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16 October 2014
BBC NI - Eyewitness

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Rev Dr John Dunlop is a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Image of Rev. Dr John Dunlop

The interfaces, the patchwork of interfaces in north Belfast, mean that people are afraid to walk down the street past another community, lest they be either physically or verbally abused. And so they would take a long detour round to another shop some distance away, or another post office, or another leisure centre. Or indeed they will detour down another road in order to get to work, because they are afraid.

Now what do we have to do in this situation? It means that every community has got a responsibility, I believe, not only to look after itself, but to look after its neighbours as well. And it is the case that a community can put up murals, put up flags which are comfort-signs for itself and give to the people who live in that community a sense of belonging. But those murals, those flags constitute, at the same time, a chill factor for people who belong in the community just up the road.

Now we know that, in the fair employment legislation, you are not allowed to put up murals, flags and emblems and so on in workplaces, because it is known that those represent a chill factor. But we are steadily involved in refrigerating bits of Northern Ireland and ma- , and constituting not only in Belfast but in other towns throughout Northern Ireland, majority communities want to make themselves comfortable, want to demarcate areas as being their areas, and thereby exclude other people. And that's no way to organise the society which is going to have an integrated, happy future.

I think sectarianism has been described as a good thing which has become diseased. Now the good thing is my personal sense of identity, and the identity of the community to which I belong. It becomes diseased whenever my self-definition gets overlaid by what a Jewish scholar calls 'oppositional identity' - that is, that I am opposed to this other community down the street, or in the next town, or across the border. And so my sense of identity becomes overlaid with my opposition to somebody else's. And whenever that takes hold of your mind, you then get filled with anxiety and you get filled with fear.

Now what we have to do, I believe, is to recognise the fact that if we choose to live in homogeneous separated communities, we diminish ourselves. I think that majority communities, in parts of Belfast, or in towns throughout Northern Ireland, have got an obligation to make sure that the minority (and those minorities are sometimes Catholic, sometimes Protestant), that the minorities feel comfortable in those towns and in those localities.

But in addition to that, the minority communities must not get so obsessed with their sense of insecurity that they withdraw out of those towns, and go someplace else. They have got to be positively engaged in interacting with the majority community and making a contribution to the total life of those towns and those communities.

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