Responding to Sectarianism, Final Report, Part I : Community Dialogue as a Response to Sectarianism

Irvine, Charles (2015) Responding to Sectarianism, Final Report, Part I : Community Dialogue as a Response to Sectarianism. Place for Hope, Edinburgh.

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“By inviting relative strangers to speak to each other, dialogue inevitably starts with a move from safety to risk.” (Report, p.27) Between 2013 and 2015 Place for Hope delivered two projects as part of the Scottish Government’s “Tackling Sectarianism” initiative. At the heart of this work was community dialogue: “a means to access our thinking while we are thinking” (Report, p.4). By the end of both projects Place for Hope had delivered 39 community dialogues across a range of rural and Central Belt locations as well as with national stakeholders and Glasgow Women’s library. All dialogues included participants from both Catholic and Reformed traditions. The projects also incorporated a number of awareness raising events and a study visit to Northern Ireland. Throughout this time Charlie Irvine acted as evaluator. This report sets out his findings, based on observation, interviews and written reports. The report finds that, despite an almost universal starting point of “there’s no sectarianism here” , there remains no shortage of stories describing its impact, both inside and outside Scotland’s Central Belt. Catholics rather than Protestants relate the great majority of incidents, with some Protestants expressing surprise at their neighbours’ experiences. Other findings include the continuing impact of Orange parades; the significance of Catholics’ position within the UK constitution; and active churchgoers criticising and distancing themselves from those who act in a sectarian way. The national stakeholders group contributed the view that large organisations in the public and private sectors could take a lead by using existing equalities legislation to outlaw sectarian practices. Regarding community dialogue as a process, participants appreciated the opportunity to develop friendships and speak honestly with those from another tradition. This took time and seemed to reflect widespread integration across Scotland’s religious divide which has nonetheless left many significant issues unspoken. Faith schools, sectarian history and genuine religious differences were among novel or taboo topics. The report concludes that community dialogue provides a constructive and humane setting where citizens can address difficult questions without polarising into opposite camps.


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