It’s a long way from the Village area of Belfast to Stormont. You can work at an official level towards a shared - and improved - future, but you can’t legislate for the conversion of sectarian morons like those who attacked young James Turley the other day and left him for dead. Why did they do this? Because he was ‘a taig’. If you’d been looking for an example of full-frontal sectarianism, you’ve just found it. These knuckle-dragges weren’t looking to settle some old inter-community score - they just wanted to attack/leave for dead a taig.
I’m just off the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster /Raidio Uladh, where this topic was discussed. Dawn Purvis, former leader of the PUP, was keen to stress that sectarianism runs right through all classes of our society in the north, and she’s right. Where she’s wrong is in putting the emphasis at this moment on desegregated housing, desegregated schools, desegregated communities. The focus now should be firmly on this primeval attack which is bad for the reputation of the decent people of the Village area, bad for the film industry here and bad for the reputation of the north in general.
So what to do? Two simple actions would help considerably. First, it would take no more than five minutes for Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, as First and Deputy First Minister to appear before the cameras together, as they did when PC Ronan Kerr was killed, and label these thugs and their actions in emphatic terms. Second, this attack happened in broad daylight - there are bound to be people in the Village area who know who they were. If they truly detest what happened, they should identify the troglodyte attackers to the PSNI, they should be arrested and they should learn that actions have consequences and that vile actions have very, very uncomfortable consequences.
We all learn best by example. If the top of our society - Stormont - and the ground-level of our society - the Village area - were to act as one in this case, make it clear that they totally disown such people and their stupid, vicious actions, you’d be surprised how that co-ordinated action would send ripples of approval and attitude-change throughout our society. If they don’t, then let’s hear no more preaching from the top or pretence that sectarianism isn’t welcome and nurtured at community level.
WHITHER SINN FEIN?
Where is Sinn Fein going? “Nowhere, in the south anyway” was the answer Eoghan Harris gave, a few short years back. Then at the last election Sinn Fein almost trebled its numbers in the Dail. Even this was a minor disappointment for some of the more ambitious party members.
Writing in The Irish Times, Paul Cullen reckons the party have a five-year plan and are working “with a view to further gains in the next general election and the pivotal role in forming the next government that would accompany such success”.
Since that statement could be made about nearly any political party, Cullen has hardly produced a major insight. If you listen to the Shinners’ opponents, and to some extent to Cullen, you would conclude that their goal is power and that they have ditched and will ditch any principle to acquire that power. But power to do what?
Ask the average punter on the street what Sinn Fein stands for and you’ll be told “A united Ireland”. How would gaining power or sharing power in the south advance that ambition? Well, some people believe that the sight of, say, a Sinn Fein Minister of Education in the south meeting with a Sinn Fein Minister of Education in the north would be a powerful symbol of the strides the party has made towards Irish reunification. Those opposed would say that like the cross-border bodies, such a meeting would be a meaningless gesture, the kind that Fianna Fail and other southern governments have been making towards Irish unity over the last eighty or ninety years.
It depends on how you see Irish unity coming. If you believe it will come, if at all, in one intense, probably violent short period, as did the establishment of the Irish Free State, you’ll dismiss Sinn Fein in government in the south and north as sell-out window-dressing. If you believe that Irish unity will come gradually, as more and more powers shift into the hands of Irish people, then you’ll see Sinn Fein’s five-year plan and beyond as important and so far, in the teeth of fierce opposition, successful. The increasing integration of the party into mainstream politics north and south can be seen as the betrayal of everything Irish men and women fought and died for over the past forty years, or the practical, patient movement towards realisation of their dream.
One thing is sure: the major barrier to Irish reunification now lies south of the border, not north of it.