Nowhere is this more true than on the question of Northern Ireland. For centuries it was implicit in British political culture that Roman Catholics in general, and Irish Catholics in particular, were politically backward and driven by superstition not reason. They were always to be regarded as slightly suspect and possibly disloyal. While naked expressions of anti-Catholicism are now beyond the pale, it is idle to pretend that there is no anti-Irish prejudice. Yet among some people on the left there is an anti-Ulster protestant prejudice that is every bit as irrational.
Before the ceasefires, when the bombing and shooting campaigns were at full throttle, I found this manifested itself in the following way among my Lib Dem or Labour supporting acquaintances. While they would condemn all paramilitary violence, they assumed that republican violence was somehow that little bit less bad than its loyalist counterpart. A united Ireland was self-evidently the right solution. Republican terrorism was based on misguided idealism, while loyalist killings were pure sectarian bigotry.
There is a good example of such double standards in an article by the left-wing writer Beatrix Campbell in this week’s New Statesman, on the BBC’s recent Facing the truth series. The programmes brought together victims and perpetrators of paramilitary violence during the Northern Ireland troubles. Campbell
The republican soldiers' mission was to kill the British state that was denying their right to be human. The loyalist soldiers' mission was to kill Catholics.
But it is not as quite as simple as that. Sectarianism exists on both sides of the divide.
Just a couple of weeks ago a march in Dublin organized by FAIR (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives) under the banner LoveUlster had to be abandoned due to riotsapparently organised by fringe Republican groups. As Ruth Dudley Edwards pointed out in a well-argued article in the (Dublin-based) Sunday Independent, FAIR is not entirely free of dodgy loyalist connections. But these events in Dublin show that Ulster protestants can be the victims of, not just responsible for, sectarian attitudes.