Northern Ireland: The Left, Sectarian Resurgence and the National Question Today


  • Brian Kelly


The dramatic resurgence of sectarianism on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere across the north of Ireland over the past year has taken establishment commentators by surprise. But in one sense, the new round of polarisation that has developed on the heels of loyalist ‘flag protests' shouldn't come as a shock at all. The Belfast Agreement never proposed to tackle deeply-rooted sectarian divisions head-on. Its success rested instead on a kind of enforced amnesia, in which society would move forward only so long as it was willing to evade tough questions about the past. Tens of millions of pounds have been poured into `re-branding' Belfast as a stable, post-conflict city ‘open for business', but beneath the surface sectarian tensions have lingered all along, emerging forcefully into the open during the loyalist picket of Holy Cross primary school in Ardoyne in 2001 and in the UVF siege of Short Strand a decade later, but manifested also in a long string of sectarian murders and pipe-bombings ignored by a mainstream media that sees itself as an adjunct of the tourist industry.