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Editor's Viewpoint: Why we should not fear crossing divide

Paul McLaughlin with his wife Julie
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Given the divisions over religious identity which persist in so many parts of Northern Ireland, it is encouraging to discover that more than one in five relationships are now mixed.

This is in sharp contrast to the picture not so long ago, when a mixed marriage posed major problems for anyone considering such a step.

In our interview today with Paul McLaughlin, the development officer for the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, we learn that much depends still on a couple's social background.

People from more affluent areas appear to have fewer problems with mixed relationships than those from working-class backgrounds, where the problems are very real.

Some couples encounter difficulties from their own families, and from the wider communities.

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In some cases the situation is so fractious and distressing that the couple have to leave Northern Ireland to find peace of mind somewhere else.

Many of us grew up reading Joan Lingard's Across the Barricades series about Kevin and Sadie, and also listening to Spandau Ballet's Through The Barricades.

Therefore it is so difficult to discover and to accept that in the so-called "peaceful" Northern Ireland of 2018, couples are still facing some of the same old problems about "them and us."

Mr McLaughlin, who deserves great credit for the work he has done in helping people to cross the divides, has made the point strongly for how enriching it can be for children to have one foot on each side of those divisions.

This is reminiscent of the late Maurice Hayes, who spoke so eloquently about identity, and the fact that being from one religious and cultural background does not exclude us from liking and respecting parts of the background and culture of others.

However, it is so sad that too many of us remain isolated from "the other side".

No-one is suggesting that Stormont, if it was operative, should pass laws to insist upon mixed marriage, but in reality, working together and achieving outreach goes some way to neutering the sectarianism that is still much too prevalent in our society.

It would be rare indeed for a newspaper to call for job closures, but to echo Paul McLaughlin's comments, it would be a welcome sign of progress if there was no further need for the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association.

Belfast Telegraph

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Paul McLaughlin with his wife Julie