2 June 2014 Edition
UVF behind racist rampages
PSNI record 40% rise in racist attacks in past year with vast majority happening in Belfast
The Ulster Volunteer Force is behind the latest campaign of attacks and it is clear the loyalist organisation is co-ordinating attacks in the greater Belfast area with the intention of driving ‘non-locals’ out
THE UPSURGE in racist attacks on people from ethnic minority groups, their homes and property throughout the North, but centred mostly in Belfast, has re-focused peoples minds on previous periods of intense racial violence and raises questions about the rationale for these ‘hate crimes’.
But this is not a new phenomenon.
In the summer months of June/July 2003, seven African families were intimidated out of their homes in the Village area of south Belfast, targeted by loyalists in a campaign that started with name calling, graffiti and the tyres on their cars being slashed.
Before long it was bullets being left on doorsteps until, finally, pipe bombs were exploded at their homes.
With racist attacks occurring on an almost daily basis at this time, Belfast was dubbed by the mainstream media as ‘The Race Hate Capital of Europe’.
Six years later, in June/July 2009, in one of the most notorious instances of racial intolerance, over 100 Roma people were forced out of their homes, also in south Belfast, after a sustained campaign of attacks on the properties by loyalist thugs. The Roma subsequently returned to Romania.
PEADAR WHELAN challenges the view that the racism that captures the headlines on a cyclical basis has replaced ‘the old sectarianism of the past’, arguing instead that racism has its roots in a supremacist unionist/loyalist ideology.
Racist attacks in 2014 include . . .
5th — Windows of three homes smashed in east Belfast
15th/16th — Three homes, one belonging to a Polish family, targeted in east Belfast
28th — Four cars belonging to Polish and Slovakian families torched in the loyalist White City area of north Belfast
17th — Campaign of abuse directed against Alliance MLA Anna Lo after her call for removal of loyalist flags from route of Giro d’Italia
5th — Graffiti saying “Locals Only” appears on vacant properties in the loyalist Donegall Pass, south Belfast
6th — Man threatens to burn down a fast-food takeaway in Newcastle, County Down, and directs ‘racist abuse’ towards staff
7th — Nine people escape injury after two pipe-bombs explode outside the homes of two Romanian families in Derry’s Waterside area
8th — Loyalist flag protesters shout racial abuse at Anna Lo as she addresses International Women’s Day rally in Belfast
16th — Petrol-bombers target the home of a Polish family in Rathcoole, north Belfast
13th — Polish family abandon their Mount Vernon home after a series of attacks on their home and car
21st — A 15-strong gang carrying golf clubs assault a 19-year-old woman and two men from Poland in east Belfast
24th — African man is stabbed and racially abused by two men in Tate’s Avenue, south Belfast
30th — Romanian man is struck in the face by faeces as he cycles along the loyalist Newtownards Road
3rd/4th — Homes of three Polish families have their windows smashed. Within 24 hours, after the windows have been boarded up, ‘Locals Only’ and ‘Get Out’ had been daubed on the properties
6th — Windows in the home of a Polish woman and her son are smashed in east Belfast
THE historical conditions that created the unionist/loyalist supremacist outlook are the ideology of the British Empire and its colonial and imperialist domination of so much of the world.
And while this ideology gave the Northern unionist state its political and sectarian character (much of which remains in place even today) I believe that to understand racism in the North one needs to understand unionist/loyalist ideology and how it is intertwined with British colonialist thinking.
In an essay on unionism and Empire between 1880 and 1920, Alvin Jackson talks of an “ideological onslaught [that] unionist people were bombarded at every stage of their lives and in every sphere of their activity with the image of Empire”.
This bombardment peaks at times of “national crisis”, adds Jackson, so it is fair to say that with present-day unionism in disarray it is no surprise that we are witnessing an increase in loyalist violence or that members of ethnic minority groups are the targets.
To promote the idea that ‘racism’ has become the ‘new sectarianism’, coupled with the use of the term ‘hate crime’ to describe these attacks, disguises the reality that the vast majority of these incidents involve unionist paramilitaries.
The Ulster Volunteer Force is behind the latest campaign of attacks and it is clear the loyalist organisation is co-ordinating attacks in the greater Belfast area with the intention of driving ‘non-locals’ out.
When the Alliance Party’s south Belfast MLA Anna Lo became the target of an intense and sustained bout of racist abuse earlier this year, commentators and politicians across the North seemed stunned by its ferocity.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (leader of Alliance’s sister party, the Liberal Democrats) rowed in behind the Hong Kong-born Lo when he tweeted “every elected representative should be able to express their views without being subject to racist abuse”.
Anna Lo was the target of abuse when, on Monday 17 February, she had the temerity to propose a motion in the Stormont Assembly calling for the removal of paramilitary flags, emblems and murals on the route of the Giro d’Italia, a sports event to be televised worldwide.
Needless to say, the people most offended by the proposal were loyalists. And it also goes without saying that their response was to threaten violence and intimidation.
• Racist and sectarian graffiti on the Shore Road
Anna Lo was also shouted down by ‘Union flag protesters’ when she attempted to address an International Women’s Day rally at City Hall on 8 March.
In reality, none of this should be a surprise as the Alliance MLA has been targeted by loyalist racists before. In 2007, Lo and the Chinese community in general were racially abused on loyalist Internet sites and her home was targeted at least twice in 2012.
What is surprising about the media and political reaction to the vitriol directed at Anna Lo is that anyone would be surprised.
Racist attacks and abuse directed at people from Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Far East (including India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines) have been on the rise for years.
Recent historical context
In October 2011, the Belfast Irish News daily carried the headline: “Dozens of loyalist attacks – but no one brought to court.”
The paper accused the ‘breakaway’ “South-East Antrim Real UFF’ of being behind a four-year campaign of attacks on the homes of Catholics as well as foreign nationals in the Antrim area.
Upwards of 28 incidents were attributed to the gang.
Worryingly, these included pipe-bomb and gun attacks following a pattern of numerous attacks on nationalist families carried out as part of a sectarian UDA campaign.
Figures released in August that year indicated that the number of people driven out of their homes due to racism had more than doubled in the previous four years.
That a high percentage of these attacks were directed at Polish nationals raises the belief that these are seen by perpetrators as ‘two for one’ incidents, given that most Poles are Catholic.
In a harrowing assault on her Derry home in January 2012, a Filipino woman described how two men broke into her home in the Waterside and smashed it up.
Fearing for her life, the woman was prepared to jump from an upstairs window to escape before the assailants made off. As she and her husband are Catholic they believe they were targeted for both sectarian AND racist reasons.
As racist violence, particularly those attacks in east Belfast, continued throughout 2013, Patrick Yu of the Council for Ethnic Minorities pointed the finger of blame at the unionist Ulster Volunteer Force.
More significantly, though, he was scathing of “local politicians”.
“They just condemn these attacks but nothing is done about them. They are not looking at the root of the problem.”
• Target – Alliance MLA Anna Lo; Patrick Yu of the National Council for Ethnic Minorities
“Every time political stalemate happens, there is an increase in racist attacks.”
Fast-forward to 4 April 2014 when PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr told the Policing Board the UVF was orchestrating racist attacks in east and south Belfast.
With 2014 seeing a 30% increase in racist attacks in areas politically dominated by the DUP, one would expect that party and its leader to confront the racists. Instead, as with the violence directed at residents of the Short Strand and the Alliance Party over the Union flag issue, Peter Robinson has said nothing, prompting Sinn Féin joint First Minister Martin McGuinness to accuse him of “political cowardice”.
“Racism of Empire”
While the Northern state is still defined largely by sectarianism, the increase in racist violence exposes what the Unionist News Letter daily termed the “Racism of Empire”.
Ironically, the paper used this term in an editorial espousing the value of the British Commonwealth and encouraged Dublin to join other ex-colonies in the ‘Commonwealth family’.
Paradoxically, unionists see themselves as British, not colonised Irish, and part of the ‘Great British’ imperialist project that ‘civilised’ (conquered and pillaged) peoples across the globe.
It is this supremacist ideology that underpins and permeates the thinking that fuels the ugly, violent and vicious racism that we see today in the North of Ireland.