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Sectarianism, Children and Community Relations in Northern Ireland.

 
  Chapter 5:
Sectarianism and Children's Perspectives
 
 

Introduction

The aim of this and the following chapter is to ‘model out’ a more productive approach to researching the influence of sectarianism in children’s lives. This chapter will focus on the children’s knowledge and understanding of the broader political situation and how this relates to their own day-to-day experiences. The following chapter will examine the impact of one particular contact scheme organised between the children and will argue that its effects can only be understood within the context provided by the children’s sub-cultures.

It needs to be stressed at the outset that this is only an exploratory study. Given the limited time available, no observations were made of the children either in terms of how they related to one another generally or, moreover, of their participation in the contact scheme that was organised. Moreover, the number of children interviewed was relatively small and, therefore, no claims can be made concerning how representative they may be of the children living in their respective areas.

The purpose of this and the following chapter, therefore, is simply to illustrate the nature of the data that can be gained from adopting a more qualitative approach as advocated in the previous chapter. Moreover, in contextualising the children’s perspectives within the broader context of their day-to-day experiences, it also demonstrates the analytical potential of such an approach in helping to understand and explain these perspectives. Ultimately, while it would be dangerous to generalise from the data to follow, they do, nevertheless, provide an important insight into how sectarianism impacts upon the lives of some children. As such, the study provides a number of insights in this regard that are important in their own right.

 

The children’s experiences of the conflict

Both Northside and Southside have been particularly effected by industrial restructuring and civil unrest since the late 1960s. Both areas have suffered disproportionately from the decline in manufacturing industries locally and share higher than average levels of long-term unemployment as well as significantly lower than average levels of owner-occupation, car ownership and educational attainment. The extent of endemic deprivation is therefore very deep in both areas.

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The Catholic Southside is particularly affected by a high level of long term unemployment and a lack of employment opportunities within the area. Approximately 35 per cent of unemployed males in Southside have been unemployed for five or more years. Furthermore, the level of welfare dependency in the area is extremely high with the proportion of children in receipt of free school meals, for example, ranging from 49 to 87 per cent and the proportion of households receiving income support and housing benefit being consistently around 80 per cent.

The Protestant Northside area has experienced severe population decline during the last 10 years as the more socially mobile households (i.e. young families, better educated and employed) have left the area to relocate to other parts of Northern Ireland and Great Britain (mainly Scotland). The remaining population is comprised mainly of elderly households and single-parent families consequently rendering the Northside area as one which is increasingly becoming residualised and stigmatised.

Both areas have also experienced relatively high levels of violence and sectarianism since the late 1960s and as such have developed quite distinct political identities with both areas being marked out by peace lines and the presence of political murals, paramilitary graffiti and painted kerbstones. It is not surprising, therefore, that the children themselves develop a heightened sensitivity to the local politics of the area that reflects their respective positions and political understanding. This is illustrated, for instance, by the very different relationships that the children have developed with the police.

A good relationship appears to have been developed between the police and the local youth club in the Northside where the police are regularly seen to visit the club and take the children on outings. As some of the children explain:

Sinclair: We go to the swimming pool sometimes

William: and trips to Welling Dean

Interviewer: Welling Dean?

Sinclair: Its a big park

[...]

Interviewer: Who takes you out to the park?

Campbell: The policemen

Sinclair: The police

William: The police [...] The police look after us all ... there are police officers there

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Sinclair: there’s a lot of them

[...]

Interviewer: Why do the police come and take you?

Sinclair: There's this man called Trevor ... he's the leader of the youth club and he organises it with the police cos sometimes, the police come in there, they visit him an all

Interviewer: And what would they come in for?

Sinclair: A cuppa tea an all

[...]

Iris: Sometimes we go out for barbecues

Liz: Yeah

Interviewer: Do the police take you out there?

Lily: Yeah, and sometimes they take us to the swimming pool

[...]

Interviewer: Why do the police come along and take you out?

Iris: Cos they have buses and they will be able to drive us out ... cos at the youth club we don't have a minibus

Interviewer: No minibus?

Liz: No! So we just ask the police

Iris: They have two buses and they don't mind

At the time of the research, however, the IRA had only recently ended its first cease-fire. The problems that the police now faced in entering the Northside and visiting the youth club is illustrated by the following discussion:

Interviewer: How often would they [the police] take you out?

Iris: About three times a month

Liz: When we go on trips

Iris: But now they aren’t allowed over in the Northside

Liz: When we were going to the swimming pool they had to stop at the traffic lights

Iris: Before crossing over the embankment

Girls: Because of the cease-fire being broke

Iris: Cos they’re not in uniforms, so they’re not allowed over here

Interviewer: The police aren't allowed to come over here?

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Liz: No

Iris: Only if they are in uniform ... and on duty

Interviewer: Only if they are in uniform? Why are they not allowed over

Girls: Cos the cease-fire broke

Iris: And if they are off duty, someone could find out where they are and shoot them

For these children in the Northside, this experience and knowledge provides an important purchase on their understanding of the conflict. Some of them had developed close relationships with particular police officers and now, because of the ending of the cease-fire, the children are acutely aware of the fact that these same police officers also run the risk of being shot and killed by the IRA. The kind of insecurity and fear that this engenders among some of the Protestant children of the Northside will be a theme developed further later in the chapter.

In stark contrast, many of the Catholic children of the Southside had a very different experience of the police.

Liam: On bonfire night, every time the police call round they’re petrol bombed

Martin: That’s true

Paul: Aye, they riot out there and they petrol bomb the cops

Interviewer: Why do they throw petrol bombs at the police?

Liam: Cos they're the British

Martin: They’re British ...and worthless

Paul: And they're Orange too

Interviewer: They're?

Paul: They’re Orange

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Paul: It means they’re Prods and all

[...]

Martin: All the cops are mostly Prods

Liam: There is no Catholic RUC people

Interviewer: There’s no?

Liam: Catholic RUC people

Interviewer: How do you know that there?

Liam: What [that there’s] mostly Protestants in the RUC

Paul: The way they talk all/

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Martin: /The way they talk [puts on English ‘cockney’ accent] - "how are ya doin mate"

For these particular children then, their perception of the police is one of them being ‘Prods’, ‘British’ and ‘Orange’. Moreover, their belief that the police are ‘on the other side’ appears to be reinforced by their experiences of police and army patrols in their area that are highly armed. This is illustrated in the following discussion which also highlights that the children are acutely aware of the different relationships that the people in the Northside have developed with the police compared with themselves:

Liam: I saw an RUC man carrying a big gun on his back...they’re back with their guns now, their big machine guns

Martin: Aye, their big tank things with the big missile things on them ... as if there’s gonna be another war

[...]

Paul: See when they’re over in the Northside, the RUC, they have no guns, but when they go to the Southside they have big mad guns

Interviewer: How do you know that?

Paul: Because I saw them

Martin: Over in the Northside they are just walkin round with their black gloves

Liam: And wee hand guns

Interviewer: Why do you think they are walkin round with no guns in the Northside?

Martin: Cos they're sittin down there and havin their tea

Interviewer: What were you sayin Paul?

Paul: They all know them ‘uns over in that Northside and they don’t know us here

Within this context, it is not surprising that some of the children will come to develop a distrust of the police especially if, as the experiences of Liam demonstrate in the following discussion, they also have experience of more direct conflict with them:

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Paul: People up here don’t want the RUC...look over there [points out the window to a sign indicating ‘NO RUC’]

Interviewer: And why do they not want them here?

Martin: They all think they’re no good

Paul: I know

Martin: Prods

Paul: They don't give you any help or nothin

Liam: They keep ransackin your house ... I was in bed one night and the RUC walked into our house for nothin, walked up the stairs an all

Martin: If a Prod killed you they wouldn't do nothin

Interviewer: They wouldn't do nothin?

Martin: Nah!

Paul: If a Prod killed ye, you would get the IRA for them

Martin: If a Prod killed you the IRA would probably do somethin, if a Catholic killed ye the RUC would probably do something

Liam: No! It would be the Loyalist that do it

Interviewer: Why do the police not help you?

Martin: They think Catholics are no good ... that’s what I reckon

Interviewer: Why do you reckon that?

Boy: Just because every time you see them, they are always fightin and all

The main point to stress from this is that these children’s perceptions of the police are not simply ones that are passed on from their parents and which they repeat unquestioningly. Rather, they are experiences that are also rooted in their own day-to-day experiences. It is not surprising that the children develop a view of the police as ‘the other’ if the only time they see them is when they patrol the area heavily armed and under army escort. Moreover, it is a view that can only be reinforced by the belief that this is not how they patrol the neighbouring Protestant area. In addition, this type of situation only helps to increase the distance between some of the children and the police and prevents more direct relationships developing as with the children of the Northside reported earlier. Moreover, house raids and high profile arrests also inevitably contribute to this perception of the police as ‘the other’ especially as the news and rumours travel around the local area and become part of the folklore of the children’s own sub-cultures.

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Protestant children’s perspectives

What is significant from the last transcript is the fact that some of the children feel that, because of their perceptions of the police, they have no option but to turn to the IRA when a problem arises. This is a similar perspective held by some of the Protestant children of the Northside who feel that, because of the threat of the IRA, they need to rely on the Loyalist paramilitary groupings of the UDA and UFF. This is illustrated in the following discussion which centres around the events they saw on television news which took place in Derry/Londonderry a few days before:

Andrew: You see whenever John Major came over too, they chucked big massive oil barrels at him.

Stephen: And Prince Charles was here too, and there was scuffles with him

[...]

Andrew: Some of them would have grabbed big massive barrels and ran after the police car and just chucked it in the back

Stephen: Oh Aye! Aye!

Interviewer: Who did that?

[...]

Stephen: Oh who was it? ... I think it was some Catholic being arrested

Andrew: [...] and they arrested somebody and some Catholics really really hate the RUC for some reason ... cos they're police and most of them [the police] are probably Protestants[...]

Interviewer: Why do you think they hate the police?

Andrew: Cos it is mostly them [Catholics] that do violence

Stephen: They like to have violence and we don’t

Interviewer: Who?

Stephen: Catholics!

Interviewer: They want to have violence?

Stephen: Aye they start everything

Andrew: They want to get rid of us

Stephen: Twenty five years ago all the Catholics started that up

David: Aye and then we got the troubles

Stephen: And then we had to start it up ... we have the UFF and the UDA and all

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Andrew: We had to start up the UDA

Interviewer: Why did the troubles start?

Stephen: Cos somebody made that Northern Ireland was part of the UK and all the IRA ones want Northern Ireland to be a part of the Republic of Ireland

Andrew: The real title for the UK is United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, that’s the proper name for it.

Stephen: They started it, the first ever person to be killed by the IRA was a nine year old boy 25 years ago

[...]

Interviewer: And you say they don't like the police?

Stephen: No, cos they are tryin to stop them from havin violence

Andrew: The RUC are tryin to stop them from havin riots and all against Protestants. I don't know why because they won’t win because we have the whole of the United Kingdom behind us

Interviewer: What were you sayin there Stephen?

Stephen: The Police, they are tryin to stop them from makin violence, and so are we, for startin up the UFF and all they like kill down the IRA cos there is a wild lot of members

The insecurity and threat that these children feel in relation to their own position, as discussed earlier, is clearly evident in the discussion above. Here, the children clearly make little distinction between the IRA and the Catholic population and, as Andrew argues, believe that they ‘want to get rid of us’. This sense of threat is exacerbated for these children given the increasing residualisation of their area and what they perceive as the growing threat posed by the Southside. It is this feeling that underlies the children’s strong sense of place and the need to defend their territory as illustrated in the following conversation:

 

Interviewer: Have any youth clubs from the Southside come round to your youth club?

Andrew: Never!

Stephen: Never! [imitates Ian Paisley’s accent]

Interviewer: Why not?

David: They would be too scared to

Andrew: They know that/

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David: /These big boys at our youth club are dead set against Catholics

Stephen: They try everything to batter them ... so do we of course!

This view was one shared by other children in the Northside and is also illustrated by Laura’s comments taken from another discussion:

Laura: Catholics don't go to the Protestant Youth Club, they would just get their head kicked in the minute they would walk through the door!

Interviewer: Who would do that?

Laura: Everybody, everybody would be plunging on them, if they knew they were

This sense of territory was also clearly experienced by some of the Catholic children from the Southside who had to walk past the area to get to the swimming pool. The clear marking out of the territory and the danger of entering it is highlighted in the following quote taken from a discussion with some of the boys from the Southside:

Martin: There's a wild lotta Prods seem to be coming into Ireland

Paul: Over in the Northside and all

Interviewer: Where’s the Northside? [...] Has anybody been there?

Paul: Aye, Me! ... All the boys come after you cos you're a Catholic ... and that's why people are tryin to get the Protestants out

Martin: Well we'll just go down and all the Catholics joined up ... and batter them

[...]

Interviewer: Paul you were sayin you were over in the Northside, when were you over there?

Paul: Me and me friend, you know the way where the swimming pool is ... we were walking on up to it and then we saw people running and all you saw was the big Union Jack flag and people running after us then

Interviewer: Where was the Union Jack flag?

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Paul: It was painted, you know the way we have - Green White and Orange on the lamp-posts and all - they have the Union Jack flags painted on the houses

[...]

Interviewer: Were you playing in the Northside?

Paul: Naw!

Interviewer: No?

Paul: You'd get a hiding with them people

Interviewer: You'd get a hiding, why?

Liam: You know what to do? - paint your face with a Union Jack!

Martin: Protestants who fight Catholics are scared

Interviewer: Do you think they're scared?

Martin: Every time a Catholic looks at a Protestant and the Protestant looks at them, the Catholic runs

Interviewer: The Catholic runs?

Martin: That what them ‘uns think!

This general experience of threat amongst some of the Protestant children and the need to defend their territory against the Catholics provides part of the context within which direct conflict between themselves and Catholic children from the Southside occurs. This is illustrated in the following discussion among some of the girls from the Northside:

Laura: If your out throwin stones in the Northside, I thought I told you last week not to have stones in you hand [...]

Interviewer: Who were you throwin stones at?

Laura: The other side, the Catholics on the other side and the Catholics throw stones back

Interviewer: Why do you do that?

Gillian: Cos they're just different religions

Audrey: They can't get on.

Laura: Cos if you live in the Northside you’re supposed to hate other religions and if you don’t hate them, then you’re a woosie

[...]

Interviewer: Do you think it's okay for people to throw stones?

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Laura: Well if people throw stones ... its not okay, like, if you wise up and think of the real world, we're all sensible enough but

Gillian: People get on your nerves, and you just can’t hack it

Laura: You just can’t hack it no more

This sense of threat and the inevitable conflicts which ensue provides these Protestant children with the necessary context within which they not only develop a sensitivity to and keen interest in local political events but also the essential framework within which they come to make sense of these events. This is illustrated in the following transcript which begins with the children talking about the visit of President Clinton during the first IRA cease-fire. This quote will be described at length as it illustrates the relatively detailed understanding of political events that they have gained from the TV and reinforces many of the themes raised above in relation to the perceived threat from the IRA and their failure to make a distinction between the IRA and the broader Catholic population:

Andrew: You see whenever the cease-fire was on ... he was really gettin money so he was

Interviewer: Who?

Andrew: Gerry Adams

Interviewer: He was gettin money?

Stephen: He used to be a member of the IRA

Andrew: He kept on gettin money and money and money to buy more hi-tech stuff and all for the IRA, and then he started it all up again. He says he didn't know anything but he was a member of the IRA

Interviewer: Where did he get the money from?

Andrew: Publicity

David: He tried to con Bill Clinton out of it

Andrew: [says sarcastically] Surprisingly enough he was in the High Street at a shop when Bill Clinton came

Stephen: Aye, when Bill Clinton came ... he was in a shop, came out, shook hands with Bill Clinton and went away again. I would just love to walk up the street, there’s Gerry Adams [pretends to hold shotgun] bang you're dead!

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Interviewer: Why would you do that?

Andrew: Cos he’s a liar and a cheat

Stephen: He’s a liar, he’s a cheat ... he's a Catholic! He used to be a member of the IRA

Andrew: He says he has nothing to do with them, so he does.

David: Oh aye, he’s donating money to them everyday

Stephen: UTV Live did like a survey on him ... and they had everything about him, they showed him whenever he was young with the IRA hat and everything on, but he didn't have a balaclava on

Interviewer: Where did you hear all this information?

Stephen: TV

Interviewer: You got it all from the TV?

[...]

Interviewer: And you said you would shoot him! Why would you shoot him?

Andrew: Because he just, he just starts up trouble

David: He started it all

Stephen: He’s the source of trouble ... he thinks he, sure the IRA cease-fire isn't on any more, they had the bombs in England

Andrew: They’re trying to attack the mainland

David: They’re goin for

Stephen: John Major

David: I heard rumours that they are goin for the Houses of Parliament

Interviewer: Where did you hear the rumours?

David: All on ITV Live, they said the rumours have been goin around that Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams are goin after the Houses of Parliament

Stephen: The major incidents by the IRA have happened in England, the bomb they tried to blow up the/

Andrew: /Canary Wharf! [...] Sure the bomber blew up himself, he ... it was a suicidal bomb on the bus

Stephen: I'm not talkin about that one, they tried to plant a bomb on the bridge, that goes up like that there, they tried to blow that up

Interviewer: Why do you think they are doin all that

Andrew: They hate us

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Stephen: They hate the English, they hate us and they want Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic so then they can come up and start shootin all us

Interviewer: Shootin all us?

Stephen: Yeah the Protestant population

Andrew: They probably want to get rid of us

Interviewer: Why would they want to get rid of you?

Andrew: Right whenever the King was Catholic all the Protestants protested, that is why they get the Protestant name, cos a man started protesting against the religion. He still wanted to worship God, but he didn’t want to be a Catholic and heavily in to it so he protested against it [...]

David: He wanted to get a divorce from his wife, and the Pope wouldn't let him, so he chopped off her head

Stephen: Cos she was Catholic

Andrew: and he protested against the religion too and that is how they started up Protestants

David: And the Catholics have been threatening that if we don't move out of the Northside in the next ten years or so they are goin to blow us up

Interviewer: Who said that?

Stephen: The Catholics

David: The IRA

Interviewer: When did they say that?

[...]

Stephen: A coupla of years ago [...] they have everything,

Andrew: They have all the stuff to do it

This quote is significant for two key reasons. First, it demonstrates that these children are actively constructing their own understanding of the conflict. They are not simply and uncritically reproducing what their parents have told them but are actively and passionately working through and interpreting a wide range of news events for themselves. This is not to deny the broader influence of their parents and others but it is to stress that these children are actively thinking through and interpreting what they are told while also gaining a significant amount of information from sources other than their parents - in this case the media. Such discussion, and those to follow, should therefore indicate the need to develop a much stronger political and historical element to the children’s education even in the primary school.

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Second, we can see that a complex relationship exists between the children’s own lived experiences and how they then come to interpret and understand the news. In other words, the specific feelings of threat and territoriality that the children express about their own situation, on the one hand, appears to mediate their reading of the news and the actions of Gerry Adams and the IRA. On the other hand, these broader news events then, in turn, provide the lens through which local events and experiences are understood. It is clear from this that their political perspectives are not simply a set of ‘free-floating ideas’ that can be engaged with through education and abstract debate. Rather, they are beliefs that are deeply rooted in their lived experience and can only be adequately engaged with through enabling them to explore their more personal fears and anxieties.

Against this broader context, it is therefore not surprising that some of the Protestant children from the Northside develop derogatory and prejudiced views about Catholics. The following discussion begins with the interviewer questioning Andrew who had earlier on in the conversation claimed that he could tell the difference between Catholics and Protestants:

Interviewer: How do you know if someone is a Catholic or a Protestant?

Andrew: By the way they talk - [puts on an rough accent] Hey you, hey you, what are you doing there

Stephen: The Catholics for some reason have got a different sorta’ language than us.

Interviewer: A different language?

Stephen: [puts on a posh accent] We speak more English than they do

Andrew: They speak - [boy puts on rough accent] - you and all like that there now

Stephen: Aye, with squeaky voices sorta

Interviewer: Why do they talk like that?

Stephen: I do not know

Interviewer: And what way do Protestants talk then?

Stephen: [puts on polite accent] The way we are

Interviewer: And what way is that?

Andrew: Like sort of [...] about one in ten Catholics would speak like us, not much really

Interviewer: Why only one in ten?

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Andrew: Cos they are the ones with a bit of money ... and they’re a bit posh

Stephen: Most of the Catholics are sorta "alright" at times, cos whenever we're playing football, they see one of us wearin a Man United football top they shout over "United are the best"

[...]

What is interesting about the above discussion is the contradictions that emerge between the derogatory discourse about Catholics and then, at the end, Stephen’s statement that they are ‘sorta "alright"’. This is a contradiction that emerges among discussions with some of the other children as the following transcript highlights:

Audrey: I've got a Catholic friend, she lives a couple streets away from me, but she's dead on like.

Interviewer: Do they go to the youth club?

Girls: [in unison] Nah!

Interviewer: Why not?

Laura: They [Catholics] go [puts on rough accent] - "Snawgin" - They just come over to you an start layin into you!

Interviewer: Who talks like that?

Laura: The Catholics talk like that there they say [puts on a rough accent] - "Snawgin" - and we say [puts on ‘posh’ accent] - "Snoggin"

Audrey: But you don't know, cos I used to talk like that, and everybody used to give me a kickin’... in school everybody used to tease me

[...]

Laura: You can tell by the way they [Catholics] walk, if your [Protestant] you walk like this here [imitates a straight walk] and if your Catholic you walk like this here [imitates walk with a bouncy step] and that’s how you know. And then they get you down and your dead

Gillian: I think that the Northside Youth Club should be mixed cos it doesn't really matter what religion you are.

Laura: It's in the Protestant Estate and what Catholics are gonna come into a Protestant?/

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Audrey: /"Right! Get out of this Catholic" - religion stuff now

Gillian: Cos it doesn't matter what religion you are ... you’re all the same people

The above two transcripts are useful as they not only highlight the prejudiced views that these children have about Catholics but they also draw attention to the contradictions that exist in their thinking. In this sense, especially in Stephen’s recognition of the commonality that exists in relation to Man United, in Audrey explaining how she had been mistaken for being a Catholic and in the more egalitarian views of Gillian, the above transcripts demonstrate the opportunities and cultural spaces that exist for challenging the children’s beliefs and encouraging them to think through and critically reflect upon their attitudes and behaviour. This is a point that will be returned to at the end of the chapter.

Catholic children’s perspectives

We have already highlighted some of the core elements of some of the Catholic children’s perspectives on the conflict above and therefore only need to draw the main elements together and summarise them here. Similarly to the Protestant children that were interviewed, some had also developed a relatively detailed and sophisticated analysis of the political situation which had been rooted in their own lived experiences. For these Catholic children, however, it was not insecurity and fear that was the root of their experience but one of conflict with the police and with other Protestant children. As we have seen above, it is from this vantage point that these children have developed a perception of the police as being ‘Prods’, ‘Orange’ and ‘British’ and therefore being representative of the ‘other side’.

As we have also seen above, just as some of the Protestant children saw no difference between the IRA and Catholics, so these children also make little distinction between the police and Protestants. This is not only the case because of the belief that all of the police ‘are Prods’ but also because of the perception that the police do not carry guns and are friendly with those they meet in the Northside when on patrol. For some of the children from the Southside, then, the threats they receive from Protestants when walking past the Northside and their experiences of police and army patrols in their own area are two sides of the same coin. They are both perceived as representing the

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same oppressive force which is against them and wants to see them leave and/or die. These children from the Southside are therefore acutely aware of the negative and antagonistic views towards them. This can not only be seen from some of the transcripts above where the children talk about ‘getting a hiding’ from Protestants but is also evident in the attention the following children paid to a comment that was reportedly made about Catholics by a member of the pop group Wet Wet Wet as evident in the following discussion:

Martin: You know Wet Wet Wet?

Liam: He said all the Catholics should be put up to the wall and shot dead.

Martin: He said Catholics should be put up and shot

Interviewer: When did he say that?

Martin: Dunno, he's a Prod you see, he said Catholics should be put up and shot

Interviewer: Where did you hear that?

Martin: It said it on the news and all, last year, it was on the news and everything, you see he was at this here disco thing, and all the reporters came up and asked what do you think about Catholics and all that?

In perceiving themselves to be located in an overtly hostile environment where, as shown earlier, they do not feel that the police are either willing to help or come to the aid of Catholics, some of these children have invested their trust in the IRA. This can be seen in the following quote:

Martin: It says, you know the wall, the wall up along there [points out window] it says the Brits will run from the IRA.

Paul: And it says up there - PAISLEY IS NEXT!

Interviewer: What does that mean

Paul: It means Ian Paisley

Martin: It means the IRA killed someone, and he's next to die ... that's what it means

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Finally, it is from this basis that some of these children in the Southside also develop antagonistic and stereotypical views about Protestants. As the following discussion highlights, the threat they feel translates into general hatred for Protestant children:

Interviewer: Has anybody else been down near the Northside

Martin: Nah

Interviewer: So would you go down and play there then?

Boys: Nah!

Interviewer: Why not?

Martin: Unless we had bombs

Interviewer: Unless you had?

Martin: bombs

Liam: Grenades or somethin

Interviewer: Why?

Liam: To fire at them [makes exploding noise]

[...]

Interviewer: But the ones from the Northside, did you make friends with anybody there?

Liam: [shakes his head]

Interviewer: Why not?

Liam: Nah! ... Cos they're Protestants

Interviewer: Because they’re Protestants?

Liam: We hate them

It is interesting to note, however, that these Catholic children, while exhibiting this hatred for Protestant children, did not seem to develop the derogatory views about them in the same way as some of the Protestant children did about them. In interviews, these Catholic children only commented upon their ‘posh’, ‘English’ accents as highlighted above but did not portray the Protestant children as ‘rough’ or inferior.

Developing anti-sectarian work

The final point I wish to stress here is the cultural space that exists among the children for developing anti-sectarian initiatives. Earlier we touched upon some of these in relation to how one of the boys could recognise the commonality of interest he had with those ‘on the other side’ through football. There was also the experience of one Protestant girl who was attacked because she was mistaken for being

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Catholic. Similarly, another girl was keen to stress that we are ‘all the same’. A similar space was also created by the following Protestant girl who talked of her experience of a cross-community visit to a Catholic church. While she obviously did not wish to go, she did stress the need to ‘have the decency’ to reciprocate

Interviewer: Have Southside been down here in the Northside

Iris: Sometimes youth clubs go to our church and we would go to their chapel

Interviewer: And how do you feel about going there?

Iris: Not very comfortable ... but if they came to ours we would have to have the decency to go to theirs ... like it's just really the same, like just goin to God. Thing is, my sister and myself and another girl Divinia, we had to walk up with candles, and bow before the thing, we don't usually do that and the wee girl Divinia walked up and bowed and my sister just went like this here [wouldn’t bow head] just walked on and I just went like this here with my head [imitates a small nod], and then we had to say our prayers but my sister said she wasn't gonna bow an she didn't, I just gave a wee nod of my head.

Liz: Did Divinia go right down?

Iris: Yes, Divinia went right down

Liz: Yuk!

These types of incidents which draw attention to commonalties, contradictions and existing egalitarian beliefs are all good entry points into the children’s social worlds. They provide useful starting points from which to encourage the children to think through and critically reflect upon their existing beliefs. While it is beyond the remit of this present study to offer suggestions as to how this could be done in practice, it is at least important to recognise that such cultural spaces do exist and that the picture is not so uniform and bleak as the proceeding sections of this chapter may lead us to believe.

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Conclusions

This chapter has offered a detailed exploration of the children’s understanding of their present situation, their grasp of the broader political context and the nature and influence of sectarianism within this. While the warnings given at the beginning of the chapter concerning the dangers of generalising from such a small, exploratory study need to be borne in mind, it does highlight the clear potential that qualitative methods provide for helping to understand the social processes, contexts and experiences that lie behind the children’s perspectives. In this sense the chapter has fulfilled its primary purpose.

However, the data does also offer some important insights into the experiences and perspectives of at least some children growing up in areas of relatively high conflict. As such, for these 10 and 11 year old children at least, we can conclude that they:

  • are actively involved in making sense and understanding their day-to-day experiences;
  • are capable of developing relatively detailed and sophisticated understandings of those experiences and of the wider political situation;
  • ttake a keen interest in the local and national news and gain their information from a number of sources including, significantly, the television;
  • have developed certain sectarian beliefs which are deeply rooted in their day-to-day experience and make strong links between these experiences and the broader political situation;
  • also express a number of more egalitarian beliefs and have some recognition of the contradictions of their beliefs and the elements of commonality between themselves and those from the ‘other side’ which all provide important ‘entry points’ for challenging the children and encouraging them to critically reflect upon their existing beliefs.

Above all, it is clear from the brief case study that sectarianism cannot simply be understood as an irrational set of beliefs that children unquestioningly take on board and which can easily be educated away.

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Rather, it would appear that the development of the children’s beliefs as outlined above is essentially a very rational and understandable process given the contexts within which they live. It is this understanding of sectarianism and its implications for community relations work that I now wish to consider in more detail in relation to the role of contact schemes in the following chapter.