Our experience of dealing with sectarianism is often characterised by its apparent absence or that it is simply someone else’s fault, we are indeed accused of ‘bringing it with us’.

Much of the challenge of dealing with the manifestations of sectarianism is that it emerges from an unagreed past in which communal memories and revisionist academic histories compete for the truth:

It is clear that dealing with sectarianism requires an understanding of the complex dynamics of what is claimed by some to have been a war of national liberation and by others as an internal security problem. There is also the unagreed positions about the roots of conflict in Ireland and the role that sectarianism has played in the colonial project:

The story of sectarianism in Ireland involves the themes of power, a powerlessness, of possession and dispossession, of advantage an disadvantage, of majority and minority, of violence and counter violence, of loyalty and disloyalty, of injustice and justification, of grievance and insecurity, of siege and deliverance, of coloniser and colonised – all interplaying with the role of religion…[1]

It is precisely because of the absence of an agreed narrative and the existence of competing truths that lead to feelings of discomfort, powerlessness and anger when real dialogue is engaged. In our experience feelings of exclusive victimhood and the related hurt and anger dictate people’s reactions and dialogue. It is no surprise that genuine anti-sectarian work is so rarely witnessed as part of good relations programmes and activities. Yet engaging with the historical roots of sectarianism is a central aspect of our engagement with groups. However whilst addressing such issues in a three hour dialogue or / training sessions is problematic, not to recognise that sectarianism arises out of a particular historical context is to misunderstand sectarianism and weaken our ability to challenge its most pernicious influences.

Because of the challenges of the work we increasingly see a slide back to ‘non-sectarianism’ in which people seek to move towards a polite and fragile consensus around moving forward and forgetting the past whilst overseeing the increasing apartheid of society.

[1] The Report of the Working Party on Sectarianism: A discussion Document for presentation to the Inter-Church Meeting, 1993, 27