Jude Collins

Friday, 2 December 2011

Ulster - a breath-taking place

Sometimes radio can simply suck your breath away - leave you gasping on over breakfast or in the car. I had two such moments earlier this week; I'm surprised I wasn't hyperventilating by tea-time.

The first came when I was listening to an item of BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh's 'Good Morning Ulster' programme.  Mark Carruthers was discussing the interesting question of what the word 'Ulster' meant to people. The historian Jonathan Bardon who's flogging a new book said he tended to think of it as the historical nine counties, Denis Bradley said yes, he was an Ulsterman, proud to be so, he was from Donegal and you couldn't get much more Ulster than that. And there was other discussion of terms and nuances - was it the six counties, the Province (which Mark said seemed to have fallen out of fashion) and/or Northern Ireland? They could have added the north of Ireland, the north-east of Ireland or even just 'up there'.  But what sucked my breath away was that at no stage did ANYBODY point out that the the station from which the discussion was being broadcast was called 'Radio Ulster' and that the programme in which the discussion was set was called 'Good Morning Ulster'. Why didn't someone ask Mark what his station meant when THEY used (and called themselves) Ulster? Better still, why didn't Mark himself mention it?  (Note to readers: for a clue, check the  Isle-of-Man-type map at the start of 'Newsline 6.30')

My second gasp-making moment was on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme, where John Humphreys was interviewing Peter Robinson about his DUP convention speech, where he said that an attitude of 'No surrender' ("Which served us so well in the past") was no longer appropriate. The last thirty or forty years, Peter said, had created division between people, and it was now time to bring them together again. What must be tackled were things like peace walls which divided people and segregated education which divided children. My jaw dropped and my lungs went on strike. 

No wonder the English don't understand this deformed little corner of Ireland. The last thirty or forty years CREATED division? Gimme a break, Peter. Some of us remember pre- the last thirty or forty years and the divisions were well and truly in place then. In fact, the state of Ulster/NI/ six counties/ etc was created on exactly that - the division between Protestant and Catholic with, it was presumed, a permanent majority for Protestants. But since that wasn't mentioned, Peter's little point sounded very solid. Then Peter and John got to talk about those peace walls, neatly confining the problem to the  unwashed working-class areas. You don't get peace walls about Malone; or Holywood; or the middle-class estates of Derry's Waterside. But do a little head-count or check the statistics -  over 90% of people here CHOOSE to live separated from their Protestant or Catholic fellow-citizens. When middle-class Catholics moved into Malone, for example, the air was thick with the sound of Protestant bags being packed for North Down.  But since that middle-class thing wasn't mentioned, Peter's working-class peace-wall-point sounded very solid. As for segregated education - well, no matter how many polls Peter may cite showing a majority in favour of integrated education, the fact is that the vast majority of Protestants CHOOSE to send their children to Protestant schools, and Catholics to Catholic schools. But since that wasn't mentioned, Peter's little point sounded very solid. What's more, I know from experience that neither Protestant nor Catholic school staff inculcate sectarianism - in fact most of them work very hard against it. But since that wasn't mentioned, Peter's little point sounded very solid. 

But the most air-sucking-out moment of all was at the end of the Humphreys interview with Peter. As I chewed my final mouthful of toast it suddenly hit me: not once in the course of the Peter-John dialogue was it mentioned that Britain claims the right to jurisdiction over the six counties (or the north or Northern Ireland or Ulster or the Province) and that that claim  is the hard-core, terribly uncomfortable source of division here.  But since that wasn't mentioned, the English audience probably stood up from the breakfast table shaking their civilized heads and murmuring "Those Irish and their religious wars  - tsk, tsk, tsk.  When will they ever learn?"

Sorry - gotta dash.  The man with the oxygen mask is at the front door. 


  1. By and large, Jude is on the money again.

    One small issue with the tone of remarks on desegregation/secularisation of the schools. Because the majority of parents choose to continue to send kids to religious schools doesn't necessarily make it right. Leaders ought to lead and encouraging integrated education, after decades of sectarian division, is the right thing to do.

  2. "the fact is that the vast majority of Protestants CHOOSE to send their children to Protestant schools"

    No they don't.

  3. Well, that's two minutes of my life I'll never get back. Weak.

  4. Jude
    On the issue of Integrated Education, do you think it's a good idea or would you prefer to keep our children segregated?

  5. Im impressed that you are energised enough to post a column at 6 30 am.Are you finding it hard to sleep?

  6. Gio - I believe we should respect parental choice whatever it may be. After all , it's their children are involved.

    Anon 14:11 - you are quite right - I do have difficulty with sleep. Always have , I'm sorry to say . Very observant of you.

  7. Jude
    Were you trained by the Jesuits by any chance. Let me try again.
    Given that we do respect parental choice, do you think it would be better for our society if parents chose to educate their children in an integrated setting or apart?

  8. Gio - no, sorry, Jesuit schools were reserved for rich boys - I didn't qualify. I'm glad that you too respect parental choice. Do I think it would be better for our society for children to go to integrated schools? The answer to that lies in what I know of integrated schools, which is limited. I've been in a few and they seemed OK places to me - not much different from other schools, Catholic or Protestant, although I did notice they offered Irish and Gaelic games, which as you know no Protestant schools offer. The key for me would be what value Protestant or Catholic parents place on their faith. If they believe it is something important that should shape their lives, then of course they'd want their children to go to a Catholic or Protestant school. If on the other hand they thought all faiths were pretty much the same, take-your-pick, or if they thought all faiths were bunkum, then they'd probably opt to send their children to Integrated schools. I stand to be corrected but we've had Integrated education here for around thirty years or more - has any research shown it produces better, less bigoted citizens? I don't know of any, although it may exist. I personally think the 'of course integrated education would be best for our society' idea is seriously flawed. It assumes that bringing children together will dissolve prejudice and if you don't you won't. I once asked a class of trainee teachers if they favoured integrated education. They looked at me as though I'd two heads and said 'Yes, of course. It'd be very important in breaking down bigotry and prejudice'. I then asked how many of them had attended integrated schools. I think one hand went up. "So, how many of you would consider yourself bigoted or prejudiced, raise your hands?" No hand. "How come you got so lucky?" I asked. I attended Catholic schools - I don't consider myself a bigot (I know there are those who'll tell you different but I know me better than they do). And as I've said, both Protestant and Catholic schools work hard to counter any prejudice or intolerance of others. So I'd say (to finally answer your question) I don't believe that children attending faith schools means they become bigots, which means integrated education, while fine with me if that's what parents want, isn't a necessary ingredient for an improved society and has produced no research that I know of (it may be out there, indeed, but I haven't seen it) to show that it does. In other words, voluntary attendance in separate schooling systems has little to do with this society's problems.
    Now - having given you my detailed thoughts on that - how do you feel about all-girls' schools? Or all-boys? Do you figure they turn out male and female chauvinists?

  9. Jude
    I did reply to you earlier, as you went to the trouble of giving me a detailed response, but my reply disappeared, perhaps to pop up later..who knows.
    In brief, I think greater opportunity for integrated education would indeed help our society's problems, and yes I think boys and girls kept apart develop silly stereotypes about each other.

  10. Catholic and Protestant education is not to be mistaken for political education. Most parents are influenced by the religious nature of the school as this is historically a religious country. You may not agree, but if parents really chose to send their children to the 'best' schools, there would be a lot more Protestants applying to Catholic schools. This is proven through the list of Top 30 Schools in Northern Ireland, based on GCSE and A-Level grades. I do not have this list to had, but from what I can remeber, around 70% of the top 30 where Catholic schools, with only 2 Protestant schools featuring in the top 10. There was also a serious lack of integrated schools in this list, possibly proving that integrated education is not the way forward. Especially not here.

  11. Mick
    I don't think such a list would prove anything of the sort. Integrated schools operate differently taking in all abilities.Also they have only begun to establish themselves.
    What we call integrated schools, more enlightened countries simply call schools.