Tunnel Vision

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating. Almost all of public life in Northern Ireland is assessed and evaluated in terms of Orange or Green. Or is that an exaggeration and an unfair generalisation? – asks Workers Party South Belfast representative, Patrick Lynn

It’s certainly true of education. We maintain and sustain two entirely separate systems from primary through to secondary level. It’s also true of housing: 90% plus of public housing developments are exclusively either catholic or protestant.  Community development projects are designed and funded on the “two communities” model.

Even what should be strategic infrastructure developments are plagued by the perceptions that “they” might be getting more out of it that “us”. Factor in sport and culture as further examples and its almost a full house

The hysterical reactions to the announcement of a feasibility study into a permanent link with Scotland is further proof of how ingrained and accepted sectarianism has become. Whether a bridge or other form of link across the Irish Sea is a good thing or not is irrelevant in the face of the reaction it has generated.   

The source of both the support and of the objections is largely predictable, and almost guaranteed. Probably the largest, and certainly the most expensive, proposal since the HS2 rail link and by far the biggest construction project effecting both Northern Ireland and the Republic has been reduced to an argument over whether it is being used to strengthen the Union or a device to fend off a united Ireland. It is tunnel vision at its worst.

Had the proposal come from Dublin the arguments would simply have been reversed. Much of the opposition is based on a growing and emboldened anti-British sentiment on this island. Much of the support is an almost knee jerk reaction to the opposition.

It is of course easy to point the finger exclusively at the man and woman in the street and blame then for all our ills, but that would be to let the architects of tunnel vision off the hook.

Sectarianism is the life blood of the main political parties here. They would deny that, but it’s hard to refute. Their electoral appeal is fashioned on it, their votes are headcounts based on it and their politics are tribal tirades designed to sustain it. They are not alone. They are joined and legitimised by media commentators many of whom extend influence without responsibility. Many of them find regular outlets in our newspapers, television and radio programmes.

Collectively they fulfil a number of important tasks in Northern Ireland life. They articulate and sustain division. They would deny it but, again, it is hard to refute. They perpetuate fear of the ‘other’ and they divert our attention away from reality.  Most importantly of all they provide a smokescreen – in orange and green – behind which lies the real class nature of this society.

The economic and social system we live under is based on the accumulation of capital, relentless production and the unending pursuit of profit.  The main political parties here, in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland support and manage that system to the detriment of ordinary working people.  Its not really that complicated. That’s how it works.

One of the many devices used to make that process easier is to create and sustain division. Sometimes it’s based on ethnicity, sometimes it’s based on gender and sometimes it’s based on cultural differences – but always it’s based on class. In Northern Ireland our local variation is religion and community background – but the purpose and the effects are the same.

“While the political parties and the tribal spokespeople continue to deride or admire the latest project through sectarian lenses, they dig this society deeper into the mire than any tunnel could and they build no bridges, but they successfully keep the spotlight off the class nature of our society and the misery, deprivation and dead-end despair that it brings”, Patrick concluded

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