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27 July 2006 Edition

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Sectarianism must be faced down

This week An Phoblacht reports a new wave of attacks by loyalist thugs in Derry, Belfast and parts of County Antrim. It says much about what has been endured by nationalist communities in the Six Counties over decades that this summer can be described as relatively quiet. But this is in a month where a young man was beaten almost to death, where attacks on homes are continuing and just two months after the brutal sectarian murder of teenager Michael McIlveen.

An RTÉ reporter this week asked an interviewee if recent attacks were not 'tit-for-tat'. It was patiently pointed that while there had been sectarian attacks aimed at unionists such as the targetting of Orange halls - attacks which republicans deplore - the scale of assaults on nationalist communities was at a different level and has involved murder, arson and expulsion from homes. It seems that sections of the political and media establishment in the 26 Counties still refuse to face up to the reality of sectarianism in Ireland today.

Now, as in the past, the flames of hatred that drive hatchet-wielding thugs to attack peaceful homes are fanned by Unionist politicians and Orange demagogues. We heard it again on the Twelfth, including when a clergyman who made a mild appeal for tolerance from an Orange platform was heckled by members of his congregation.

There is a deep-seated fear within the Unionist community, a fear engendered by a siege mentality. Anyone who dares to step away from the circled wagons is deemed a traitor. Ian Paisley has built his entire political career and his party on this fear. That is why he and the DUP have been so vehemently opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. That Agreement, if fully implemented, undermines the entire sectarian basis of the Six-County state.

Paisley and company know that the Agreement's even-handed guarantees of equality for all sections of the community cannot credibly be presented outside of the narrow world of loyalism as a sell-out. So they have had to raise the bogey-man of republican 'criminality' as an excuse for their obstruction of the Agreement. For too long they were indulged in this political charade by both the Irish and British governments.

A year on from the IRA's historic declaration of 28 July 2005 and with four months to go to the deadline for agreement on restoration of the Good Friday Agreement's democratic structures, the two Governments must turn up the heat on the Unionist leadership. Anything less will be yet another license for Unionism to obstruct political progress and to stir up sectarian hatred.

Republicans will remain firm in their opposition to sectarianism in all its forms and totally determined to replace it with liberty, equality and solidarity for all the people of Ireland.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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