Obama’s optimstic view of Northern Ireland

I am a big Obama fan, but as Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International observes, Obama’s speech in Berlin (see video above) was not much more than a presidential campaign stump speech designed more for a domestic American audience than reflecting on any particular traits of a European populus. Yes, I was a little disappointed with Obama’s Berliner speech. It wasn’t focused enough, calling on global citizens to solve all of the world’s problems, which he could have said from anywhere in the world.

Worse, his reference to Northern Ireland isn’t so accurate:

Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together.

MORE walls have been physically erected since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (more walls than ever), and “found a way to live together” is through policies of segregation, kind of like saying that Arabs and Jews within the state boundaries of Israel have “found a way to live together”, through policies of segregation. Or closer to Obama’s home, how blacks and whites have “found a way to live together”, through gated communities.

I fear Obama falling for the now fashionable myth that Northern Ireland is “settled”, and its peace process is a model for the rest of the world. First, it’s far from settled: segregation is as embedded as ever and the concept of a “shared and better future”, in the form of a formal NI Government strategy reluctantly proposed by the Northern Ireland Executive after some prodding from civil society, has yet to be formally presented to the public for their consideration.

Second, notwithstanding potentially useful lessons from the methodology of the Northern Ireland peace process, there is so much for Northern Ireland to learn from the success of cohesive societies elsewhere. If there’s to be a discussion about the Northern Ireland experience, it must be in the form of a two-way dialogue.

Meanwhile, I still await a more considered view by Barack Obama on Northern Ireland.

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