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2 September 1999 Edition

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Bigotry and unionism go hand in hand

The failure of unionist politicians to implement the Good Friday Agreement has highlighted to the world at large the bigotry of unionist ideology which prevents them from sharing power with Catholics.

     
Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader John Taylor sparked off a row when speaking about the lack of education places in his constituency for Protestants and the ways in which it could be tackled. He said: ``One (way) would be curtailing the number of Catholics attending the Down High School in Downpatrick.''
That bigotry is something which the people of the Six Counties are confronted with daily by unionist politicians who claim to represent Protestant and Catholic alike. Take some recent news stories. At a time of continuing loyalist murder attacks on Catholic families, a unionist dominated council has been warned by lawyers that its members could face jail if they refuse to remove loyalist flags from the council offices. There has also been the revelation that a Ulster Unionist MP Cecil Walker demanded Catholics be prevented from buying houses in North Belfast and a statement from his party colleague, John Taylor calling for cuts in the number of Catholics at Downpatrick school.

Unionist dominated Castlereagh Borough Council has had a long history of discrimination and sectarianism. In 1986, it adjourned for a year in protest at the Anglo Irish Agreement; in 1992 the council was accused of deliberately holding up the planning application for a Catholic church. In 1997, Independent Unionist councillor Bill Abraham told Alliance Party councillor Patrick Mitchell: ``It's a pity someone didn't shoot you''. In 1998, the DUP was accused of carrying out a vendetta against integrated schools after it delayed planning permission for a mobile classroom and in 1999, the DUP refused to allocate the Alliance Party any of the available 22 committee seats because of the party's support for Sinn Féin's first deputy mayor of Belfast.

The latest controversy at Castlereagh Council has erupted over the council's policy of flying an Orange Order flag every July and flying an Apprentice Boys flag every August outside the council offices.

The council requested legal advice after the Fair Employment Commission warned them that such flag flying could constitute ``direct sectarian harassment''. That legal advice warned that if the councillors failed to comply with the findings they could be brought before a Fair Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal could refer the matter to the High Court or impose a fine of up to £40,000. If the matter is referred to the High Court then councillors could face the possibility of imprisonment.

This incident has raised tensions within the council, with a debate on the subject leading to the second Alliance Party representative in a week being expelled from the council chamber by DUP mayor Myreve Chambers.

Patrick Mitchell of the Alliance Party was due to table a motion challenging the council's flag flying policy but was expelled for refusing to sit down at the behest of the DUP mayor.

Mitchell explained: ``There had been an agreement at the start of the meeting that my motion would follow Peter Robinson's, but another councillor got up and started speaking drivel. I was expelled because I objected to this''.

This form of sectarianism is not limited to Castlereagh, however. UUP deputy leader John Taylor sparked off a row when speaking about the lack of education places in his constituency for Protestants and the ways in which it could be tackled. He said: ``One (way) would be curtailing the number of Catholics attending the Down High School in Downpatrick.''

Taylor has been attacked by a broad spectrum of nationalist politicians and by the governors of the school for his highly sectarian comments.

A statement issued by both Down High School principal Jack Ferris and John Bassett, chairman of the board of governors at the school, said: ``Down High School has always selected its pupils without reference to class, colour, race or creed. To do otherwise would not only be unlawful but would run counter to the ethos and tradition of a school nearing 70 years of existence.''

Meanwhile, there have been calls for the UUP's North Belfast MP, Cecil Walker, to resign after it was recently revealed that he tried to stop Catholics from buying houses in the White City area of Belfast in 1989.

In a letter to the Housing Executive in 1989, Walker wrote: ``I am concerned at rumours that the Executive is considering selling ground at White City to the private sector. This would be a retrograde step and breed great distrust with predicted civil unrest if such houses, built as a result of such a decision, were sold to Roman Catholics.''

This blatant sectarianism, coming from a man who pretends to represent all communities in the Six Counties, is representative of the sectarianism which all Unionist parties were founded on. If these people do not want Catholics and Protestants to attend the same school, want to flout their supremacy in unionist-controlled councils and do not want Catholics and Protestants to live in the same areas, then how can nationalists ever believe that unionists are willing to share government with them as equals?
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