Arts

“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.” – Groucho Marx

The arts are becoming increasingly recognised in Northern Ireland as a channel for community development and regeneration. They allow us to better understand our society and ourselves. As Northern Ireland’s awareness and participation in the arts develops, contentious subjects are being confronted and boundaries overcome.

Churches

Northern Ireland is one of the most religious countries in Europe, only surpassed by Poland and Malta. Religion by itself has shaped its most notorious traits for centuries, due to the long-distance conflict between the two different approaches to the same Christian religion.

Since the Plantation in the 17th century, groups of English Anglicans and especially Scottish Presbyterians colonized the island, staying as an alien community with control over the far numerous native Catholic populations. Due to this, Protestants have held a notion of being under constant siege, and since Good Friday Agreements, the fear of extinction; whereas Catholics have had a feeling that they are discriminated and regarded as second-class citizens.

Flags

Origins

In western Europe, national flags often represented a territorial area as well as the Christian faith, so that many included a cross. The French Tricolour was an important change in this tradition with the red, white and blue sometimes said to represent the values of liberty, equality and fraternity embodied in the French revolution and by the French Republic.

Housing

In 1967, the Dungannon District Council allocated a new house to a single Protestant woman who had links to a local Unionist politician. Also waiting for housing was a local Catholic family who consequently were denied one. This was a catalyst that led to protests and rioting in later years in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry. The protests highlighted inequality, and an outcome was that the allocation of public housing was taken away from local councils. Legislation in 1971 created the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

Integrated Education

With the establishment of the state of Northern Ireland, the unionist government under Lord Londonderry attempted to create a singular education system. However, this was met with significant opposition by both Catholic and Protestant churches, and the initiative failed. Instead, the Protestant churches agreed to transfer their primary schools to state control in exchange for full funding of both running and capital expenditure, while the Catholic Church was also granted full funding of the running expenditure of its primary schools and was allowed to maintain formal ownership and control provided it raised a proportion of capital expenditure. (Boyle p. 40) (The Catholic maintained system was subsequently fully publicly funded.) The result is what we now know as Northern Ireland’s segregated education system.

Parades

Parading is one of the major issues that keeps raising tensions in the divided society of Northern Ireland. Since the 18th century this celebration of commemorating historical events has played a religious and political role and is often, up to today, accompanied by violence and riots.

The period 2011-12 saw 4,182 parades throughout Northern Ireland. 60% were Loyalist/Unionist parades, while 51% of these were held by the Orange Order (see Parades Commission’s annual report). 213 of these parades were contentious. During the Troubles and now, the flash-points have been the Bogside in Derry, Ormeau Road in Belfast, and Drumcree in Portadown.

Peace Walls

According to the CAIN (Conflict Archive in the Internet) website, a peace line or peace wall are “physical barriers between the Protestant/Loyalist community and the Catholic/Nationalist community in certain areas in Northern Ireland”.

These walls are usually constructed of concrete, stone and/or steel, and can be over six meters tall. Some even have gates in them that allow passage during daytime and are closed at night. Accompanying the creation of these interfaces were interface community groups: those residents who lived alongside the walls. Although interfaces are widely acknowledged as features of most urban areas across Northern Ireland, it is also important to recognize that segregation is a feature of life in all parts of the country, including rural communities.

Policing

Being a highly political and dividing issue in Northern Ireland, policing has proven to be one of the most difficult tasks on the road of peacebuilding in a divided society.

After the establishment of the state of Northern Ireland in 1922, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was formed by the Unionist government, not only for maintaining law and order inside the new state, but also for defending cross-border attacks. Employing a vast majority of Protestants/Unionists, the police service was regarded by many Catholics/Nationalists as the armed wing of unionism, and was often accused of sectarianism and brutality. In addition to wider anti-Catholic discrimination (e.g. in housing and employment), having a Unionist police service helped the government ensure that Northern Ireland was going to stay part of the United Kingdom, and repress Nationalist threats to unity with the Crown.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is an essential process for conflict transformation. It is about building relationships, with the focus on emotional and psychological aspects of conflict.

Reconciliation encompasses different challenges, such as the notion of truth, mercy and justice. And seeking truth about the past can generate tensions. In the case of Northern Ireland, the narrative can be different (or perceived as such), depending upon the community affected.

Projects or actions encouraging the truth about the past can thus be difficult to realise, since different communities will struggle to agree a shared narrative.

Sport

We recognise that sport is a powerful tool in bringing people together. We know that sport can play a central role in breaking down divisions in society, and can provide a mechanism to encourage sharing, learning, and friendship as well as healthy competition across all parts of our society.

Northern Ireland Executive, May 2013

By its very nature, sport has the capacity to be both fraternal and sectarian; to promote community harmony and widen community division.

John Sugden and Scott Harvie