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
A naive person might assume that instead of another trudge around the concentric circuits of the peace process in the hope of chancing on a new idea, we might ask what had worked or come closest to working in the past and how this might be replicated. On what occasions have sizeable numbers of Catholic and Protestants sloughed off their Orange or Green identities to make common cause?
Trade union historians can rhyme them out: 1907, 1911, 1919, 1932, and, in modern times, the marches, rallies, work stoppages and other manifestations of discontent which have marked defence of jobs and working conditions, protection of pensions, the NHS, etc. On each occasion, people came together not because they’d been preached at or put under pressure to “support peace” but because the business at hand required them to link arms.
In what other context could a march of Catholics and Protestants proceed up the Shankill and return by the Falls, no rancour and no end of workplace banter?
In what other circumstance would I be able to walk unworried along the Shankill and people step off the pavement to say – virtually the same words every time: “You are very welcome on the Shankill Road, Mr McCann”? Those who dismiss these thoughts as wishful thinking should be asked how they answer this question.
Had any of these occurrences lasted, there would have been no call for the return of Richard Haass. Each was a glimpse of what’s possible, always snuffed out by a resurgence of sectarian feeling drummed up and drawn out by those who saw unity along these lines not as a harbinger of hope but as an appalling vista. But these things happened and will happen again. The task is to make them happen on a more sustainable basis.
Community vs social being
None of this means it would be possible or even perhaps desirable to swamp communal consciousness in a sudden efflorescence of proletarian fervour. As far forward as it is possible to see, people in the North will be aware of the community they come from. But this needn’t be the sole or main determinant of their politics or social being.
The best strategy for building peace would be to urge support for those who follow the lead of the postal strikers. Some of the most passionate peacemongers prefer things the way they are and wouldn’t be seen dead at a strikers’ demo.