war of the narratives has replaced the war of the weapons. Each side not only insists on the validity of its own narrative but also on the lack of validity of any other narrative”. Alex Kane made a similar point in an excellent article entitled: “Northern Ireland is a better place than in 1994, but peace is dropping too slow“. I would certainly have referred to the very insightful book I was reading at the time – Belfast: Toward a City Without Walls and some of the points which author Vicki Cosstick makes such as: “The Germans have a wonderful word: Reichtshaberein – the ‘need to be right’. There seems to be an awful lot of that about in Northern Ireland”. 

When I talk about building a peaceful future, I would have raised the question how it would include those who were part of the anti-internment march and who are not currently included in any dialogue to the best of my knowledge. I would have pointed out how condemning and ostracising them would be unlikely to foster much peace. For those of us in the middle classes especially, I would have suggested some of the demonisation of loyalism might even be described as sectarian and patronising. 

I was going to acknowledge there will be times when we feel down about the many ongoing issues that still remain unresolved; just a few nights before the radio interview there had been what seemed sectarian fighting amongst teenagers in North Belfast. Vicky Cosstick offers a very simple nonrocket science way of doing something about the walls issue and I would suggest it is also relevant to sectarianism namely “relationships and conversations”. I would have shared a comment made by the Equality Commissioner Michael Wardlow speaking at an event during the West Belfast Festival about not being sure what is meant by “reconciliation” but knowing what generosity looks like and the need for it. 

In the conversation with Lesley Carroll as we left the BBC, Lesley talked about “the architecture for reconciliation” or rather lack of it. On air, she had talked about the need for a “new scaffolding”. Had we more time, this would have allowed me to have raised other issues for example the need to fund adequately the “reconciliation” project if I might call it that. Peter Osborne, the chair of the Community Relations Council has pointed out again and again the inadequacy of funding and the very limited CRC

budget. I heard myself call for substantial funding to undo the legacy of the past – not only decades but indeed centuries of mistrust and sectarianism. I might even have used the word “reconstruction”. 

Lesley Carroll also pointed out the lack of a strategy to tackle sectarianism – I agreed with her and had there been more time, I would have returned to one of my “pet” themes which I’ve written about before namely the lack of co ordination of the good work that is going on in many different places. Sometimes it is important that the right hand knows what the left is doing! 

There were many other things I would like to have said in an interview, such as pointing out the slowly improving relationships amongst Christians of many different denominations. I could also have heard myself calling for developing the idea of a “compact civic body” even in the interim as our politicians work through the unresolved issues from the Stormont House Agreement. I would see value in a coalition of people from across the sectors, political, faith, academic, trade union, youth working together to build the peace and deconstruct sectarianism together. 

Had I the time in this imaginary interview which is getting longer and longer, I would have shared a verse from the psalm in the common lectionary from the day when Lesley and I were interviewed seems relevant in a discussion on sectarianism and peace making “…keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn aside from evil and do good: seek and strive after peace” Psalm 33 (34).

Fr. Martin Magill is the Parish Priest at Sacred Heart Parish, Belfast.

 

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  • Croiteir

    And the public purse is financed by the public who want this.

  • Croiteir

    There is – you need a cert to teach in Protestant schools

  • Croiteir

    I have no dbl standards about sectarian headcounts, that is why I am against the border

  • Croiteir

    Perhaps you could fund me to ensure that the stats are accurate

  • Croiteir

    It can be sectarian in itself it its raison d’etre is sectarian. Hence the phrase sectarian border. And if you wish to to test if Irealnd wants the removal of the border or not test it in a referendum.

  • PeterBrown

    So that’s a completely different point – now it has nothing to do with the border but the now removed establishment and as a result sectarianism has exited the stage as it were – so why does the border still need to be removed?

  • PeterBrown

    Do they – or do a minority of them want it? And if its all about democracy a majority of the public want the border (see below)

  • PeterBrown

    So you want to retain the CCMS based on a sectarian headcount but want the border removed because it was a sectarian headcount – you’re right no double standards there!

  • PeterBrown

    Link please and details of where it is provided?

  • Croiteir

    It is clear that I do

  • Croiteir

    No – a majority do not and did not want the arbitrarily drawn up artificial border

  • Croiteir

    It is not – you asked why did sectarianism predate the border and the reply addressed that. As for your shifting the goalpost question if you wish to remove the sectarianism as presently found in Ireland remove the main prop for it, the border.

  • Croiteir
  • Croiteir

    Not because of a sectarian headcount at all – it is entirely in keeping with the principles of liberal democracies throughout the world.

  • PeterBrown

    But your answer indicates sectarianism “was removed” now you claim it is still here and propped up by the border – if you could perhaps pick one of these stories and stick to it then we could actually have a coherent discussion…

  • PeterBrown

    A majority in Northern Ireland and indeed in the British Isles do and did – why arbitrarily limit it to the island of Ireland except that is the only mathematics (aka sectarian headcount) which suits you?

  • PeterBrown

    As is the border – right to self determination…..

  • PeterBrown

    That’s a PGCE equivalent which is usable anywhere and unlike the CCMS requirement – to link to that is a frankly disingenuous comparison to the Certificate in Religious Education….

  • Croiteir

    No I did not say that the border was removed – instead of insulting people you should actually try to read their comments. I said once the establishment was removed and that was in reference to your query about why it predated partition thus clearly indicating that the establishment in existence then was one heavily influenced by sectarianism. Partition not only protected and preserved this sectarianism but enhanced it in the northern region. And still does.

  • Croiteir

    The majority in Britain want the border – interesting but so what? never actually tested was it? And so what – different country

  • Croiteir

    The CICE Certificate in Religious Education is a PGCE certificate? New one on me as it is awarded as part of the full time course. Perhaps if you would provide a link for that as it is interesting but totally irrelevant as it is needed to teach in Protestant schools.

  • Croiteir

    Nope – the border has no basis for its existence except for a cynical sectarian headcount and is nothing to do with a valid expression of self determination.

  • Croiteir

    I have not checked – but if they are denied state funding it would be wrong and something should be done about it.

  • PeterBrown

    Different island but not in 1922 or even now in the case of Northern Ireland a different country and if you are going to go down that round when was Ireland ever an island wide country and not an island?

  • PeterBrown

    Sectarianism not the border was according to you “a result of the institutionalized discrimination practiced by the establishment, once that establishment and its practices were removed it also was removed” so sectarianism was removed – I never claimed the border was removed it is you who needs to read other people’s comments not me and you should start with you own because until you do you will continue to contradict yourself!

  • PeterBrown

    Your link is to a BEd not a certificate? The certificate element of the a full BEd is this https://www.educatetogether.ie/support/postgraduate-certificate which is ironically apparently the opposite of what you claim, a certificate in educating children together not separately by their own co religionists

  • PeterBrown

    Somewhat bare dismissal of the right to self determination which is recognised in international law and even by republicans in the Belfast Agreement but maybe we are all wrong and you are the one who is correct….

  • Croiteir

    The only ridiculous self contradiction is being practiced by you, it is quite clearly stated that once the establishment was removed sectarianism went with it. Please keep up and stop this ridiculous wriggling.

  • Croiteir

    Oh lordy this is indeed tedious. Ireland is a country and has always been. Even the English recognised that after their policy, which they also pursued with Scotland , of turning it from a country to a land did not work. You can see it in the name they gave the state they established.

  • Croiteir

    No it isn’t Pete – the CICE offers a different cert for teaching in what they erroneously call the reformed faith, they also offer the educate together. Is it also a PGCE cert? So far you have not given me a link for that.

    However do you now concede that you were wrong in saying that there was no equivalence to the Catholic cert, in fact it seems to me that the secularists want you to have a cert as well as the Catholics and Protestants.

  • PeterBrown

    The link is to their full BEd which includes the Educating Together certificate which is about inclusivity not exclusivity (see my link) its all there on the webpage – this is a training course for protestants but to complete it is not a prerequisite to teach in protestant schools in NI or RoI so you have are still wrong…if you think I am wrong lift the relevant quote form the webpage you have linked to

  • PeterBrown

    Ireland has never been a country (a geo political entity with a united government for the whole island) but that’s an aside as you have yet to explain why the whole island vote was the only valid option for the referendum which incidentally didn’t happen anywhere…

  • PeterBrown

    I have put your contradiction in quotation marks and you have ignored it and repeated it “sectarianism went with it” therefore it is gone so how can the border be perpetuating it – where is mine?

  • paul david

    1 United Ireland kick religon out of all schools and public life. Total seperation church and state. And tax them to the heavens.
    2 The border was created by the English they divided our country. Everyone will be treated fairly and equal its up to unionists to get their heads round that bit.
    3,4,5,6 Dont break the law and understand when you march past homes or areas you have no support or goodwill you have to behave yourselve.
    Three thousand loyal parades a year thats the equivalent of near two hundred thousand across the water. If each parade is an average of ten miless thats thirty thousand with less than five miles restricted. Do the math.
    We have British Irish idenity here no ones asking for one side to give everythng up at the expense of the other. Live and let live.
    When I see Alex Maskey law a wreath it challengess my view and how things can move forward with simple gestures.
    Nationalists dont want anything in the north which hasnt already been gifted to unionism or anything in future which excludes unionist ties to Britan.

  • LordSummerisle

    Sorry was I talking about pissing Orangemen ? Or was I talking about inter clerical strife within the Roman Communion ?