By Kevin Henry

In the course of the Covid crisis, public parks have become an important place for exercise and, as the restrictions now ease, to meet friends and family. in north Belfast, some have sought to turn grove park into a sectarian battleground. A banner saying “Anti British GAA not welcome” was placed at the park’s entrance and graffiti with the same message was also sprayed on a wall in the grounds. There have also been reports of a group of men gathering at the park and telling people wearing GAA tops to leave.

Claiming public spaces

These are public spaces and people have the right to engage in cultural and sporting activities free from intimidation. This incident is one reflection of a process people across the North, particularly from working-class communities, will know all too well – the attempt to mark and claim territory. As is common, these actions can lead to tit-for-tat retaliation, with reports of young people attacking the small Protestant estate of Westland Drive. The marking of territory can lead to attacks to intimidate people out of areas, as one ‘mixed’ couple discovered recently in Coleraine.

This is the reality, decades into a so-called peace process which, rather than overcoming sectarianism, has in reality sought to manage it, with segregation in housing and education remaining the norm. Importantly, many working-class communities feel left behind, having not received the promised ‘peace dividend’.

We need a socialist alternative that can actually overcome sectarian division by bringing working-class communities together in opposition to poverty and to fight for a better life for all. That requires common struggle in the workplaces, on the streets and in the communities against the bosses and pro-capitalist politicians of all hues, particularly in the context of a new crisis for which working-class people will be expected to pay.

Cross-community solidarity

If such an alternative is not built, we risk not just enduring division but a slide backwards, potentially towards conflict. The recent Life and Times survey gives a warning. In recent years, there was a decline in those identifying as Unionist or nationalist. In the last year, in the context of turmoil around Brexit and the border, these trends have
reversed. The current economic and social crisis will provide opportunities for sectarian forces to strengthen themselves and divide communities further. But it will also create the basis for common struggle which transcends division and shows that, united, the working class has the power to change society. Those in favour of the latter must organise to ensure those opportunities are seized.