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They didn’t take down the flag

Sectarian intimidation in North Belfast

17 December 2019

A frantic drive is on to reopen the local Stormont administration.  The British and Irish governments, the political parties, civic society and the trade union leadership all assure us that this is the road to peace and prosperity.

As talks get underway one issue that will not be discussed is the December attacks in the Ballysillan area of Belfast aimed at intimidating Catholic families who had been allocated homes in the area by the Choice housing association. Windows were smashed, KAT (Kill All Taigs) was scrawled on the wall and a paramilitary flag hung outside a bedroom window.

There was more of a fuss than usual when it was discovered that local Democratic Unionist Party councillor Dale Pankhurst had contacted the housing association to express "concerns".  Pankhurst said that he had spoken to the association but not to the police because the concerns were not linked to intimidation. Details then emerged of an earlier post by the councillor where he advocated "local homes for local people".  An associate of the DUP parliamentary candidate Nigel Dodds, a loyalist with a criminal record, later posted a sectarian attack on one of the victims.

The police are looking into the matter.

The thing is, they didn't take down the flag!

The police have decided that flags are “an ecumenical matter” and won't touch them even when their real function - sectarian intimidation - is unmistakable.  This incident is the latest in a long line of sectarian incidents where loyalists have declared housing apartheid and enforced it with ethnic cleansing.  Ballysillan estate saw a round of sectarian evictions just a year ago.

There is much to investigate. How did information about the prospective tenants reach the loyalists? In the background the old state housing system is being run down while the new housing associations facilitate both privatisation and the continuance of housing apartheid. Why the open links between the DUP and the loyalist paramilitaries are ignored and why are loyalists able to operate, not only with a great deal of impunity, but often with funding from the state?

The thing is, that's the way it was when the last Stormont was running. Low level ongoing preservation of loyalist territory was not a problem for the administration nor a source of friction for Sinn Fein. The Good Friday Agreement did not guarantee human rights, it guaranteed communal rights. Sinn Fein's concern was for equality, that is, that they get a share of housing control and patronage in their areas.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote there are new attempts to form a new Executive in the North. Ending ethnic cleansing is not even an item on the agenda.

This is the reality of the prospective “new” settlement.  This is what the middle classes, business representatives and the trade union leadership demands in the interests of stability. This tacit agreement to ignore ethnic cleansing is what the working class should fight against and is the reason that any new administration will be just as unstable as the last one.

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