THE TITLE of this book is also the name of a six year old project linked to a course in ecumenism in Trinity College, Dublin. Gerard Curran reviews Moving Beyond Sectarianism: religion, conflict, and reconciliation in Northern Ireland by Joseph Leichty and Cecelia Clegg, Columba Press, £12.99 pbk
In the book's most revealing section ‘UnderstandingSectarianism’, the authors criticise other approaches to the phenomenon.
They illustrate this with a quotation from Race Class and Creed in Northern Ireland by Edward Moxon-Browne states “...it is possible that pseudo-religious slogans and undue emphasis on theological differences serve to preserve group solidarity in a divided society... Northern Ireland society is divided by a fundamental disagreement: the appropriate state for the society (Britain or a United Ireland) to belong to.”
The authors contend that this analysis leaves no room for religion. “In a book on nation class and creed, religion largely disappears after paper three.,” they argue.
I was wondering if the quote from the Manchester Guardian referred to in The Irish Crisis by D.Greaves would make the authors any happier. In 1921 the paper referred to the illegal arming of the A, B and C specials and described the moves as aiming “to create a religious tyranny”.
There is more in the “unfair to religion” vein under the heading ‘The reductionism of dismissing religion as a mere boundary marker’. Surely good examples of misuse of religion would be Randolph Churchill playing the ‘Orange Card’ in 1886 and the refusal of the Labour government to grant equal rights to Northern Ireland Catholics in the Sixties?
The writers refer to the pyramid of sectarianism in Northern Ireland . “At the peak lies a thin layer of extreme violence. It is occupied by people sometimes called mad dogs.” The writers identify paramilitary violence as inherently sectarian. “It extends and deepens sectarianism,” they suggest.
However, there is no mention of the RUC of British state agencies’ involvement in these sectarian activities. In fact the writers in describing talks on sectarianism to police recruits seem to have assured themselves that the police are neutral.
The ‘Moving Beyond Sectarianism’ project has been making slow progress among members of the two main religions: Roman Catholics and members of The Church of Ireland. The smaller churches have refused to cooperate in the scheme.
Hopefully the ecumenical groups will eventually join up with other groups like civil rights, trade unions and women's organisations in the fight for lasting peace and an end to sectarian violence and outside interference.
Despite some reservations this book deserves careful reading and consideration.
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