Haass talks destined to end in fudge as they continue to endorse sectarianism
Opinion: waving a flag or backing the Provos’ war is not the only possible identity marker
To fail to respect the Orange Order is not necessarily to disrespect Protestants or Protestantism. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill
Any time I feel depressed about the North, which is regularly, I think back on the occasion I marched up the Shankill and down the Falls and was greeted at every turn with smiles.
The march, in February 2006, was in support of a strike by postal workers against the sacking of a sorter at the Shankill office. The Falls depot came out within hours.
Communication Workers’ Union branch secretary Eoin Davey told me as we marched of the Falls vote to stop work. “The idea of the action crossing the divide didn’t come up. This had nothing to do with the community anybody came from.”
And there’s the point. The relationship of the work stoppage to the sectarian division was of a different character to the relationship to sectarianism of the conferences, away-days and programmes of action organised by “consultants” who seemingly believe togetherness can best be achieved through each community defining itself by reference to those elements which distinguish it from “the other side”.
Complexity of respect
A little while ago, a friend attended a session of non-sectarian training sponsored by her employer. Each must respect the “culture” of the other side, it was explained. For example, the Orange Order was an expression of the identity of the Protestant community: to disrespect the order was to disrespect Protestants.
My friend intervened to say that she regarded the order as a bunch of bigots quite undeserving of respect. Shock and dismay all round. Such hostility to the Protestant community was intolerable. “But”, she piped up, “I am a Protestant.”
She was told to take a course in “single-identity work”. She’d have to learn to love her local lodge before she could engage fully in efforts to bring the communities together.
This approach is par for the course in the North. It was set out by senior Sinn Féin spokespersons defending the IRA’s armed campaign as the essential story of the Catholic community and DUP leaders associating themselves with nightly flag-waggers and councillors who openly call for the killing of republicans. All we ask is that they respect our culture . . .
As if reverence for the war record of the Provos and blocking roads to force the flying of the union flag all day every day can encapsulate the aspirations of the people of neighbouring districts.
This is the understanding of sectarianism which will inform the imminent negotiations, particularly on parades, to be chaired by US envoy Richard Haass – which makes it certain the talks will end, as ever, in fudge or failure – most likely fudge since none of the parties, particularly Sinn Féin, can afford failure.