Monday, 9 July 2007

MLAs blame BNP for racism

Probably one of the most incongruous claims yet made in the Assembly came during the debate on the long delayed racial equality strategy. In his contribution to the debate UUP deputy leader of the Danny Kennedy dramatically revealed the identity of the organisation responsible for whipping up hatred in the north. Was it the UVF? Was it the UDA? No, it was none other the BNP! Imparting exclusive information he had received from the Orange Order, Kennedy warned that the BNP would "try to actively recruit in Northern Ireland over the 12 July celebrations this year." He welcomed the efforts by the Orange Order to counter this and declared on behalf of his party that "we do not want, or need, imported hate mongering in Northern Ireland." What a relief. All we have to do stop hatred is to support the Orange Order in its opposition to the BNP.

In this perverse schema the Orange Order is a bulwark against reaction, rather than its chief promoter. Loyalists are completely written out of the picture. When a Sinn Fein member temporarily awoke from their political stupor to point out the well documented role of loyalist in racist attacks, they were immediately denounced. Unionists went into their well rehearsed tactic of claiming that any criticism of loyalists was tantamount to condemning the whole Protestant community (as if the UVF and UDA were the legitimate representatives of Protestants). Any attacks that did take place in Protestant areas were put down to legitimate grievances. Danny Kennedy said that there were real fears "due to new nationals gaining jobs at the expense of locals." The task of the Assembly was therefore "as much about putting those wrongs to right as it is about legislating against race hate itself." This reiterates the familiar approach to loyalists of legitimising their bigotry and violence while throwing money at them. All the parties, including the SDLP and Sinn Fein, have accepted this.

Even the Alliance Party, who proposed the motion and like to posture as the liberal opponents of racism and sectarianism, come to the defence of loyalists. While accepting there was "clear evidence of an association between loyalism and racist attacks" Alliance MLA Stephen Farry undercut this immediately by making the spurious claim that there is "also been racism from republican circles" (there isn’t). He urged the Assembly to take a "balanced approach this mater."

In many ways this debate summarises the politics that underpin the peace process, of accommodating all forms of bigotry and imagining there is an equality of sectarianism between unionists and nationalists. Despite the pantomime at Stormont the growing number of racist attacks in the north demands to be taken seriously. During the year 2006-07, the PSNI recorded 936 racial incidents. That is more than twice the number reported in the two previous years. On the weekend prior to the Assembly debate there was was petrol bomb attack in south Belfast in which seven Malaysian people live. It is suspected that loyalists were behind it. Debates in Stormont or looking to the DUP lead executive to produce a document on racial equality (they are opposed to the concept of equality) aren't going to stop such things happening.

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