The fight against sectarianism must start within ourselves – By Dr John Kyle

 

 

‘Healing our society needs to be placed above the challenges of the political process.  A shared future should be about respect and equality for political, cultural and religious difference.  We share a common humanity.  Authentic reconciliation will depend upon us all embracing new thinking, having conversations to build new relationships between all sides.’

Not my words but Declan Kearney’s. I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Healing our society needs to be placed above the challenges of the political process, and yet the political rhetoric, ‘breakthe bastards’, ‘if you feed the crocodiles…’, is inflicting more damage, not healing our society.

Sinn Fein have made reconciliation one of their buzz words.  “Republicans seek authentic reconciliation with Unionism.  A new phase of the peace process based on reconciliation and healing must be our future.”  Declan Kearney again, a couple of weeks ago.  I completely agree that reconciliation and healing must be our future.  I am old enough to know how bad it was and how far we have come, and I know we are stalled, badly.  Frankly reconciliation is receding far into the distance.  There are major obstacles in the way, first and foremost sectarianism, deeply entrenched and passed from generation to generation. So how could anti-sectarianism be wrong?

Anti-sectarianism is wrong when it is perceived as hypocrisy, when someone whom you consider to be sectarian accuses you of being sectarian-and this is the experience of Unionists and Loyalists when listening to Sinn Fein. Whether you agree with me or not, this is the perception of many Unionists and Loyalists.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Demanding Irish language signs in the university while banning the sale of poppies
  • Imposing increasing regulation and restrictions on bonfires while demanding cultural equality and rights
  • The refusal by a Councillor to condemn the Enniskillen bombing while proposing a motion in Enniskillen Council condemning sectarianism.
  • Calling for victims’ rights while naming a children’s playpark after a convicted terrorist.
  • Demanding respect and equality for Irish identity while banning British Armed Forces from school recruitment events and continuing to talk of the ‘British occupation’.  I am British and I am certainly not occupying Northern Ireland.  My family have lived here for generations and this is home to me, my children and grandchildren.
  • Sinn Fein leaders making speeches about ‘Unionist death squads’ while in the same speech eulogising IRA volunteers who bombed and murdered innocent men, women and children.
  • Demanding truth and justice for all victims while focusing exclusively on Republican and Nationalist victims and offering nothing to victims of IRA violence. If all victims have a right to truth, Sinn Fein’s silence is deafening regarding La Mon, Claudy, Kingsmill, Enniskillen, Birmingham, Hyde Park and many, many others.

Before you come back at me with counter arguments and justifications, or John Brewer accuses me of a severe case of whataboutery let me say that sectarianism is endemic in the Unionist community as well.  I know that I can react in a sectarian way if the right buttons are pushed.

Unionists need to begin the painful task of facing up to our sectarianism, our failings in the past, our need to change, our culpability for thirty years of conflict, our responsibility to create a just and fair society.  Too often Unionists have been acquiescent towards sectarianism if not actively complicit. We have failed to recognise its corrosive and egregious effects.  Some Unionist politicians have treated Republicans with distain, if not contempt. That is wrong and I for one do not agree with it.

However, from our perspective what we experience is Sinn Fein claiming exclusive right to the moral high ground, virtue signalling about how blameless they are regarding rights, equality, tolerance and respect – if only those Unionist bigots would stop being sectarian reconciliation would be possible.

To stamp out sectarianism it is imperative we begin with our own tribe, or to use the biblical analogy, take the plank out of our own eye before taking the speck out of our neighbour’s.

Self-critical evaluation is necessary, shows integrity, gives moral authority, opens significant opportunities for reconciliation, makes people more willing to engage with you and facilitates conflict transformation.

Reconciliation offers enormous benefit to us all, but to achieve it we need to come down from the moral high ground. True reconciliation will involve finding level ground on which to interact and be reconciled.

The Unionist community has experienced massive suffering, trauma and injustice at the hands of Republicans who show no perceptible evidence of contrition, repentance or of asking for forgiveness.  Unionists simply do not trust Republicans. Republicans may well say the same- that underlines the magnitude of the task facing us.

To move forward we need to be agreed that we want this place to work. We need to agree that we want our people to live together peacefully; our children to grow up happy, confident and well educated; our economy to be vibrant and successful; our artists, musicians, sportsmen and women enriching our lives with their skills; our elderly, infirm and vulnerable well cared for; a society that is fair and equal, based on mutual respect.  This needs to be prioritised above the constitutional question or, in Declan Kearney’s words ‘Healing our society needs to be placed above the challenges of the political process.’

The best way to overcome sectarianism is through respectful cooperation, working together to achieve economic and social prosperity. In the past twenty years we have had periods of relative success, glimpses of what might be achieved but we need to do better.  We can do better, but not as ourselves alone.  Neither Sinn Fein, successful as you have been, nor the DUP, dominant as they are in Unionism, can do it alone. We can only do better by working together.

As the GFA stated ‘The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering.  We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing and equally legitimate political aspirations. However, we will continue to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement within the framework of democratic and agreed arrangements.’  Renewing that commitment would be a start.

Anti-sectarianism is to be welcomed and embraced, but the long road to reconciliation begins with the painful process of self-examination and confronting one’s own sectarian attitudes.  The prize, as Senator George Mitchell so eloquently spoke of recently, is peace.

Dr Kyle made the above remarks in an address to;

George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice Queen’s University. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The fight against sectarianism must start within ourselves – By Dr John Kyle

  1. I fully agree we are all secterian. I have a friend who says that she is a recovering secterian, those of us who grew up here are full of experiences handed down through culture/religion/family which is who we are and we can’t change that.But we can control it when out buttons are pushed,and understand who we are try to understand where this is coming from.

  2. Would be interested to know when all this sectarianism started.. Was there a time when everything was ‘rosy in the garden’. If so when was was it
    Like what year could be pointed to.

  3. John,
    It’s disheartening to note, self-reflection detail was at the bottom of your list and that you’re perpetuating the same old myths, distortions and warped “grievances” deployed by the DUP, UUP and TUV.

    You will know, SF and the SDLP have engaged in numerous outreach efforts toward the British Unionist community. By contrast, the DUP, UUP and TUV have shunned numerous events valued by your Irish Nationalist neighbours? In future, SF and SDLP should challenge all other political party leaders to agree an annual cross-community list of commemoration events that all political leaders will attend – that ought to expose the hypocrisy of the DUP, UUP, TUV and indeed the leadership of your PUP?

    You cited from the GFA: “We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing and equally legitimate political aspirations” yet proceeded to completely disregard this already acknowledged fact. I’m confident you’d object if I advocated, you ought to adopt my belief that the Dáil in Dublin is the only morally legitimate government on the island of Ireland? Similarly, you shouldn’t expect me to abandon a core political belief: we Irish view the British State’s governance over any part of Ireland as that of a non-Irish/foreign occupier. You’re intelligent enough to know, these beliefs in no-way undermine your birthright entitlement to be and remain here as an equal citizen so kindly stop the faux outrage deflection nonsense. Plus, I’m sure you know, these beliefs are shared by many of the hundreds of thousands of British from Britain who are content citizens in the South of Ireland?

    I highly recommend, you note my replies to your list of supposed grievances and properly debate the same with your own community:-
    “Demanding Irish language signs in the university while banning the sale of poppies” Answer: 1) QUB is a state funded body obliged to accord GFA ‘parity of esteem’ to both British and Irish traditions, yet it refused to sell the Easter Lily alongside the British Poppy? 2) it’s utterly perverse, British students felt entitled to complain about Irish students wearing native GAA sports wear and further complain they felt uncomfortable about a shared university granting its greater number of Irish students request to erect some indigenous Irish language signs.

    “Imposing increasing regulation and restrictions on bonfires while demanding cultural equality and rights” Answer: 1) rights and GFA cultural equality for Irish Nationalists aren’t privileges to be granted or withheld at the whim of British Unionist supremacists 2) the British bonfire tradition of burning Irish and Catholic symbols is wholly unacceptable 3) as is burning to the ground and otherwise damaging the homes of their fellow British Unionists, and 4) causing thousands of pounds of damage to the public property of taxpayers.

    “The refusal by a Councillor to condemn the Enniskillen bombing while proposing a motion in Enniskillen Council condemning sectarianism.” Answer: 1) this is one of many contrived, selective deflection efforts by British Unionists who refuse to confront the sectarianism perpetrated by their community. 2) I could cite dozens of much worse incidents involving British Unionist Councillors, MLA’s, MP’s and MEP’s but I won’t bother…

    “Calling for victims’ rights while naming a children’s playpark after a convicted terrorist.” Answer: 1) British Unionists have named streets, roads, bridges and buildings after British State terrorist monsters 2) British Unionists erected outside the Stormont building a statue of Carson the terrorist who illegally armed and threatened his British government with insurrection and threatened Irish citizens with mass bloodshed?

    “Demanding respect and equality for Irish identity while banning British Armed Forces from school recruitment events and continuing to talk of the ‘British occupation’” Answer: 1) the British state has killed MILLIONS of Irish people, and during our last conflict British forces murdered mostly Irish civilians – many of them related to children in our schools 2) we Irish taxpayers rightly oppose British State forces entering Irish Catholic maintained schools to try to indoctrinate impressionable schoolchildren into known warmongering British State terror forces 3) stop trying to muddle the differences between equality and agreed rights verses our opposing political ideologies as relate to the British State and its murderous State terrorist forces.

    “Sinn Fein leaders making speeches about ‘Unionist death squads’ while in the same speech eulogising IRA volunteers who bombed and murdered innocent men, women and children.” Answer: 1) you British should revert to us if ever you adjust your moral compass setting and thereon stop glorifying British armed terrorist forces who perpetrated mass murderers in Ireland and indeed across the world, and 2) revert to us if ever your PUP stops leading UVF terrorist parades glorifying sectarian mass murderers of hundreds of Irish Catholic civilians.

    “Demanding truth and justice for all victims while focusing exclusively on Republican and Nationalist victims and offering nothing to victims of IRA violence. If all victims have a right to truth, Sinn Fein’s silence is deafening regarding La Mon, Claudy, Kingsmill, Enniskillen, Birmingham, Hyde Park and many, many others.” Answer: 1) besides that is untrue, Irish Nationalists repeatedly called for an International Truth Commission but both the British State and British Unionist politicians rejected this way forward 2) the courts have repeatedly held both the British State and British Unionist politicians liable for denying justice to conflict victims?

    John, stop imagining, you British can dictate the period or extent of Irish grievances as against your British occupying State, its armed forces, and indeed as against the British Unionist community who started the violence in the 1920’s, 30’s and 60’s. If truth be told, as it must, British Unionist violence endlessly extents back to when they were planted in Ireland to aid and abet British State terror against the native Irish population.

    Finally, the only viable way forward is to acknowledge 1) we don’t agree on a final destination so should strive to at least learn to tolerate our differences, and 2) this place must start equally representing both traditions or we and our children are doomed to perpetual division and strife.

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