Newton Emerson: Sectarian split over school closures feels ominous

Coronavirus: It makes you wonder how bad things could get if everyone really fell out

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Alan Lewis/Photopress

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Alan Lewis/Photopress

On what now seems like the long-ago date of January 30th, when the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a global emergency, it issued an accompanying statement warning against the promotion of “stigma and discrimination”.

This caused some eye-rolling in the British press about equating hurt feelings with health. In reality, anyone whose historical knowledge extends before January knows new illnesses always produce scapegoats and dangerous divisions. Perhaps it was inevitable this would occur in a society as divided as Northern Ireland. But for it to happen so quickly over one relatively minor disagreement has been a disturbing failure of politics.

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