|- the confused little island, as seen from space -|
In an interview with radio 4’s Today programme, Peter Robinson, the First minister (of Northern Ireland) once described a state of ‘religious apartheid’ in schools in Northern Ireland. He went on to say that, “we bring children up in different schools and then we scratch our heads when there’s division in society.” This division is so glaringly obvious and serves as another example of why Ireland is the most confused little island on the planet.
From the ages of four and five, catholic children go to catholic schools and have catholic friends, protestant children go to protestant schools and have protestant friends, then after seven years of catholic children being in catholic schools and having catholic friends and protestant children being in protestant schools and having protestant friends the catholic children go to catholic secondary schools and meet more catholic friends and the protestant children go to non-catholic secondary schools and meet more protestant friends. Generally speaking.
I was no different, the only time I met someone from ‘the other side’ would be during strange EMU trips or when we saw the other side’s take on the nativity. It was the nativity plays more than the tropical bird related days out that confused me. Not understanding the significance of the Act of Union or them pesky 800 years as a five year old meant that the explanation boiled down to - they’re a different religion - but in their Christmas play the baby Jesus was still the baby Jesus, he didn’t do anything strange, most of the time he was just a plastic doll.
The result of this early segregation, on my part anyway, was that I didn’t have a full conversation with anyone from the other side in twelve years of living. Children are impressionable and this segregation from an early age can have a lasting impact. Realistically though, parents cannot be expected to stop sending their children to their preferred schools. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding is the result. Catholic children do not understand what it means to be protestant when the only obvious difference is the school or place of worship they attend and protestant children have misconceptions as to what Catholic schools are like. It would be completely possible and is actually relatively common for a young person from either side to have reached the age of 18 without ‘crossing the sectarian divide’.
The ‘peace process’ will seem an undoubted success for the next twenty years at least, only because my generation are being treated like naughty children. ‘Right, that’s it! You go play on that side of the room and you on the other!’ It isn’t a shared society, now our parents have bought us each the exact same toy to stop us fightin