So what have we learned after two weeks of protests?
I am a unicorn; this means I was born in the catholic community and yet am also a small ‘u’ unionist. (http://wp.me/p2XnX7-3) That has made the last two weeks interesting and frightening. So after, nearly two weeks of protests, arson, death threats and disruption what have we learned?
Death Threats and Intimidation are self-defeating
Nothing can ever excuse threats being made against the lives and families of elected representatives. Such threats are a direct attack not just on the political process, but against every one of us regardless of how we vote. They also destroy any chance of those making the threats winning the argument. You cannot murder and bomb people into agreeing with you. It has also been remarkable the degree to which the protests have hardened opinion across society against those who are protesting. The blocking of roads with its accompanying intimidation and violence has seriously damaged any chance of an agreed reversal.
You can’t stir up an argument and then try to wash your hands of it.
It is heartening to see that despite lots of “I condemn this, but…” utterances the parties who have played a role in increasing tensions – and yes that does include Sinn Fein and SDLP as well as UUP and DUP, have not been able to shrug off their responsibility. The local media, who have sometimes been too quick not to ‘rock the boat’, have not held back and the Belfast Telegraph, in particular, deserves credit for having the courage to speak out.
Our Nationalist and Unionist political parties are singing from a hymn sheet dated 1968-94
If there has been one seminal moment for me in the last two weeks it has been to see in the census a reflection of the world that we live in rather than a narrow orange vs green analysis that too many of our politicians perpetuate through their words and deeds. We, the electorate, are also to blame as we have allowed narrow sectarian interests to plough their own furrows without sufficient challenge. We are much more complex as people than many of our political leaders have been prepared to acknowledge. 28% of us class ourselves as Northern Irish, 40% class ourselves as solely British, 25% class solely as Irish and the current political playbook cannot cope with this.
Far too many of us do not vote and then complain about politics. If you don’t like the shape of politics you can change it either by joining a party and trying to change from within, set up a new party (I will watch the Progressive Party with interest), but always vote, if only to make sure your voice is heard.
There are long-standing problems and genuine grievances in working class areas which do need to be addressed.
Anyone who has worked in the Shankill, Creggan, Ardoyne or Albertbridge Road (and many others) can see that the peace dividend largely passed those areas by. I remain an optimist that we will grow the local economy again, but, if and when we do, it will be one more focused on exporting than retail and construction. It will be higher skilled and require a well-educated workforce. The failure of our parents, communities and our secondary education system to help too many of our young people develop the skills they require, and a better expectation of what they could achieve is not just a social issue, it is a security issue as well and should be treated as a national emergency.
And there is hope
The quiet dignified peace vigil yesterday morning was step in the right direction. I hope this morning’s gathering at the City Hall will be bigger and will make an important statement “We are a moderate, peace loving community which detests violence and the trappings of the past. Let us build and country we can all be proud of.”