Behind the noted 'troubles' a curious glint of benefits
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"I looked slightly astonished," admits the secretary of state. "What he meant is that the acceptability of the police has increased so much that people now reagard the police -- which they didn't ten years ago -- as people to whom they go for help.'Skip to next paragraph
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He admits that the police have had to learn tremendous amounts about community relations. And he finds fewer and fewer areas where police, who for years were hated by the Catholic minority, cannot go without Army backup. He hastens to add that it is not yet a matter of "acceptance." But at least there is a growing "passivity" to their presence, a realization that even police are better than terrorists
AFter the shock of Lord Mountbatten's death last summer in a bomb explosion aboard his fishing boat and Pope John Paul II's condemnation of terrorism on his visit to the republic last year, there has been an increased revolution against the terrorists. But as the RUC's Bill McGookin says, "Mountbatten's death is a dramatic incident that takes the feeling forward -- but it couldn't take it forward if it were not there to begin with."
He also cites another lesson learned, which is "the staggering cost of not doing things." One thing the police are doing is getting into the disco business. With the recognition that popular music is nonsectarian, and that one- fifth of the people arrested on terrorist charges in the early years of the troubles were under 18, the police have provided "blue lamp" discos as an alternative to street leisure. Last year, 240,000 young people attended -- Catholics and Protestants alike.
One Belfast-born corporate executive, who was nearly into his teens before he even met a Catholic, says, "We want our children not to grow up with the inbuilt bigotry that we have." It is views like his that support the 10- year-old Alliance Party -- a grouping of Catholics and Protestants that already commands something approaching 15 percent of the vote here.
The party's leader, Oliver Napier, ticks off a number of positive results from the troubles. In the urban mixed areas, he says, he finds "a much greater cooperative and social relationship between the religious communities." He cites the fact that Scout troops and Girl Guides now meet in nonsectarian groups. He also notes that Protestant and Catholic can now talk with each other about politics more easily than in the past.
Mr. Napier mentions a "slight" interchurch effort "at the top," and notes that it is now easier in the building trades to get a Protestant group working with a Catholic one. And he points to legislation that has "dramatically reduced" what he calls "pure naked discrimination."
Discrimination has not been erased: In a society where the name of one's school gives away one's denomination (church schools for the Catholics, state schools for the Protestants), and where even one's first name can tell the tale (Gerard for the Catholics, Gerald for the Protestants), separatism dies hard.
And, although some are embarrassed to admit it, the troubles have contributed to one real growth sector of the economy: security systems. Security positions employ some 30,000 Ulstermen. The Northern Ireland Development Agency has done a sector analysis with its market research team and found real promise for companies manufacturing security devices.
"It sounds like a bit of sick humor," says the agency's Anthony Hopkins. But he is convinced that sales will be heightened, if "we can market a product and say, 'Tried and tested in Northern Ireland.'"