Northern Ireland

Sectarian division 'still deeply rooted in NI'

Sectarianism is still deeply rooted in Northern Ireland despite progress towards creating a more shared society, the chairman of the Community Relations Council has said.

Tony McCusker said issues still to be addressed included interfaces, segregation in housing and education and the misuse of flags and emblems.

He spoke as part of Community Relations Week events which include a conference discussing policies aimed at tackling division.

The event, one of a range being held, took place at Titanic Belfast under the title of No More Them and Us?.

Mr McCusker said: "The number of interfaces in Northern Ireland was 22 when the Belfast Agreement was signed. Today the number is as high as 88 by some estimates.

"We still see flags and emblems as prominently displayed during the marching season as before the agreement. Deep divisions in housing and education also remain.

"To add to this, racism in our society is now apparent."

He noted that challenges remained but said there was "noteworthy progress in community relations since the first Community Relations Week in 2003".

Mr McCusker added: "The new peace bridge across the Foyle offers considerable hope regarding what can be achieved. So too does the progress that has been made in Alexandra Park, North Belfast for example in relation to opening a gate in the interface.

"These and the many events during Community Relations Week offer a picture of a possible future which is both shared and inclusive. It is one worth striving for together."

Meanwhile, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described comments by two Stormont junior ministers about hidden sectarianism to be found in golf clubs as "an unfortunate choice of words".

First Minister Peter Robinson said he'd been in dozens of golf clubs and never heard any bitter or sectarian comments in them.

The local branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland welcomed an apology from the DUP minister Jonathan Bell for the comments made at a community relations conference.

Earlier Sinn Fein had declined to echo the DUP's direct retraction, instead stressing that sectarianism exists throughout society here.