Posted By: May 25, 2013

Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday,  May 22, 2013.


THE Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has mined a bit deeper into the 2011 census and has reported that 53 per cent of Catholics declared themselves as ‘Irish only’ and 27 per cent as ‘Northern Irish only’. Unsurprisingly 67 per cent of Protestants declared themselves as ‘British only’ and 15 per cent as ‘Northern Irish only’. That’s a divided society despite attempts by optimists to inflate the importance of the undefined ‘Northern Irish’ designation. Not that the census figures were needed to confirm what is plainly visible on the streets of the north.

All of which only demonstrates the utter irrelevance of the Community Relations Council (CRC), which this week is running its annual Community Relations Week, 180 events which their chief executive called “a statement of hope”. Maybe she meant to paraphrase Dr Johnson about marriage, “the triumph of hope over experience”.

Twenty-three years the CRC has been at it, longer if you count the couple of years before the unlamented Brian Mawhinney formalised it as a front for the failed NIO prescription for what was ‘wrong’ here. In that quarter of a century the CRC has acted as a gigantic outdoor relief scheme for sincere, well-meaning do-gooders who believe if everyone is nice to each other all the trouble will fade away. Then some day this place will be an Irish version of a shimmering Shangri-La, that misty, mythical island of Hy-Brasil never to be found off the south-west coast of Ireland.

Well it ain’t gonna happen which the CRC has proved beyond peradventure. After all those years polarisation is just as extreme, voters vote for two big blocs, there are more interface fences, many of the north’s politicians are as provocative and irresponsible as ever and hundreds of people are prepared to take to the streets in violent protests night after night at the drop of a flag.

One of the CRC’s briefs is ‘encouraging greater acceptance of and respect for cultural diversity’. Here is where they display the biggest gap in their flawed conception of the problems here. For example at Stormont on Monday there were live performances and an exhibition aimed at highlighting a ‘positive image’ of Africa and Africans. Leaving aside the patronising tone the point is that the CRC every year produces examples of Asian and African culture (as if Africa was a country not a continent). Why? No problem flying an Indian flag here, unless maybe Willie Frazer is around, or a South African one, or both together because that’s the CRC way to illustrate ‘cultural diversity’ because they can’t demonstrate Irish and British culture in case there’s an Irish flag in the room.

Oh yes, you can display an Irish flag in An Chulturlann and play the uileann pipes beside it or you can fund a sectarian bonfire in east Belfast but try to get British and Irish symbols or emblems together in a display of cultural diversity and there’d be uproar from unionists. Nationalists say there should be parity of esteem and equality of status which in practice means two flags or two sets of emblems or none. When unionists refuse to accept any Irish symbolism in councils and Sinn Fein votes to remove all symbolism – British and Irish – in practice that means removing British symbolism because unionists have never permitted any display of Irishness.

Unionists then dishonestly claim Sinn Fein is ‘chipping away’ at their Britishness. Of course if unionists could manage to thole some Irish emblems then they could have all the British symbols they want alongside.

During the whole of its unsuccessful existence the CRC has connived with this unionist attitude to cultural diversity preferring to hide behind exhibitions of foreign culture rather than acknowledge their unwillingness and inability to exhibit Irish and British together. All the while they have failed to prevent growing racial attacks on those very same Asian and African people.

As a classic illustration of its pointlessness, as part of Community Relations Week the CRC is presenting an art installation at a Belfast interface. Wow-ee. Will it do anything to recognise the Irishness of people who live in the north? No, but they’ll recognise your culture if it’s foreign and no threat to unionism.