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16 April 2009 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Paying off the bigots

NOW let’s see if I have got it right. While Polish residents of the Village area of Belfast were being intimidated out of their homes, representatives of unionist paramilitaries, long associated with racist and sectarian incidents in the North, were in Poland on what has been described as “ground-breaking anti-racism training” paid for out of the public purse.
The programme, accredited under the City and Guilds Board of Examiners and with the title ‘The Thin End of the Wedge,’  has been hailed as an unprecedented step against racism for people whose past associates included the British National Party and its offshoot, Combat 18.
Those who know the track record of the various unionist paramilitaries will take the Damascus-like conversion against racism with a large pinch of salt. It’s not all that long ago that graffiti appeared on the walls of one of their strongholds, Sandy Row, proclaiming “Sandy Row is Sandy Row”. Translated, this meant Sandy Row is white, Protestant and British – ‘no Taigs, Chinese, Polish, or Asian in our territory’.

Those who know the track record of the various unionist paramilitaries will take the Damascus-like conversion against racism with a large pinch of salt 

The ethnic minorities who fled from poverty and violence in their own countries and sought refuge in what they hoped was a peaceful North have found, to their cost, that racism and sectarianism are fundamental to the unionist way of life. They have become the targets for violent racist attacks, reserved in the past for Catholic nationalists.
In the aftermath of the disturbances at the World Cup soccer match between the Six-County team and Poland, over 40 Polish nationals were intimidated from their homes in that heartland of unionist extremism, The Village. Long before a Polish football fan set foot in Belfast, the threatening messages were painted on its walls by the comrades of those participating in the Polish junket. There is little that happens in that unionist neck of the woods that is not sanctioned by the UDA or the UVF.
The Village, noted in the past for its “Kill All Taigs” and “No Pope Here” graffiti, boasted in the early 1970s of its association with a paramilitary organisation calling itself ‘The Village Assassination Squad’ whose objective was to ethnically cleanse any Catholic in or even near Protestant south Belfast. Many Catholics who made the mistake of taking a short cut through the area to work paid for it with their lives.    
The PSNI arrested four Polish fans in respect of the football disturbances; no one was arrested for the attacks on the homes of the Polish residents of the Village, which is hardly surprising.
There have been at least 700 racially-motivated attacks against ethnic minority communities living in predominantly unionist/loyalist areas of Belfast over the past five years. Intimidation, involving physical assault and destruction of property, has been the calling card of unionists paramilitaries whose sectarian roots underpin life in the Village and Sandy Row areas.
The blame for the latest pogrom of the Polish ethnic community has been laid at the door of Polish football fans.
But just in case the Polish community didn’t get the message from the Village, the Windsor Park fans, standing behind the flags and emblems of the various unionist paramilitary organisations, booed and jeered during the playing of the Polish national anthem.
The Shankill Specialist Transition Training Company, whose programme claims to help unionist paramilitaries understand “the dangerous outcomes of racism”, might reflect on the history of ethnic cleansing in the North. Perhaps module two of the next junket could begin with 1921. The mind boggles.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1