Derry Journal

Living In The Ghetto

Tuesday 1st March 2005

From a community viewpoint, most of our cities, towns, and villages resemble ghettoes, or, at the very least, consist of ghettoes in which our communities live apart.

Some of this 'ghettoisation' has been the product of earlier troubles; some of it has been an understandable congregating by newcomers close to existing inhabitants of a similar background.

In times of peace and more relaxed community relations, the reverse tendency emerged and a degree of 'inter-mixing' of our communities occurred. This was most apparent in the period between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s.

However, the most recent period of communal conflict - stretching from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s --reversed any tendencies to create mixed communities.

With the ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and other recent attempts to reach a political settlement, it was not expected that communities would continue to drift apart. Unfortunately, however, this is what continues to happen.

Some recent examples across the North - including Derry - are the direct result of intimidation and harassment by people in one community against those in the other.

Those responsible seem intent on creating a situation in which the whole of Northern Ireland consists of communities living apart, geographically and socially.

Attacks on homes, on halls, on schools and churches have contributed to this ghettoisation. So, too, has the flying of flags, behaviour at parades and protests by one group or another.

People in a community whose homes, halls and other property come under attack no longer feel welcome to stay in an area. They move out as soon as possible to where they feel safest: amongst their "own" - be these Catholic or Protestant, unionist or nationalist.

In moving out, they not only lose their neighbours but they also take their business with them. For example, if Catholics are not welcome in an area they will withdraw and, as they go, they take with them their business with local traders, shops, etc. Likewise, if Protestants are unwelcome, they, too, will withdraw support from local businesses.

Separated Communities

Is this what we want to see happening everywhere? Do we want to live separately under separate flags only occasionally mixing with each other in ordinary every day events?

If so, all of our cities, towns, villages and townlands will soon be islands of separated communities.

The results are not only children being educated separately, and churches attended separately, but we will not even meet people from the other community in the street. We will cease to know each other as neighbours across the community divide.

No wonder then if we see each other as strangers and, in some cases, as enemies.

Marking out territory as 'nationalist' and using the Irish tricolour to taunt and provoke unionists - just as unionists do in marking out territory with the Union flag - will never create the conditions for Irish unity.

Nor will conditions for unity be created by showing a lack of respect for traditions associated with the unionist community. If there is to be place in a united Ireland for unionists, there must be respect for their traditions. Otherwise the idea of unity is a sham and will never be achieved.

The same is true for any agreement in the immediate future. Just as nationalists rightly demand respect for our traditions, so, too, unionists have the right to expect respect for theirs.

These simple lessons must be learned by us all. Otherwise there will be no reconciliation and no real peace. At best, an uneasy peace will exist in which we grow more and more apart rather then come together.

Of course, there are many people from both communities and from our different churches who are involved in building bridges and doing their best to break down the barriers that exist between us. Many community organisations also deliberately set out to create opportunities for such contacts and do so in ways that are very successful in bringing people together.

But bringing people of different traditions together is now something which has to be organised, not something that happens naturally. This is a sad reflection on a modern, 21st century society.

A future where we live in peace and at ease beside and among each other, whatever our community background, whatever our religion, our colour or our political affiliation, should be our common goal.

Otherwise we perpetuate division and sow the seeds for future conflict. Let's hope our community, church and political leaders will rise to the challenge.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?