The Irish Times view on sectarianism: It hasn’t gone away

The issue has a greater impact on everyday lives than the failure to make the power-sharing institutions at Stormont work

Prof Duncan Morrow, Ulster University; Lady Moyra Quigley and Ronnie Kells, Sir George Quigley Committee chair. Prof Morrow is the author of Sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A Review. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Prof Duncan Morrow, Ulster University; Lady Moyra Quigley and Ronnie Kells, Sir George Quigley Committee chair. Prof Morrow is the author of Sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A Review. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

Serious consideration should be given to the proposal that a government department be set up to address sectarianism in Northern Ireland. One of the big disappointments of the past 20 years is how the Belfast Agreement has failed to reduce sectarian tension. If anything the problem has become worse and has a greater impact on everyday lives than the failure to make the powersharing institutions at Stormont work.

A new report on the issue by Professor Duncan Morrow contains more than 50 positive proposals. One of the key suggestions is the establishment of a government department which would have responsibility for the development, co-ordination and oversight of anti-sectarian policies throughout the North. Another is the creation of a civic body empowered to inform public debate and convey its findings to government.

The report also recommends that businesses could create a fund for community benefit and support the integration of anti-sectarian principles into corporate social responsibility programmes. The creation of a Youth Assembly, consideration of lowering the voting age to 16 and changes to the school curriculum are among other worthwhile suggestions.

One thorny issue in deprived communities is the relationship between police and young people. The report suggests a fund dedicated to repairing relationships between the police, young people and communities, especially where there is evidence of paramilitary pressure. Morrow was right to refer to the “deeply tragic events of recent weeks” as a reminder of this residual threat to peace.

Other worthwhile suggestions include a call on the leaders of all major churches to unite in an agreed programme to encourage respect for other faiths. There is also potential for arts, sport and culture to create opportunities for shared experiences. There is obviously no quick fix to a problem that has bedevilled the North for a very long time but this report, by honestly facing up to the problem, is an important step in the right direction.

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