14 June 2001 Edition
Nice one, Sinn Féin
May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our Sinn Féin activists throughout the 26 Counties who performed such Trojan work during the recent Treaty of Nice referendum campaign. The securing of such a strong No vote is testimony to the success of your efforts, and I have every confidence that we will build on the momentum created in future elections.
Regarding the Nice Treaty itself, the Dublin government must respect the democratic will of the Irish people and defend their decision at European level. To side with the Eurocrats and attempt a rerun referendum on the Treaty in its current or repackaged form is an insult to the integrity of this nation.
Sinn Féin will continue to monitor the situation closely and will remain to the fore in protecting Irish national rights and promoting accountable democracy within the EU. Go raibh maith agaibh arís.
Sinn Féin National Director of the Nice Treaty Campaign
Fern Lane replies
I am slightly mystified by Terry Mitchell's reponse to my article (Oldham Explodes). Nowhere did I say that the BNP, or indeed the NF, was the sole cause of racial tension in the area. Indeed, I explicitly stated that there had been tension for some time and that the BNP was in the business of exploiting it - and from the election results last Thursday, it seems that they had some degree of success. What I did say was that the group played a significant role in formenting the riots which took place in May. I agree with him that the BNP's policy is to avoid outright confrontation. I know that they prefer to move in, once someone else has done the fighting on their behalf, to present themselves as `legitimate' representatives of disgruntled whites and said as much in my piece
It is also the case that the attack on the white pensioner WAS the catalyst for the accusation that there are no-go areas for whites; indeed these allegations received saturation coverage in the media, particularly the British tabloids. The police ``statistics'' were merely supplied as `evidence' to back up such allegations (rather than other way around, as Terry suggests). And nothing I wrote could possibly imply that I thought the attack was justified or excusable.
On the point he makes on the desire for racial segregation, of course it is an appalling prospect, whoever expresses it, but Terry must agree that the reasons the BNP and Parmjit Uppal offer are not qualitatively the same. Racism, together with religious and cultural intolerance, is not likely to make any ethnic group inclined to attempt to integrate. What incentive is there for the Asian community in Oldham? But the real point I was making was to highlight the sheer malevolence of the BNP offering the `peace' lines of Belfast as a positive thing. Terry's comment on asylum seekers is rather odd; Asians in Oldham are, on the whole, not asylum seekers (and even if they were, it would not justify white racism) but a long established and settled community.
Finally, New Labour has let all working class people down, not just those in Oldham, and nothing, abolutely nothing - not poverty, not social exclusion or poor housing - excuses anybody ever turning to the BNP or any other fascists to address their grievances.
Your article `Oldham Explodes' (31 May) missed some of the most important points. Racial tension in Oldham is nothing new, and it is wrong to suggest the problems have been created by the arrival of the BNP. The working class community has been divided along racial lines for many years. As the respected commentator Darcus Howe wrote in the New Statesman (4 June), ``The elders of the Asian community had considerable influence. The municipal wallahs used housing funds to seperate the communities. The Labour mafia presided over the process. The quality of the housing they built is a disgrace. You cannot elevate the NF as the cause. Most white workers in Oldham have supported the Labour Party for generations.New Labour has abandoned them.''
The attack on the 75-year-old pensioner didn't lead to allegations of no-go areas for whites, it was seen as confirmation of police figures that claimed 60% of racist attacks were Asian on white. This anti-social attack should have been condemned, but too many on the British Left sought to justify it, which not only hardened racial attitudes but left the white working class isolated; the perfect scenario for the BNP to enter as the `representatives' of the white community.
Apart from being factually wrong to say the BNP planned to march in Oldham (it was the much smaller NF) it diverts attention from the BNP's strategy. They have deliberately avoided confrontation since 1994, to follow in the footsteps of Haider, Le Pen, etc. and fill the political vacuum in working class areas; with resources increasingly allocated along racial lines, the racism of the BNP becomes `legitimised'.
Sadly, when you say the BNP advocate ``the usual rubbish associated with fascism, including strict racial segregation'' you will find they are not alone. As Parmjit Uppal, the chair of a government sponsored housing body, said to an international conference: ``the voice of the black housing sector in Britain is saying segregation is not necessarily a bad thing.''
Gerry Adams spoke about both communities having rights and responsibilities in regard to the asylum situation, and the same principle must be applied by anti-fascists in Oldham. When there are genuine grievances in both communities, to take the side of only one alienates the other. Who benefits?
Anti-Fascist Action (Britain)
On behalf of myself and Flemish nationalists, I send you all our congratulations for your magnificent result in the elections. As in the past, we will support you in your struggle for a real peace through truth and justice.
We also hope that, in the future, we may work together regarding a democratic and social Europe, with respect for all cultures, all languages and all peoples.
Piet De Pauw,