Earlier today, I heard one of my daughters-in- law ask my grandsons to “share” something. I dont even know what it was…a toy, a packet of sweets but I got the feeling that it was going to add badly. It always does.
Norn Iron is no different.
Adults tell the unruly Unionist and nationalist child that they must share the toys. And the children dont want to share.
Not least because there is a dispute about ownership of the toy.
The Unionist child wont share the toy with the nationalist child, who claims it was stolen from his toy box in the first place.
The Unionist child waves his certificate of ownership.
The Nationalist child is resentful. The certificate of ownership signed by nice uncles and aunties in London, Dublin and Washington emphasised “sharing”.
Few toys have been “shared”.
Shared Space is the Worst Space. It is offered up as a challenge and even an opportunity but it is not shared space at all. It is No Mans Land. A Demolitarized Zone.
In the 1960s nobody used the term “shared space” but I lived in a “mixed street” in West Belfast. To my right Catholic streets. To my left Protestant streets. In our street the kids got along and played fotball together.But necessarily there were compromises …protocols unspoken such as no ball games on a Sunday. But there was a bottom line ..that British flags flew from a handful of houses on the Twelfth and the RUC from the nearby barracks stood guard.
And thats the thing about “shared space”. it is tempting to think that communities will bring down barriers and voluntarily agree to a set of protocols to make shared space a reality.
But the whole thing is unermined when even those letsgetalongerists who call for it draw a line. Shared space is only acceptable for unionists and nationalists up to the point where ownership becomes an issue.
The bottom line is that we can “share” the space but only on the terms that the space is OWNED by unionists. And they dictate the terms.