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PEOPLE have always been intrigued about what it was like growing up in Northern Ireland.

There have always been questions, from whether I had witnessed a bomb, to why people painted the kerbstones to mark the main national and religious allegiance of the town or village.

When I first moved to the "mainland" at the start of the 1990s I even got asked once if I had ever been shot.

Since last week's election, the questions have been mainly about the Democratic Unionist Party.

Many people had never heard of them or were aware of their beliefs before last Friday, but for me they were an integral part of my growing up.

Ian Paisley, who founded the party in 1971, was often on our television screens shouting about saving Ulster from sodomy and saying "never, never, never" to the Anglo-Irish agreement.

They were the party who were known for tying up swings on a Sunday to stop children playing on them on the Sabbath, and who would be found preaching from street corners.

On the face of it, a lot has changed in my homeland since those days, there are no longer helicopters hovering overhead as soldiers are moved from town to town, your bag isn't checked for bombs any more when you enter a department store, and the bombs, thankfully, have been silenced. But those kerbstones, and flags that fly, still remain very much red, white and blue in Protestant areas and green, white and gold in Catholic ones.

The dominance of the DUP and Sinn Fein, who won every seat bar one in the General Election, prove that nearly 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement divisions still run deep.

Rather than voting for the more "middle parties" like the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, people effectively voted for the "extreme" parties as a tactical way of keeping the other one out.

It is difficult to explain to people how important religion is in the politics of the country. These politics have been rumbling on for years, centuries even, with people outside the country paying little attention or having very little understanding. But now Northern Ireland faces the very real prospect of powersharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein being permanently halted.

With the DUP propping up the Tories and the Tory government expected to be asked to broker talks aimed at getting the Northern Ireland assembly up and running again, it's clear Sinn Fein will see that as a glaring conflict of interest.

That throws up the possibility that Stormont may be paralysed by a political stalemate, with neither side able to agree on a way forward, indefinitely.

Should that happen, the entire peace process will be under serious threat and the possibility of sliding back to the days of the kind of sectarian violence I grew up with will be that much more real.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 14, 2017
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