Confronting sectarianism

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By Gerry Adams (for Leargas)

The posting online of a vile video showing members of the Orange Order mocking the murder of Michaela McAreavey has been widely condemned. Last week in another video Pastor Barrie Halliday appeared on social media describing Catholics as ‘rats that need to be murdered with rifles and grenades.’

Both of these actions are evidence of an existing underlying sectarianism within northern society that has its roots in English colonialism and in the deliberate fostering by the British state in Ireland of division between Catholics and Protestants. The Loyal Orders have long played a prominent role in promulgating this.

That sectarianism still exists is not surprising. Unionist political leaders and their British allies often play the Orange Card as they seek to maximise their electoral vote or secure an advantage in a negotiation.

Since partition there are few Catholic families in the North that have not had direct experience of sectarianism, of discrimination in employment or housing, of collusion involving unionist death squads, the B Specials, the UDR, RUC and British Army or of pogroms. Orange marches with their ‘kick the Pope bands’ and sectarian songs – like The Famine Song; their posters of nationalist politicians or of religious statues on bonefires and their desire to parade triumphantly through or past nationalist areas have long been part of the nationalist experience.

The dignity and grace of Michaela‘s family is an example to us all.

Words like ‘abhorrent’ or ‘shameful’ or ‘despicable’ readily spring to mind when sectarianism rears its head. But if society is serious about challenging sectarianism there is a need to go beyond the rhetoric of condemnation. The fact is that sectarianism is written into the DNA of the northern state. The celebration/commemoration of the centenary of ‘Northern Ireland’ and the Orange Hall event which was a part of this, are a case in point. It is important to note that those involved are a bigoted minority. But they have to be stood up to.

So, what to do? The reality is that sectarianism will not be wished away. It cannot be ignored. The starting point must positive leadership from political, cultural, religious and civic society. The law and the enforcement of the law also has a crucial role to play in this. That means a new legal definition of sectarianism entrenched in law with legal sanctions and robust incitement to hatred provisions.

All cultural celebrations and expressions should be governed by the principles of respect, equality and parity of esteem. And the allocation of all public funds must be disbursed fairly and proportionately, and on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity for the identities and aspirations of others. Bigotry and sectarianism should not be publicly funded. It should be illegal.

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