How a problem is viewed has serious consequences for how it is dealt with. The Workers’ Party has long argued that the problem of sectarianism has to be dealt with through the encouragement of integration – spatial and educational – between the people of Northern Ireland and the development of political structures which will lead to the recognition of a common citizenship, regardless of religious background. It was in this spirit, and with reservations, that we supported the Good Friday Agreement. We viewed it not as a final settlement but as a first step towards our goals of integration and citizenship. On this basis, we believe our vision of secular, democratic, socialist politics can best take root.
Who can deny that life has improved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement? However, the way that the integration debate has been framed by others shows that, although the daily sectarian murders are behind us, the sectarian mindset remains, particularly, we would argue, among our mainstream politicians.
Moreover, it can reasonably be argued that the structures of devolved government in Stormont encourage the institutionalisation of sectarianism and the reification of essentialist identities. It is within this context of increased separation that we analyse the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document. We must remind ourselves that this document would not have been published at all were it not for pressure placed on the DUP and Sinn Féin by the Alliance Party as part of the deal leading to the devolution of justice and policing. The Shared Future document, we should also remind ourselves, was allowed to lie gathering dust during the period when the SDLP/Ulster Unionist Party were in control. None of the nationalist and unionist parties is willing to confront these issues.