Sound bites or substance: The end to divided politics in Northern Ireland?
Moving from my native Northern Ireland to London is a bit of a shock to the system; the whole of Northern Ireland has a population of only 1.8 million, almost four times smaller than that of London.
But in this bustling city, one thing which has really stood out to me is the vibrant multiculturalism. It is great to walk around and to hear accents and languages of all varieties.
Because of its troubled past, Northern Ireland has not seen the same level of immigration or tourism. This has harmed not only the economy, but also community integration in a wider sense, as Republican and Unionist communities have largely remained in isolation. Today, for example, only 7% of schools in Northern Ireland are officially integrated – a statistic that may come as a shock to many.
Consequently, the signal from First Minister Peter Robinson last week of the end of ‘us and them’ politics, is a welcome step forward. This is a good sign for future generations in Northern Ireland, who largely want to leave the past behind them. It will not be simple and the problem of history will remain, but at least we are starting the dialogue and working towards a compromise, where Republicans and Unionists are able to remember their fallen heroes while having respect for both sides of the community.
Today’s economic climate also means that there are more practical concerns for the people of Northern Ireland that require communities to pull together.
Northern Ireland has come a long way and thankfully the violence has been almost completely eradicated. With political will behind us, and financial concerns upon us, now is the time to focus on delivering a more prosperous and united future.