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Loyalists behind racist attacks
27th January 2004
The Christmas and New Year period has witnessed an escalation of racist attacks in the North. Most the attacks have taken place in the Donegall Road area of South Belfast. They have included pipe bombs being planted at the homes of non-whites, houses being set on fire, racial harassment on the street and racist graffiti appearing on walls. In the face of this intimidation a number of African and Chinese families have been forced to flee the area. While this has been ongoing for a number of years, the level racist intimidation has been steadily rising. Official figures reveal that there were 212 reported racist incidents throughout the North during the eight months before Christmas of last year. This represented a rise of 900 per cent over a five-year period. In South Belfast alone there were 51 racially motivated attacks between October and December 2003. There is one attack or incident of intimidation almost every day. Given that many incidents go unreported, the actual number is likely to be much higher.
The problem of racist attacks was brought to public attention over the Christmas period with a particularly vicious attack on a Chinese couple in the Donegall Road area. The man suffered a fractured skull, and his wife, who was due to give birth in days, was also injured when an armed gang broke into their home. Another Chinese couple and an African couple were forced to flee after their homes, also in the Donegall Road area, were attacked on the same night. Early in the New Year, the home of a Pakistani family, including a pregnant women, was attacked when a six foot long wooden plank was thrown through the front window. Two houses occupied by Romanian and Pakistani families were badly damaged after being set on fire. In addition to these violent attacks there has been harassment of Filipino nurses who work at the nearby City Hospital, and threats against foreign hotel workers. A local estate agent has also been warned not to let any property to non-whites.
The attacks were clearly not isolated or spontaneous, they were organised and part of an ongoing campaign of racist intimidation. It is also undoubtedly the case that loyalists are orchestrating this campaign, in particular, the Donegall Road UVF. All the attacks have taken place in areas under their control. The idea that racist attacks are being directed by far-right groups based in England is nonsense. Racism in Belfast is not an import but home-grown. It is inconceivable that any other group, such as the NF or Combat 18, would be involved, as this would be a challenge to the authority of the UVF. The “right” to determine who lives in an area under their control would be one it reserves for itself. Although the UVF does have associations with neo-Nazi groups in Britain and Europe, this is not what defines its character. It is loyalism’s long record of sectarian murder that defines it as reactionary and right wing. The racist attacks are not some new turn for loyalism but something that flows inevitably from it. It is not as if loyalists have stopped being sectarian. Rather their sectarianism and their racism go hand in hand.
What also comes with loyalism is criminality. This has overlapped with racism in the long running extortion campaign against Chinese businesses. It has been reported that the current racist attacks are partly in response to the refusal of the Chinese business community to bow to the latest financial demands of the UVF. The racist attacks are a collective punishment for this defiance. However, it is not necessary to prove that loyalists are behind the attacks, they freely admit that they are. Spokespeople from the UVF aligned Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) concede that members of the group are involved. Their only defence is that they are not “sanctioned” by the leadership. But of course they were saying this for years in response to sectarian attacks. In reality, they are in it up to their necks, and are just attempting to divert attention and absolve themselves of responsibility.
The Anti-Racist Network
The most disturbing thing is that those who have taken on the mantle of opposing racism have accepted what the loyalists say on face value. This is the position of the Anti-Racist Network (ARN), a group set last year by NGOs and trade unions, in response to the increasing level of racist attacks. The SWP in Belfast is also heavily involved in this group, with members acting as its main spokespeople. Rather than expose the loyalist organisations behind the attacks, the ARN’s approach has been to downplay their involvement. A distinction is made between the leadership of the organisations and some “rogue” members who may be carrying out racist attacks. The underlying assumption is that loyalist groups are not inherently racist.
This is reflected in a statement from Davy Carlin, chair of the ARN, calling on loyalist leaders to face up to prejudice within their own ranks. He said: “Loyalist leaders need to get their heads out of the sand and wake up to the fact that there is a strong element of racism within sections of loyalism”. Of course the idea that loyalism is divided into progressive and reactionary sections is a myth. Its history has shown this over and over again. What is worse is the strategy that follows such faulty notions – lobbying loyalists to stop racist attacks. The ARN statement went on to call on “those with influence” to “take responsibility and use it positively to ensure that violence against ethnic minorities ends.” (Irish News 10/01/04) This is effectively calling on loyalists to play a policing role within Protestant communities, and confers legitimacy on their control. This ignores the parasitic and oppressive role that loyalists play in these areas. It is also dangerous. The UVF would think nothing of carrying out punishment attacks on some local youths to show that they are being tough on racism.
Much of the weakness of the ARN results from it being made up mostly of NGOs such as the Council for Ethnic Minorities, the Chinese Welfare Association and the Multi Cultural Resource Centre. These groups are funded by the sate and have to work with the established political framework. As that framework is based on accommodating loyalism, it is impossible for the ARN to unequivocally identify loyalist organisations as being responsible for the attacks. In the warped concept of equality that prevails in the North this would be seen as biased against one community. Racism is only dealt with in the most general terms and is presented as something that is throughout society.
However, this attempt at balance is completely spurious. While racist attitudes may be widespread, it is only loyalist organisations that are carrying out a campaign of racial intimidation and violence. A vague and general condemnation effectively absolves the perpetrators of racist attacks of responsibility. If we are all responsible for racism then how can any one group in particular be singled out? The ARN also ignores the institutional racism of the sate. For example, the Chinese couple, along with their new-born baby, intimidated from their home, had to be housed at a hotel as guests of the management. As they were deemed to be illegal immigrants housing chiefs refused to provide alternative accommodation. The only accommodation on offer was a cell in Maghaberry prison, where asylum seekers are routinely detained.
While such timidity can be expected from NGOs anxious over government funding, there is no excuse for the socialist groups within the campaign. To endorse such a strategy is to abandon any serious struggle against racism for empty gestures. Worst of all, by accommodating loyalists, it totally fails the people within Protestant areas who want to break with loyalism. But how can you do this if the forces you would look to for an alternative, such a socialist groups and the labour movement, are endorsing loyalism as progressive. There is no hope of building a real alternative to sectarianism and racism on such a basis. Loyalism is not part of the solution, it is the major part of the problem.