Ireland at the ESF

The issue of Ireland played a prominent role at the recent European Social Forum. The focus on Ireland proved apt given that so much of what has gone on there provides lessons for elsewhere.

Colonialist themes

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams really hit the right note when he pointed out how the struggle of one group of people for liberation can never be seen in isolation. As such, he questioned why if people in Britain do not trust the government over Iraq do they continue to trust them on Ireland.

He recalled how the various abuses now being revealed in Iraq such as the beating of prisoners and dirty tricks had all been used by the British army in Ireland.

"It is important for people who live here in Britain to grasp the necessity to campaign for Irish independence. If you don’t trust this government on Iraq then why do you trust them on Ireland? Remember if you come from Britain it  is being done in your name," warned Adams.

The Sinn Fein president placed the struggle of nationalists in Ireland in terms of colonial power. The tactics of creating plantations, divide and rule and the dehumanisation of the opposition have all been used in Ireland and then in other colonies.

Just as such tactics have been tried in Ireland and exported elsewhere so many of the practices are now coming home to Britain. It has been seen in the area of legislation with anti-terror laws brought in initially in the Irish context only to later be extended to the whole of the UK. Policing methods have also been imported. So  weaponery like rubber and plastic bullets, which began in Northern Ireland, can now be deployed in any British town.

Recently, there has been the coming home of internment from Ireland. The Irish have been replaced by the Muslims as the internees. The Sinn Fein leader, who experienced internment himself back in the 1970s, drew a vivid picture of what it is like to be confined in a small space day after day, month after month and year after year. He drew a comparison with being held indefinitely in an area the size of a bathroom, having to ask when you want to go to the toilet, having no TV, no radio and no link with the outside world. He emphasised the need to support the families of the men interned and campaign against the policy.


Another issue that regularly came up was the role of the media in distorting the picture. The two tribes model of Protestant against Catholic with the security forces allegedly keeping the peace inbetween has been followed by the British media for the best part of 35 years.

Gerry Adams condemned as “disgraceful” the role of the mass media over the years in reporting Northern Ireland in such a way. He recalled that even now the media are not reporting bombing and shootings against people in the nationalist community.

Belfast deputy mayor Joe O'Donnell provided an example of such journalism in the failure to report the abuse of nationalists in the Short Strand area of east Belfast.

The area is an enclave of 3,500 Catholics set amongst 90,000 Protestants. In one recent period, the Short Strand was under virtually perpetual attack. "Over that period there was no access to doctors, the baby clinic, the post office and the DHSS head office. Prescriptions were being made out in my community office and people were getting buses across Belfast to get shopping and benefits," recalled O’Donnell.

The media approach though was to report the violence within the model of tit for tat attacks.

The same approach was evident when Loyalists attempted to stop the children going to Holy Cross school. The story was of junior school children being set upon by a bunch of thugs, yet the media had to try to fit the events into the feuding tribes model. Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre recalled academic Germaine Greer on Newsnight condemning the Loyalists for the abuse but then going on to criticise the parents of the children for making them go to school. In this way both Loyalist and Nationalist communities could be blaimed. If you take a reality check for a moment and imagine walking your child to school each day, then suddenly a group of parents from a nearby neighbourhood decide they are going to block your way and spit at your child. The police would be called the abusive parents arrested and the right of way restored.

The truth of the feuding tribes, tit for tat manner of reporting all Northern Ireland events has not helped advance the peace process. In fact the approach has played to the rejectionists in unionism, the Tory Party and parts of the security services who want to see the Good Friday agreement fail. A more truthful approach to reporting what is actually going on in the north of Ireland would profit the cause of peace and return a little self respect to journalists who have prostituted the profession.

Racism and Sectarianism alive and well

Ironically, with peace in Northern Ireland has come an explosion of racist bigotry. Not for nothing is the six county statelet now called the racist capital of Europe.

The president of the Belfast Islamic centre told how Muslims are being subject to physical and verbal abuse at least two or three times a day.

Jamal Iweida, president of the Belfast Islamic Centre, told how 10 years ago Belfast was peaceful for ethnic minorities but now in the post 9/11 environment attacks had increased. "I get such abuse at least two or three times a day," said Iweida. He told how his wife who was born in Northern Ireland is now told to ‘go back home.’

Iweida pointed out that if the 150 Muslims and 300 nurses from overseas who work in the hospitals did leave then 25 per cent of the services would have to be closed down.

"Muslim girls get attacked and their head scarves removed. The racism is not just at an individual level but with institutions like the police and prison service . Sometimes it is accidental but it is also deliberate," said Iweida.

He recalled how the police fail to act when attacks are reported to them. Iweida recalled how a man had set his dog on him.

"My wife rang 999 and it took the police 45 minutes to arrive. There was no apology. They cautioned the man, though he admitted what he’d done," said Iweida.

On another occasion he received intimidatory emails. The sender threatened at one point that a named Muslim cab driver would be killed. Upon reporting the incident to the police Mr Iweida was initially told to find the cab driver himself. It was only when he threatened to expose the police’s conduct to the media that they acted warning the cabby and apprehending the man who had been sending the emails.

Iweida recalled how when Muslims are forced out of their homes the Housing Executive refuse to rehouse or help them in their plight.

"These families are being forced to board up the windows and just stay," said Iweida.

Iweida argued that as time goes by and the police and authorities do nothing to confront such attacks, so they become more frequent and more aggressive.

He recalled how in some churches in Northern Ireland there is open preaching against ethnic groups. In one such establishment it has been suggested that Muslims be put on a plane and sent home.

Iweida claimed that politicians and church leaders had proved ineffectual in standing up against racism.

Sadly, in Northern Ireland it would seem sectarianism and racism are alive and well living side by side.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-10-25 13:02:55.
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Copyright © 2004 Shayla Warmsley