Lessons learned from Ireland

What the Irish can teach us about our current budget troubles.

by David Steinberg

âÄúFailte Roimh Gach DuineâÄù âÄî a phrase that loosely translates to âÄúWelcome AllâÄù âÄî can be seen on a mural in the heart of conflict-riddled Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I studied abroad this past May term. Belfast is where only 13 years ago the last cease-fire was negotiated between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, whose only differences are a few religious values.
The early 1970s was the beginning of an irrepressible conflict in Ireland started merely because of a few ideological differences and a stigma passed down generations like family heirlooms. This conflict took the lives of far too many. A milder but similar conflict is occurring now in the Minnesota budget negotiations: The few seemingly insignificant distinctions that separate two political parties could cause an entire state to shut down.
In Ireland, hopes are high concerning an alliance because people want to concentrate on what binds them together instead of what separates them. In these areas of conflict are countless Irish brushing aside age-old disparities and focusing on lasting peace. And among them are people whose past includes some of the heinous acts they now rally against. Working to repair past wounds and bringing together people of opposite beliefs are the kind of acts that signal progress.
State politicians negotiating on the budget should take a similar track. They must find a common ground between cuts and taxes rather than immediately repudiating the other sideâÄôs ideas based on partisan grounds.
We should all work to get along even if we seem to have no shared attributes because, even if they arenâÄôt obvious at first, they do exist. Protestants and Catholics in Belfast can teach all people this. Even though they thought of each other as opposites for centuries, when they finally came together it turned out that they werenâÄôt that different after all.