How sextarianism is drawing new battle lines in Northern Ireland

May 22, 2015
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A fascinating kook at ‘sextarianism’ from our friend Dr. Paul Maginn, Assoc Professor of Urban/Regional Planning at University of Western Australia; and Graham Ellison, Reader at Queen’s University Belfast —

How sextarianism is drawing new battle lines in Northern Ireland

Anti gay wedding protesters make their point outside Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland, Monday, 19 December 2005. The first xtart of civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples in the United Kingdom, two women, Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close, exchanged vows at Belfast City Hall. Another lesbian couple and a gay couple also exchanged vows Monday. EPA/PAUL MCERLANE

If you grew up in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s, sectarianism pervaded every aspect of your everyday life. In fact, such is the pervasiveness of sectarianism that it’s almost been normalised. These days, it’s sometimes not even recognised or regarded as a problem.

In simple terms, sectarianism is the dislike, hatred, and distrust of another religious faction, a bundle of ideas, beliefs and practices including verbal and physical intimidation and violence as well as political, economic and institutional discrimination.

The intent is to reinforce social stereotypes, perpetuate cultural differences and, ultimately to uphold the political and economic inequality between Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics. Put another way, it’s all about securing and exercising political, economic, social and cultural power.

Simmering down?

In symbolic terms, the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the Belfast Agreement marked the beginning of the end of sectarian violence by mainstream republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

And while sectarianism still looms large in Northern Ireland, statistics from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show an overall downward trend in sectarian incidents and crimes. Meanwhile, recent research by Paula Devine shows that the majority of both Catholics (71%) and Protestants (70%) would prefer to live in a mixed-religion neighbourhood.

Although there is still a long way to go in terms of eradicating sectarianism, these statistics offer a sign of optimism and improvement. But sectarianism’s sideways move on the political agenda has only made space for other social issues in the same hateful part of the spectrum.

Two issues in particular have caught the attention of NI Assembly members and local councillors, especially those from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in recent years. On the one hand, sexual citizenship – gay rights, abortion and reproductive rights – and on the other, sexual commerce: the sale and consumption of adult goods and sexual services.

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