Carve up of Girdwood site in Belfast reflects the sectarian carve-up


The sectarian row over the former Girdwood army barracks site in North Belfast is  part  of a larger picture of sectarianism and segregation forming the bedrock of the status-quo, with our local political class depending on it for their very political survival. 

In a recent report, Trademark, the Belfast-based social justice co- operative affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, "Sectarianism still remains a serious problem in Northern Ireland." The group conducted a major survey with more than 40 interviews in private sector companies and surveyed 2,500 workers in a large retail company as part of its study. It found that "low-level but persistent sectarian harassment is a feature of too many workplaces in Northern Ireland".

Trademark says "the segregated nature of Northern Ireland" ensures the continuation of workplace cultures that are "partisan" to the majority workforce, whether that is Catholic or Protestant. It also finds that tensions outside of the workplace have "a direct impact on relations internally".

The study suggests there remains a very real danger that sectarian tensions in a workplace could, if not dealt with properly, "escalate to serious threats and intimidation".

Indeed since the signing the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 the number of interfaces or ‘peace lines’ have increased from 22 to 88 by some estimates. While trade unions have campaigned for and strengthened existing legislation against sectarian discrimination such as the Fair Employment Act, such laws have also helped to institutionalise sectarianism, favouring lobbying and collective grievances based on religion over social class and direct action.

This is reflected in the political discourse of ‘equality’ and ‘parity of esteem’ where sectarianism and conflict is perpetrated under the disguise of the ‘right to cultural expression,' that is used as a political bargaining weapon against the 'other' community. 

This only results in long standing assumptions, myths and reactionary agendas being unchallenged and un-opposed such as the Queen’s Diamond celebrations in Belfast.  As part of the cross-party deal commemorating a range of events, including an equal allocation of funds and ‘equality’; all parties including Sinn Fein had to endorse the shining of a beacon over Cavehill (symbolic birth place of the United Irishmen). This has now been scrapped due to public opposition.

Only this week, we have witnessed another sectarian carveup to suit electoral needs over the contentious former Girdwood army barracks site in North Belfast where a long standing principle of housing provision based on need being replaced by a sectarian headcount and segregation with two separate 'housing zones' endorsed by all the local parties. This marks a u-turn after six years of failing to reach an agreement despite the fact that over 90% of those waiting on the housing list in North Belfast is of a 'nationalist' persuasion. On the one hand we have politicians doing what they do best which is the whipping up of fear and division and on the other is every principle being sold down to the river in the quest for political expendiency- power and patronage.

What is clear is that over forty years from the birth of civil rights movement in which the struggle for fair allocation of housing was a key demand, the politics of sectarianism, discrimination is above that of 'building a shared future'. While sections of mainstream media get dragged along in this game of smoke, guns and mirrors with the power squabbles on the hill, real opposition to this charade needs to be built in our communities and workplaces.’

The fight against sectarianism, racism, homophobia and sexism, cannot be divorced from the fight against capitalism and the state. In the short-term we need to campaign for integrated housing and schools, the removal of flags and offensive emblems. Not only is sectarianism deeply rooted in our society, but Stormont rests on it for its very survival and is part of problem rather than the solution.

There is little doubt that it is about them and us.  Us the working class against the ruling class whether in the halls of Stormont or riches of Westminster and the capitalist system they uphold.

In the words of James Connolly, ‘You cannot eat a flag’.