Belfast Agreement can entrench sectarianism

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Thu Mar 6 12:40:16 MST 2003

Belfast Agreement power-sharing model can entrench sectarianism

  The agenda at Hillsborough was long: from the existence of paramilitaries,
unionist willingness to share power, the British army presence, devolution
of justice, human rights, the Irish language everything except the central
problem: the fact that Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society. And the
peace process may be helping it to become more so, writes Robin Wilson

In an era marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, Northern Ireland has
accumulated, officially, 37 peace walls separating hostile communities - up
from 15 in 1994. And the recent Northern Ireland Office consultation paper
on community relations admits: "Northern Ireland remains a deeply segregated
society with little indication of progress towards becoming more tolerant or

Worse still, evidence from the Life and Times Survey on public attitudes
shows a deterioration in intercommunal relations and diminishing optimism
about the future.

A "blip" of polarisation after the Belfast Agreement might have been
dismissed as the shock of the new. But five years, four suspensions and
three polarised elections on, at best the agreement has had a neutral effect
on communal division, at worst, it has unwittingly exacerbated it.

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