News Analysis

“Race crime shock – attacks now averaging nearly one a day.” This front-page headline in the Belfast Telegraph sent shivers down many observers’ spines last month.

It came just a few days after a pregnant Chinese woman had been evicted from her home, along with two other families.

The rise of racist attacks across Northern Ireland is the highest in the United Kingdom and the biggest rise of any type of crime. Even the Police Service of Northern Ireland seems to be speechless at the 212 reported incidents within the last eight months. In 1997, there were only 25 reported racist attacks.

Obviously, reported attacks represent only the tip of the iceberg. Wherever you go, racist graffiti, posters and stickers seem to be springing up. Many victims are too afraid to report the sickening attacks and intimidation.

South Belfast real estate agent William Faulkner got a “warning” not to rent properties to Chinese or Black people.

He is terrified of going against this threat. “If a Black or a Chinese person tries to rent a property, I would have to tell them it is not safe. If this goes on, someone is going to be burned alive or murdered,” he said.

Just as worrying as the increase in attacks and the climate of fear that they have created is the apathy on the part of both the authorities and the political establishment. Neither Belfast City Council nor the new assembly has done anything to counteract the racists. Even lip-service is a rarity.

And, when looking closer at the situation, a sinister connection between the fascist hate-mongers and “official” politics comes to the surface.

Northern Ireland is the only country in Europe which keeps its asylum-seekers in a high-security prison.

For years, the situation in Maghaberry prison, where Nigerian women with babies have been locked up for up to 20 hours a day, has been branded by human rights campaigners as outrageous. It is far more than a terrible way to treat asylum-seekers – it encourages racist thinking.

Craigavon Ulster Unionist Party Councilor Fred Crowe recently went public with a number of nazi-style statements against the planning application for a mosque in the town. He was applauded by his Democratic Unionist Party peers.

After Crowe’s outburst, attacks and intimidation against Muslims in the area mushroomed and the White Nationalist Party launched a leafleting campaign. Protests and thousands of signatures on an Anti-Racism Network petition to get the DUP leadership to remove the councilor fell on deaf ears.

Links between loyalist paramilitaries, Combat 18 and the White Nationalist Party, which claims to have over 100 supporters in Northern Ireland, have been common knowledge for years.

The police have pointed at this dangerous coalition’s role in trouble surrounding some of the Orange Order marches, but no attempt has been made to stop it from operating.

The way that the fascists operate is not new. They blame foreigners for job losses, lack of housing and all the other problems that working class people are facing.

However, the breeding ground that they are finding in Northern Ireland is exceptionally fertile. The area has the worst housing stock in Europe and its highest and fastest growing poverty.

According to official statistics, almost half of the children in Northern Ireland live in poverty, although the real figure is almost certainly higher.

Along with the rapid decline of traditional industries – textile jobs are disappearing, the shipyard is almost gone and the aircraft industry is facing a grim future – the feelings of devastation, especially in the once “privileged” loyalist areas, has grown hugely. Doors are now open to fascist thinking.

The growth of fascist and racist activities have been ignored by the vast majority of politicians and, indeed, the media for far too long. In this situation, the work of the Anti-Racism Network couldn’t be more vital.

Time is running short. If we don’t act now and act together, we are going to have a disaster on our hands.

Excerpted from the Morning Star (U.K.)