A great deal of what is currently taking place at Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School [Read the BBC's depiction of events from earlier this year] has, by some commentators, been put down to an inability to let go of the past. When a past as sanguinary as that of Ireland is so carefully replicated by segregating children on either side of a police cordon, as we’ve seen while the story has unfolded in the news, surely the best conclusion possible is to simply let go, to remove yourself from the conflict.
And yet people seem all too keen to air their views. Reading letters in the paper - the only place you’ll find an overtly stated opinion in the media - even people from places as far flung from the conflict as Richmond and Newcastle Upon Tyne feel the urge to take part, to find where fault lies.
One participant in the Daily Melee ‘would strongly disagree that the Catholics are systematically discriminated against and that the government has bent over backwards to help loyalists’. Another respondent pulled the well-worn spectre of the black and tans out of the closet, and told pulse-quickening tales of how the army shot Catholics on the hillsides for cheap amusement.
Bad blood in Ireland has been spilt back beyond the recall of the bards, but seems to be passed down in mother’s milk. Stereotypically, a mother is supposed to be the one sure source of protection in life, but a mother that places a child in danger for the sake of a principle is no good parent at all. Similarly, anyone who would allow their child to stand on the other side of such a distasteful display, whistling and jeering, deserves nothing but scorn. Some children of Ireland are being force-fed the spoiled attitudes of the past, seemingly condemned to suffer the same sickness, and to infect the future.
The scenes in Ardoyne are not demonstrative of people who wish for reconciliation, but hopefully nor are they representative of the majority of those in Belfast who simply want to get on with their lives without fear of pipe-bombings in the street.
But where does a solution lie? The efforts of the British have clearly not been successful - the army sent to protect the Catholics soon became altogether unwelcome and every peace accord seems doomed to literally blow up in the faces of the diplomats. So closely are these isles entangled in what has been understated as ‘the troubles’ that there is little chance of any direct involvement leading to a genuine resolution.
The bloody arguments of other nations are nothing we should play partisan politics with. A frequent poll in the UK concerns ‘what should be done about the Irish’ and many advocate that the nation wash its hands of a frankly ungrateful expense, as if the destiny of a separate people was somehow within in our gift.
No nation should cut itself off from the problems of another, surely for the sake of humanity rather than out of any sense of responsibility, misplaced or not. Northern Ireland, Jerusalem, even Zimbabwe - all are dots on the globe we are sufficiently removed from to invalidate any idea of a ‘right or wrong’ stance on the issues, but then not so far away that there is nothing that could or should be done.
Peace initiatives must be supported, whatever the cost and wherever they may be. To remove yourself from the conflict, to forget the issues of the past and look towards what can be done for tomorrow - if those not even involved cannot adopt this attitude, what chance for the people living with a war on their doorstep?
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[The timeliness of the publishing of this article was compromised by financial contraints and the events in America. Barbelith apologises to the author and to the authors of other delayed articles.]