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1 November 2007 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Shades of racism in unionism

THEY haven’t gone away you know. Racism and sectarianism are alive and well and living in the mainly predominant unionist areas of the North, despite the denials of politicians, pastors and those charged with promoting community relations.
There have been a number of racist attacks on the Polish and Lithuanian community in Belfast and sectarian attacks on Catholic taxi drivers and members of the gay community in predominantly unionist areas of Derry.
The North of Ireland was not branded the race hate capital of Europe in 2006 for no reason. Indeed, the situation has changed little since it was disclosed by the PSNI that in the years 2005/2006 there were over 1,000 reported racist incidents alone. What was not available was the number of prosecutions for racist and sectarian attacks, an issue flagged up by the Derry Taxi Association, concerned at the increasing viciousness of attacks on taxi drivers, the latest which happened on Friday night when a taxi driver narrowly escaped with his life.
The issue of racist and sectarian attacks and concerns at the lack of prosecutions was described in the 2006 NICEM report as evidence of institutional racism right across the entire criminal justice system.
The latest bizarre incident, involving MLA Anna Lo, the first representative from a Chinese ethnic minority background, is evidence (if that were needed) that racism is a major problem in certain areas of Belfast.
The MLA wrote a letter to the leader of the Pride of the Raven flute band, from East Belfast, in which she asked that band parades should not prevent people from getting to work. The leader of the band, a former British soldier, has claimed that she has endangered his life by identifying him as a leader of a loyalist band, which no doubt participates in the Twelfth and many other Orange parades in Belfast.
In protest, 3,000 loyalists/unionists as well as 40 bands have applied to march to Belfast City Centre but have determined that the route will include a detour through Donegall Pass, home to a large Chinese community, as well as taking in the Short Strand and Markets areas. It is clear that the intention of the organisers is to intimidate the Chinese community and also send a message to the residents of the Short Strand and the Markets that militant loyalism hasn’t gone away.
The silence from unionist politicians and the leaders of unionist paramilitary organisations in the face of what is clearly an attempt to stir up racist and sectarian tensions is deafening.
Whatever happened to the days when people rallied behind the banners of the Northern wing of ICTU, aimed at defeating racism and sectarianism by engagement with unionism/loyalism? Clearly, lobbying the backwoods men of East Belfast hasn’t worked.  
If events of the past years and the increase in racist and sectarian attacks are anything to go by, the intolerance within all shades of unionism has not been overcome by the political dynamics of the peace process and power sharing. Unionists need to put clear blue water between the Pride of the Raven Flute Band and this rally, otherwise they will seen as a Six-County version of the British National Party.

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