– Don’t collude with ‘community division’
Oppose Sectarian Intimidation!
Even in a state infamous for its bigotry the scenes of raw hatred witnessed at Holy Cross school in Ardoyne have been shocking. The naked and brutal bigotry of the ‘protests’ against young children and their parents was so offensive that for a brief few days the events were reported by the media as they should have been – as an example of the most indefensible sectarianism that had to be condemned and opposed by anyone with the slightest concern for democratic rights.
This didn’t last long. Very quickly the media returned to its normal so called ‘objectivity’ and to its favourite ‘explanation’ for what was happening. The terrorising of young children and their parents, the coarse abuse, the threats, stones and urine – not to mention the bomb – were all supposed to be yet another example of our divided society for which we are all to blame. The solution therefore lay ‘in the two communities getting together in negotiations and sorting it out.’
In this approach the media simply followed the lead of the political parties. Unionist politicians queued up to complain that loyalist grievances were not being addressed and Sinn Fein called on unionist and loyalist politicians and so-called residents to sit down with them. The RUC who have compelled children and parents to endure this abuse and attacks or accept second class citizenship by a long diversion to a ‘back entrance’ all of a sudden became heroes caught between the two sides!
The events at Holy Cross are so clear cut that this usual distortion of the truth is incredible
The loyalist protest is not a protest. It is an attempt to stop young children going to school because they don’t like their religion.
The so-called grievances of the ‘residents’ are a demand that the growing catholic population should not be given housing in loyalist areas. In other words it is a demand for apartheid.
The victims are not to blame and the media cannot pretend to be impartial by reporting as equally valid the plight of children and their parents and the allegations by loyalists that the Catholic parents are to blame.
The RUC are not the victims and their willingness to clear main roads for hours to facilitate Orange marches stands in stark contrast to their accommodation to the terrorising of Holy Cross children and parents.
This argument once again obscures those really responsible for the sectarian nightmare that exists in the whole of North Belfast and beyond. While claiming it is a question for ‘both sides’ it is the British State that has created and sustained this situation.
It is the British State that sponsored the loyalist paramilitary death squads that are behind the so-called resident’s protest. It is the State that for years maintained the UDA as a legal organisation and then insisted, until it became too embarrassing, that the bombings and killings of the UDA were not so serious as to constitute a breach of their ceasefire. It is the State that has allowed the children and parents to be subject to attack while cynically applauding itself for being their protectors.
It is the State that has failed to provide the housing and other social conditions that could check the alienation from which sectarian bigotry has grown. Finally it is the British State who blame both sides and call for negotiations while attempting to placate loyalism by giving legitimacy to its ‘protest’ and attempting to buy it off.
The only way forward is to completely reject the whole sectarian logic that has been presented by the State and media. Parents and children should not have to negotiate whether and on what conditions they go to school. This is a fundamental right that the State must uphold and if it cannot then the State itself becomes the problem.
The demands for apartheid housing by loyalism should be rejected. Of course sectarian attacks on protestant homes and people have taken place but loyalism is no answer. The loyalist death squads have been exposed as carrying out attacks on protestant homes themselves in order to inflame sectarian tensions. These organisations are often as oppressive of protestant working class communities as of catholic ones and no one should accept that the UDA or UVF in any way represent the true interests of protestant workers.
Sectarian intimidation is not to be found in just one section of the community and must be opposed and condemned wherever it occurs, but it must be understood that the dynamic of sectarian attacks in North Belfast is overwhelmingly the responsibility of the UDA and UVF. The State has shown that while it can arrest dissident armed republicans at will it has proved utterly unable to prevent hundreds of bomb attacks on catholic workers.
What is needed now is a campaign by all those concerned to defend fundamental democratic and human rights in support of the parents and children of Holy Cross school. There should be no compromise with sectarianism by demanding negotiations with those who have proved with every action their bitter prejudice and their objective of stopping children from attending school. The simple demand should be that the blockade of the school stop and that the State ensure that the children and their parents do not face the abuse and attacks witnessed so far. If the State does not it stands condemned with the bigots.
Today’s rally should be the start of such a campaign not just in Belfast but across Ireland seeking the active support of trade unions, human rights groups, political parties and community associations. Such a campaign would involve demonstrations by for example human rights and community groups. It would involve calls for solidarity action from workers, especially teachers, in the trade unions. It would involve demands of the SDLP and Sinn Fein that if their new peace process can’t deliver the right of children to attend school then, in the words of Gerry Kelly MLA, ‘What good is it?’ They should withdraw from Stormont in protest. What point is there of a Sinn Fein minister of Education if children cannot get to school?
We have all been promised a bright new future in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement but this Agreement has helped legitimise loyalism and encouraged respect for traditions that are no more than thinly disguised bigotry. While the scandal of Holy Cross continues the reality of the peace process will be shown to be very far from the hype.