A dedicated government department should be set up specifically to tackle sectarianism.
That is one of the key recommendations of a new report from Ulster University (UU).
It said that sectarianism – both religious and political – “shows no sign of going away.”
Lowering the voting age to 16 and a new anthem for all sports are among the other measures the report suggests.
Sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A Review was compiled by Professor Duncan Morrow from UU, along with members of the Sir George Quigley Fund committee.
Its authors spoke to a range of representatives from sectors including business, education, government, the community and voluntary sector and religious institutions.
The 50-page report said that sectarianism was not just about religion.
It said it was “an inter-group struggle for power, in which both religion and politics have played a consistent part”.
“What is consistent is the hostility: what may have changed over the years is the precise role of faith and doctrine,” it said.
“Sectarianism is therefore part of the historic legacy and of the everyday.”
The report points out that there is now a measureable trend towards a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland and that this would bring new challenges for politicians, and for unionist and nationalist communities.
It said it aimed to move beyond understanding the problems to suggesting practical ways to tackle them.
As a result, it includes more than 50 recommendations for practical measures to reduce sectarianism.
“The issue of sectarianism must be prioritised and elevated to the top of the public agenda alongside the economy,” it said.
Shared sports anthem
The most eye-catching recommendation is for a government department to be established specifically to tackle sectarianism.
However, the report does not make clear how or if a specific minister should be appointed to a stand-alone department.
The department would, though, be “supported as necessary by a consultancy board drawn from across civic society.”
The report also recommends a specific youth assembly for Northern Ireland.
“Lowering the voting age to 16, in line with Scotland, and promoting a culture of ‘town hall meetings’ for young people at schools on key issues would be an important investment in civic culture,” it said.
There is also a call for a new shared sports anthem.
“Following the introduction of Ireland’s Call consideration should be given to investment on a shared sports anthem for Northern Ireland, composed by a well-known musician,” the report said.
Among the other suggested measures are:
- A new fund to enable better local relationships between the PSNI and young people
- Leaders of all major churches to run an agreed programme to encourage respect for other faiths
- Every school to operate a ‘shared education’ curriculum
- Businesses to create a fund that would support community anti-sectarian projects
- A new business supported youth development scheme in schools
The report does not specify how much its recommendations would cost to implement.
However, it said that it was essential that more resources were made available to tackle sectarianism – from government as well as businesses, public bodies, churches and charities.
“Sectarianism remains a serious issue in Northern Ireland,” the report concluded.
“Although it has deep roots in the past, it is important to address it now before it shapes our futures.”
“Ignoring its impact or hoping that it might diminish without action does not seem to us to hold out hope of sufficient change.”