Sectarian Itch

Posted By: August 19, 2013

Tom Kelly. Irish News ( Belfast). Monday, August19, 2013
AS I turned 50 at the weekend, I have found myself increasingly looking at old
reruns of The Waltons, On the Buses and Star Trek in a forlorn hope of recapturing
those hazy fun-filled days of my youth.

Of course, being a child of the 1970s, it was not all fun, we had the Troubles
running in all too much Technicolor. One of the Star Trekepisodes last week was
called Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. It was about two humanoid aliens from the
planet Arianus, both were black and white, both identical only one, Lokai, had white
on the left side of his face while the other Bele was black on the other side. To
the crew of the Enterprise there was no discernible difference but to each other
they were like chalk and cheese. They were both consumed with self-righteousness and
though they were doomed to fight each other unto death, they pursued each other
recklessly. At the end of the episode Lieutenant Uhura wistfully asks Captain Kirk
“If hate was all they ever had?” to which Kirk replies: “No but it’s all they have
left.” To the outside world Northern Ireland must seem like the planet Arianus,
populated with people who look the same and when stripped back should have few
discernable differences.

However, like Lokai and Bele, it does not take much to scratch our innate sectarian
itch. Peter Robinson’s retreat from the Maze project shows just how fragile
relationships are between him and Martin McGuinness – despite the bonhomie so
carefully choreographed for the media and international eyes. The Maze project was
always going to be a difficult pill for the DUP to swallow. It is hard not to
foresee the remaining prison buildings and hospital wing becoming a shrine to the
hunger strikers and a tourism Mecca for those who come here for the murals, the
grisly histories and the tragic tours of ghettoes. But the DUP did swallow this pill
and now they are trying to cough it up. Personally speaking Long Kesh/Maze is our
Robben Island but let’s be clear, Bobby Sands was no Nelson Mandela. No matter how
hard Sinn Fein tries to spin it, theirs was an unwarranted and unwanted war of
terror. It was no ANC struggle. Gerry Kelly recently said young people like him in
the early 1970s had no choice but to join the IRA but that simply is not true. Back
then as now they had choices. The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 was actually
stronger in nationalist terms than either the Good Friday or St Andrews agreements.
The vast majority of young nationalists did not join the ranks of the IRA. Had they,
the Maze would have been five times the size it is.

But in fairness to Sinn Fein, they carved out a narrative on the Maze that appeared
on the face of it to be agreed with the DUP. How else can the DUP explain a legion
of spokespeople from Jeffrey Donaldson to Edwin Poots being so fulsome in their
support of the Maze Development plans. Even the chairman of the entire project has
admitted to DUP membership. The first minister may think he is playing tactics
before the Haass talks but he is also playing roulette within his unionist
constituency. Jim Allister must be cock-a-hoop – he is the tail that’s wagging the
DUP dog. Allister is a one-man demolition unit that is bulldozing everything in

As usual the Ulster Unionists are playing tag-along. They are happy just to be
included in the Jim Allister choral society. Only the fringe unionist party NI21 is
talking any sense about the Maze but they might as well be talking to the peace wall
for all the traction they are getting within the broader unionist family. The most
sinister element of all these shenanigans over the Maze is the creepy rise of those
former loyalist paramilitaries and so-called community activists. They are like
fleas, once caught hard to shake off. It will take a legion of political ‘nit’
nurses to dislodge them. McGuinness has to be one very frustrated man. His
much-hailed Latin tango with Robinson looks more like a military two-step with a
Bavarian frau. Planet ‘Norn Iron’ seems increasingly like an aliens’ paradise. It is
a place that was born out of hate and it does not take much to unearth those
foundations. Given we have a new dispensation, are we to lose it all on another
meaningless battlefield?