6 March 1997 Edition

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Coleraine's history of intolerance

Recent attacks have once again shown Coleraine to be a centre of sectarianism. Mick Naughton reports
In the early 1980s Coleraine saw a ``gas the gooks'' campaign aimed at the handful of Vietnamese refugees who settled in the Ballysally estate. They were subjected to a series of attacks until they left the estate.

It was part of a pattern of sectarian and far-right hatred in the town.

Also in the 1980s the British National Front-backed ``anti-student army'' targeted students from the nearby university. Nazi stickers carrying a contact number for the notorious US-based racist murderer, Harold Covington, are a regular feature in the town centre and elsewhere.

In 1984, Coleraine council was the only local authority in Ireland or Britain to permit the NF to use their premises for a nazi rally. The hate sheet, Bulldog had high sales at Coleraine FC's home ground.

Certain Coleraine supporters regularly appear at the Coleraine Showgrounds wearing full Ku Klux Klan regalia. At the final of the 1994 Milk Cup when Cherry Orchard from Dublin played Glasgow Rangers a section of the crowd carried a banner which read simply `Fenian Bastards'. The Milk Cup is a tournament for under-16 teams.

In 1994, the Coleraine NF (now called the National Democrats) attacked an Anti-Nazi League protest in the town centre. When the protestors fought back the RUC's DMSU's escorted the fascists to the safety of a nearby bar. Also in 1994, several items of anti-Jewish hate mail arrived at a synagogue in Belfast and the offices of Militant Labour (now called the Socialist Party). These letters were posted from Coleraine.

After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 the Mayor of Coleraine Jim McClure and councillor Dessie Stewart, both DUP, appeared at a loyalist paramilitary show of strength at the East Strand in Portrush. McClure justified his presence there by hinting that he had been semi-kidnapped from the grounds of the local Free Presbyterian church.

Around the same time a Catholic-owned clothing shop and a student house in Ballysally were firebombed within minutes of each other. The chairwoman of Ballysally residents committee, the RUC and local councillors declared that the attacks were not sectarian but were the work of ``mindless vandals''. Numerous sectarian attacks, usually during the Orange marching season, go unreported or are classified as the work of vandals.

In one incident in nearby Bushmills loyalists attempted to lynch two Catholics during the eleventh night `celebrations'. Loyalists had nooses tied around their necks and were about to hoist them on lamposts when the RUC intervened.

With the marching season once more approaching, Catholics in Coleraine will once more be virtual prisoners in their homes for most nights during the summer months due to the high number of loyalist band parades. The town's unsavoury history of sectarianism looks set to continue.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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