Is Northern Ireland ready for a Great Leap Forward?

United against violence

United against violence

It was very heartening to see that thousands turned out in the streets of Belfast yesterday to demonstrate against the recent reappearance of sectarian murder – particularly because it was organized by the Trade Union Movement.

It’s natural that, after a period in which religious/national affinity has mattered most in the politics of Northern Ireland, the parties which remain in the peace are those which existed previously. However, this is a major barrier to progress.

If Northern Ireland is really to become a post-conflict political entity, we should aim for its politics to divide on socio-economic divides – not sectarian ones. The fact that both religious communities are coming together under a banner of class- and work-based solidarity could well show the beginnings of such a transition.

Of course, as a good democrat, I wouldn’t argue that a similar cross-section conservative movement’s emergence would be anything other than a positive step (at least, in terms of healing the divisions caused by years of community division).

Notwithstanding the recent violence, I think that the universal response across Northern Ireland shows hope for the future. The problems facing Northern Ireland should now be cast in terms of traditional policy – what to do about selective education, or local taxation, or water rates, to name but three active political issues there.

It may well not suit Northern Ireland’s political elites to make such a transition – however, under the electoral system used to elect the Assembly, it’s far easier for new parties to emerge and gain representation. I sincerely hope that they do. Fewer people seem to get killed when political cleavages are actually political.


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