Countering North-South mistrust

 

A chara, – Una Mullally writes that “North-South dialogue and cohesion must avoid unionist vs nationalist binaries” (“Southern patriotic grandstanding must stop if we want a united Ireland”, Opinion & Analysis, March 11th).

My late wife, Muriel Boothman, was chairwoman of the Blessington Women’s Group, then the largest rural local women’s group in Ireland. Some 30 years ago they were organising family exchanges where Protestant women from the North stayed with Catholic families in the South and vice versa. For many it was a daunting and then a transformative experience because most had never been across the Border before and had visions of being hunted with pitchforks! They came to realise that our similarities far exceed our differences, and even our differences didn’t amount to much more than cultural anachronisms.

In my youth, I did some youth work in the north inner city of Dublin, and there were many teenagers who hadn’t been west of Capel Street, south of the Liffey, or north of Fairview. Similarly in Lurgan, where the denizens of some sectarian ghettoes had hardly ever been in the houses and estates of their opposite numbers. So, yes, there is lot of cross-community work which needs to be done, both within and between North and south, which no formal referendum or inter-governmental agreement can achieve.

This doesn’t need to be a highfalutin philosophical debate. Playing Gaelic, soccer or rugby together, sharing educational systems and cultural events, economic links and social campaigns can all play their part.

But this is why Brexit is such a tragedy and keeping the Border open so important. Anything which reignites tensions could set us back a generation, and those who stoke those tensions should rightly be shunned. Some in the North may be more comfortable with “the good old days” where you knew whose side you were on, and who to hate and fight. Others in the South who have done well out of recent economic growth may wonder why they should take on the financial, social and political risks and costs of reunification.

It’s much more difficult to be open and accepting of differences and creating relationships across boundaries. But it can be done and I am hopeful that the younger generation coming through to power will achieve it. Opinion polls of social attitudes show younger people identifying less and less with simple Catholic versus Protestant and nationalist versus unionist binaries.

True unity will come, if at all, not when nationalists outnumber unionists, but when the vast majority cease to care about the distinctions, or at least recognise them for what they are: minor differences compared to the greater humanity that unites us. The success of the Derry Girls comedy series among all demographics should remind us of that fact. – Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Blessington, Co Wicklow.