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25 May 2012 Edition

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Sectarianism

Who were the decision-makers?

‘No one in my street was party to such decision making and I would guess no one from any working-class neighbourhood in a unionist area was’

THE media have missed the point in singling out references to attitudes in golf clubs during a Community Relations Week conference in the Six Counties on sectarianism, one ex-prisoner there said.

DUP junior minister Jonathan Bell had told the conference: “Many communities may not paint their kerbstones or put out flags, but scratch the surface and you find the prejudice and the hate whispered behind closed doors or joked about in golf clubs or over dinner parties.”

Sinn Féin junior minister Martina Anderson said: “There’s attitudes among middle-class society here in the North, in the golf clubs that Jonathan referred to and elsewhere.”

While the media ignored the references to “behind closed doors” or “dinner parties” and “elsewhere” to focus on golf clubs alone, both ministers later said they regretted any misunderstanding.

Michael Culbert, a former IRA Volunteer who spent 16 years in prison and is now the director of Coiste, a group that helps republican ex-prisoners, said afterwards:

“They no more meant to specify golf club members as would I be in specifying people who eat cucumber sandwiches when I may use the term ‘the cucumber sandwich brigade’.”

Michael Culbert asked why didn’t the media pick up on “quite remarkable, positive comments from three different political parties [DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance] all signalling clearly the commitment to equality of citizenship for all of the citizens in this community”.

Getting back to the nub of where sectarianism occurred and in what forms, Michael Culbert said:

“It is about time that the ‘nice’ people were held to account for their silences, ignoring of realities, lack of questioning of obvious wrongs and living detached from the harshness of the decades we went through. If the media is so insistent on classifying sectarianism as a major issue here, and now the media is allowing the middle classes to say ‘not I’, then we have to ask the media: who exactly are the people with ‘sectarian’ views?

“If the middle classes are to deny their roles – by actions, words or indeed by the lack of such – then they have to be asked who did have the power to discriminate in employment, to allocate funds to roads or factories or indeed decide on their locations. Who did have the ability to make decisions on housing, where estates were built, how they were designed and who should live in them? Who indeed decided on what schooling systems we should have?

“No one in my street was party to such decision making and I would guess no one from any working-class neighbourhood in a unionist area was.”

Issues such as housing and schooling today have to be looked at in the context of the decisions their development and existence is rooted in, Michael Culbert said.

“We have to go back and examine the root causes of our conflict, not the obvious, manifest issues of today such as segregated schooling and housing which are the outcomes of core problems.

“When we are looking back – for positive learning from mistakes in order to build for a better future – let us recall: who were the decision-makers and what underpinned the decisions made.”

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