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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 20 October, 2014

Column: As a new ‘peace fence’ goes up in Belfast, let’s remember that we cannot walk alone

At a time when yet another interface barrier is going up in east Belfast, we should perhaps reflect on the words that Martin Luther King spoke 50 years ago, writes Peter Osborne.

Peter Osborne

AT A TIME when we hear of yet another interface barrier going up in Belfast I am reminded of a fascinating book I’m currently reading; a must-read for anyone interested in social justice. Written by Gary Younge, “The Speech” relates the context and significance of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963.

In Belfast we should perhaps be thinking about King’s words in the right way, right context and for the right reasons.

The speech itself is a thing of real beauty. The atmosphere and context adds resonance. The delivery style and pace is suited to the message and vision.

What is particularly interesting is how much of the speech rises beyond the demand for civil rights and equality under the law and practice of the land but which gains so little attention now.

The most famous part of the speech when King portrays such vivid images of social justice is wonderfully evocative: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

King recognises that social justice, in terms of colour at that time in that place, cannot be achieved by one community alone: “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realise their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone”.

Our futures are inextricably tied together

In Northern Ireland, we cannot walk alone. Our futures are inextricably tied together – including those people living at interfaces and in the most disadvantaged and deprived areas, as well as those living in the wealthiest. The future of people on either side of the newest interface barrier will be determined, in at least some ways, by their relationship with each other; as will the future of their children and grandchildren.

On either side of interfaces people generally are faced with similar inhibiting issues that feed inequality, that limit and restrict life opportunity such as equitable access to education, housing, jobs, service and facility provision.

And the more our community tensions hog headlines and drive decision-making, the more challenging will be the lives of people at interfaces. And the less able will we all be to make significant change for the better on those social issues that really matter.

There is the irony. For we cannot walk alone. We shouldn’t want to.

Peter Osborne is Chair of the Parades Commission. He can be followed on twitter at@PeterOsborne_

Read: Tánaiste: ‘There are people who know where those bodies were buried’

Read: Plans to allow children aged 12 to use guns legally in NI

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