FRFI 210 August / September 2009

North of Ireland – sectarianism and racism

‘No sympathy for foreigners, get out of our Queen’s country before our bonfire night and parade day [or] your building will be blown up. Keep Northern Ireland white. Northern Ireland is only for white British.’ Letter sent by youth wing of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association to Belfast Islamic Centre, Polish Association and Indian Community Centre, 10 July 2009.

Recent events in the north of Ireland in the lead-up to the loyalist summer marching season served once again to expose the sectarian and racist character of the loyalist tradition. In June, 100 members of Belfast’s Romanian community were forced to leave their homes and flee the country following racist attacks. In July loyalist marches across the north led to widespread disturbances as nationalist youth fought with police to defend their areas. 

Rising racism

Race hate in the north of Ireland is nothing new. In 2004 we wrote ‘the Six County statelet is now the race hate capital of Europe’ (FRFI 177) and in 2007 research by the University of Ulster revealed that over 90% of race hate crime occurred in loyalist areas. Loyalism is by definition a racist, supremacist tradition which for generations, backed by British imperialism, has attacked and discriminated against Irish nationalists and the Catholic minority in the north of Ireland.

On 15 June 2009 local media began to give coverage to the plight of the Romanian community in south Belfast, following a spate of racist attacks on their homes in the loyalist Village area. Over 100 Romanians, including small children and babies were moved into emergency accommodation following days of violence. Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) inaction fuelled the attacks with police taking up to an hour and a half to respond to emergency calls. Sinn Fein called for support for the PSNI. The Romanian families were later provided with flights to Romania paid for by the Northern Ireland Executive.

No let-up in sectarianism
According to Dr Peter Shirlow of Queen’s University Belfast, a leading expert on sectarian attitudes in the north, there are at least three sectarian incidents every day and only 10% of religious hate crimes reported to the PSNI are solved. Commenting on the loyalist murder of Catholic Kevin McDaid on 24 May (see FRFI 209), he said: ‘It’s all very well for politicians in the Northern Ireland assembly to condemn [such] murders. But there is no serious attempt to tackle sectarianism at its roots... no serious effort is being made to encourage communities to confront the issue of why there is still so much sectarian division in our society.’

On 13 July loyalists marched triumphantly throughout the north in the annual round of supremacy and intimidation which some call the ‘orange-fest’. In Derry, Rasharkin (County Antrim), Armagh City and Ardoyne (north Belfast) nationalist youths led the opposition to the police incursion into their areas to facilitate the loyalist marchers. The PSNI used water cannon and plastic bullets against nationalists opposing the loyalist parades. In Ardoyne, the most serious disturbances in five years took place. Sinn Fein attacked the nationalist youth for ‘sectarianism’ and blamed ‘so-called dissident groups’ for stirring up trouble, but said nothing against the PSNI and made only the mildest criticisms of the Orange Order. Breandan MacCionnaith, general secretary of Republican group Eirigi, said Sinn Fein’s suggestions it orchestrated the rioting were ‘a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the outrageous actions of the PSNI’ and challenged Sinn Fein to produce evidence. He went on ‘Sinn Fein needs to take a reality check and ask themselves why they are now acting as apologists for state violence against the nationalist community.’

The north of Ireland is an endemically racist and sectarian society created and sustained by British imperialism. FRFI upholds the rights of nationalists to organise against loyalist intimidation and of the victims of sectarian or racist attacks to defend themselves.

Paul Mallon