After a lull over the Christmas period there have once again been violent protests on the streets of Belfast.
These protests have become a fixture of life in the city since Belfast City Council voted on the 3rd of December to only fly the Union Flag on designated days. The decision, a compromise measure proposed by the Alliance Party and supported by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, triggered outrage amongst Unionists who have claimed that it is part of a campaign by Republicans against British and Unionist culture in Northern Ireland.
Calls by Unionist politicians for calm and an end to the unrest, especially the violent confrontations with police, have been ignored by the protesters.
Many commentators have argued that these protests show how disconnected rank and file Unionists have become from their political representatives and this is probably an accurate observation, but they are also evidence of a much greater problem within political Unionism.
Simply put, these protests have brought to light once again a dangerously fascistic tendency within Northern Ireland Unionism.
Since the unrest began protesters have called for the dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the imposition of Direct Rule from London, a move which would effectively disenfranchise the Nationalist and Republican community which makes up almost half the population of the six counties.
Bullets have been sent to Sinn Fein and Alliance Party Councillors and MLAs as means of intimidation.
Facebook pages have been set up calling for Sinn Fein to be driven out of Northern Ireland, and even encouraging the murder of prominent Republicans.
Even away from the most openly reactionary pages there are frequent instances of racism (one commenter on the Loyalists peaceful protests updater (sic) page on Facebook compared Republicans to immigrants and he wasn’t defending multiculturalism) and support for British militarism.
All of which points to a contemptuous attitude towards democracy by sections of the Unionist community.
This is not the first time that this viciously reactionary streak within Loyalism has been on display.
In the summer of 2008 then MP and MLA for Strangford and Democratic Unionist Party Spokesperson for Health Iris Robinson, wife of the DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson, made a series of explicitly homophobic remarks.
In an interview for BBC Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan Show shortly after a homophobic attack on a man in the Newtownabbey area of Belfast, Iris Robinson described homosexuality as “an abomination” and said that it made her feel “sick” and “nauseous”. Robinson went on to offer to refer homosexual people to a Christian psychiatrist she new and said that “just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual’. If anyone takes issue, they’re taking issue with the word of God”.
Almost exactly a year later, in June 2009, in one of the clearest examples of Unionism’s fascist tendencies, crowds from Unionist areas in south and east Belfast mounted a campaign of violence and intimidation against Romanian immigrants living in the city.
One hundred and fifteen Romanian immigrants from around twenty families were forced to flee from their homes and take shelter in a local church after a week of sustained violence by Loyalist youths claiming to be members of the fascist organisation Combat 18.
Most of the victims chose to leave Northern Ireland and return to Romania despite having no jobs or homes to return to. Lithuanians and other eastern European immigrants were also targeted.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s at all progressive that a political movement which exists to oppose Irish national sovereignty might develop particularly reactionary dimensions, but it is an issue which requires serious engagement.
It is an unfortunate truth that most of the (very small) Left in Northern Ireland comes from the Republican and Nationalist community and there is a danger that it might leave this fascist element unchecked in the name of a rhetorical anti-sectarianism. This would be a dangerous oversight.
On the other hand there is a real risk that any attempt to combat it could be perceived as an attack on the Unionist community as such which might fuel support for these reactionary elements.
No solution to this dilemma has been forthcoming, but if the Left is to make any progress here an answer must be found.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by conorm