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Treasury tap gushes in the name of 'diversity'

(Newton Emerson, Irish News)

This is Community Relations Week (March 7-13) – so hello out there to all my fenian readers. Right now dozens of events are taking place across Northern Ireland celebrating the vibrant diversity of our 99.5% white, Christian, English-speaking society. In Belfast, for example, the Eastern Area Best Practice Equality Forum is launching its Good Relations Statement with the following stirring call to action: "The Eastern Area Best Practice Equality Forum is made of up equality managers within the Eastern Health and Social Services Board and Council and the Health and Social Services Trusts within the eastern area. The forum is currently developing a Good Relations Statement to be formally endorsed by each organisation. This statement will be accompanied by a longer term action plan."

Well – that should certainly put the UDA back in its box.

Meanwhile, over at the new £22 million headquarters of the soon to be abolished Lisburn City Council: "Positive Futures is hosting an inclusion seminar for youth and community workers working with marginalised young people in the locality. The seminar will consist of a number of speakers from different organisations raising issues of inclusion and barriers to inclusion." And on and on it goes, with no less than 127 similar events involving such valuable ventures as the Women's Information Group, the Derry Shared City Project and the Orange Cultural and Heritage Society – all organised by those good folks at the Community Relations Council, whose job it is to "encourage greater acceptance of and respect for cultural diversity". Also, did you know that Catholics keep their jam in the cupboard while Protestants keep it in the fridge?

The absurd infrastructure of petty categorisation on display during Community Relations Week is itself an ever-rising barrier to inclusion. For more than a generation the whole world has showered money upon the hundreds of little bodies that flatter our trivial distinctions, encouraging us to believe that we are two distinct peoples while assuring us that this is actually wonderful. In fact this is actually nonsense. Northern Ireland is one of the most relentlessly homogenous cultures on earth, proof positive of Freud's claim that national identity is "the narcissism of small differences". We are desperate to trace our inconsequential quarrel back to ancient, noble, even racial roots and we are increasingly humoured in that quest by an army of professional hair-splitters backed up by the blank cheques of an incompetent bureaucracy.

But where is this 'diversity' we are supposed to celebrate?

In the fridge? In the cupboard? Nobody one arm's length removed from our tedious wrangling can tell us apart, yet nobody will tell us as much to our angry faces.

Instead the Treasury tap gushes on, hot and cold, down the plughole in a sink of mediocrity.

Nothing will be done this week – or any week – to address the real problems arising from sectarianism. None of the councils hosting events will discuss their refusal to paint over murals or remove flags.

None of the cultural bodies will be told to stop flogging made-up or clearly-dead languages as tribal secret codes.

None of the 'community groups' will march round to their nearest police station and demand the immediate arrest of the paramilitaries in their midst. Instead everyone will congratulate themselves on how different they are in an eerily similar fashion. The whole charade is a pompous spectacle of gutless self-indulgence – and the cost, my God, the cost.

The number of organisations sucking on the taxpayer's teat is staggering.

Who appoints these people?

Who allows them to go on endlessly reappointing each other?

Who empowers them to speak on my behalf, or yours?

If any of this had the slightest impact on sectarianism we would know by now – and indeed we do know, for after several decades of telling each other how wonderfully diverse we are, sectarianism is worse than ever.

As Northern Ireland enters a period of indefinite direct rule the real gulf opening up in our society is surely between the people who make white-collar wages sitting in white-elephant buildings blethering on about exclusion and the people thus patronised into their allotted corners.

For example, last Tuesday the Westminster Public Accounts Committee questioned top Stormont civil servant Will Haire on the small matter of a £485 million youth job training scheme that enjoyed a success rate of 13%. Stunned MPs on the committee accused the Northern Ireland civil service of repeatedly "ripping off the taxpayer" and "turning a blind eye to fraud".

But unlike the thousands of young people – Catholic and Protestant – that his department let down, Mr Haire remains entirely secure in his generously-paid employment.

Now that's what I call diversity. Let's all go down to the community centre and make ourselves aware of it.

October 28, 2005

This article appeared first in the March 10, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News