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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Anti Racism Network (ARN), in the beginning …

Davy Carlin

Below is an interview I had done with the Irish Socialist Worker (SW) in relation to the establishment of the Belfast Anti Racism Network (ARN.) I do not intend to write a detailed account in relation to the ARN until some time down the line (as much more went on) so this interview is but a brief overview. Firstly though, a few points both at the start and at the end of the SW article, as I continue to learn more of life on the left.

From the very onset of the ARN I have found myself working with many persons whom I had not met or had not worked with before. I found and continue to find in them a commitment and a dedication in their stand, which was and is both refreshing and inspiring. I had initially from the very start contacted many organisations including all the socialist parties in Belfast and many others who had been active and involved in the Belfast Anti War Movement (BAWM). Such were contacted as well as other campaigns and organisations we and others had worked with over time.

Yet I had found that despite many showing a willingness to get involved, that not even one of the socialist parties in Belfast came forward to work with us on such an important issue, given the ongoing increase in brutal racist attacks. Some saying they were to busy (even to send one person) while others just not bothering to reply, that is, until five months later when all the ground work had been done, and but a few days before the rally. (I point this out because as yet again I had learnt lessons in relation to such organisations and the situation I believe of putting ‘the party’ before the issue - ‘from whatever quarter it comes from’).

It was these new activists' participation (others new also, new in the sense as it was the first time we had worked together) and not the old left’s non or part participation that was the backbone of getting the ARN of the ground. It also was not primarily though the old left we sought involvement of but more importantly we looked to and together found a new layer of activists whose interest lay solely in the issue at hand. More especially I had found particularly those other five persons who with myself made up the publicity committee, (which by default became the organising committee) for the large ARN rally on Jan 27th 2004, to have in them a sound dedication, commitment and belief in what we were doing. This both in activity and seeking the involvement of others, as I continue to find now in many.
So it was a rally that we had by now moved the trade union movement to support (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) and a rally we knew by that stage could be of thousands. Therefore what was happening was that a campaign and a developing movement against racism was beginning and it was a case of many of the ‘old established left’ looking backwards and inwards (as I had heard developing in the early stages of meetings held in Belfast to form a left alliance – although was not part of the round table discussions). This while a new layer of activists was seeking to move forwards and outwards on such an important issue as anti-racism. This movement forward I believe is essential, given the international movements and the continual working together of diverse organisations on a commonality of purpose as I had witnessed personally from Genoa to Geneva.

Similarly on a smaller, but still mass scale from the Belfast Anti War Movement to the Anti Racism Network where one, as has others, sought to think, look and participate globally while attempting to bring such a spirit of unity of common purpose back to the streets of Belfast. This was done on both above issues where thousands and even tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants stood together firstly on an issue of international concern and secondly on an issue of immediate local concern. Yet both would be part of the international movements against war and racism where new activists and ways of organising were coming to the fore.

I have wrote much to date on the practical issues of what I have been involved in throughout various campaigns, giving at times a detailed account of the practical issues and events. I had found this important so as others can know and learn of such and to attempt also to give inspiration to others involved in such large or small continual struggles and campaigns. Yet for one self, the practical must go with ideas. It should not only be one of strategy and tactics in which I have personally found over time a keen interest in studying throughout various struggles (large and small), but should also be one of political ideas if we are really to effect fundamental change for working class ‘communities’ and people.

I believe in the concept of both political ideas and firm activism working together, yet have in the main recently written and recorded much on the side of activism. So for the next while after my next article (on the continued NIPSA strikes and trade unionism) I shall concentrate my articles on the importance of political ideas within struggle. I have provided detailed reports in the recent past on the various campaigns activities. now I wish to - and it is essential - understand such activity in respect to ideas.

Therefore in this case an overall understanding in relation to race and racism should not be independent to the issue of class and the present system set- up, as this understanding is crucial as to how to end such racism. Similarly Fortress Europe and the ruling classes neo–liberal project and its effect on the most socio-economically deprived areas, is part of the understanding of racism and how it comes from above. So in understanding that, one can see therefore how the fight against such racism comes from unity from below. An understanding against the ‘myths’ on housing, jobs, welfare etc is also essential to combat the rhetoric from those whose seek to circulate for their own ends such disinformation.

In articles in the time ahead (amongst others) I will deal with the issue of class and race and how, if indeed, it relates only to the specifics of our localised politics or is there also in fact a wider understanding required. I will of course still return to detailed accounts such as the continuation of the West Belfast series and other local issues but for the foreseeable future my concentration shall be on the ‘politics’ within struggle. So on that, my interview, with a few extra points after it.

Socialist Worker interviews Davy Carlin Chairperson of the Belfast Anti Racism Network (ARN)

SW - Davy can you give us a bit of background as to how the ARN came about.

Back in Sept 2003 a meeting was called in the Multi Cultural Resource Centre (MCRC) in Belfast to discuss the increasing rise in overt racial attacks and racism in general, and to see what could be done about it. As I was interested in doing something I went along. At that meeting three or four organisations were represented and after a brief discussion of those there it was decided by some that nothing really could be done. This even included the holding of something symbolic and visual at Belfast City Hall, as we ‘would not get the numbers’. The very best we could do it was suggested by one organisation would be to attend a race awareness meeting at City Hall. Two others and I argued against this and so the spokespersons of two organisations proposed that if I believed something could be done, then why don’t I go and organise another meeting to do something. With that I agreed to the proposal. And so with two other persons who had argued against the pessimism we then - the three of us - began to organise. So with a collective belief and understanding that not only did something need done but also as importantly we believed that something could be done we went forward.

So by the time therefore that we had called the second meeting of the now termed ARN we had around a dozen organisations in attendance, this by actively seeking organisations participation. Those in attendance at our earliest meetings were made up of most of the main minority ethnic organisations, such as the Belfast Islamic Centre, the Chinese Welfare Association, Multi Cultural Resource Centre, the Belfast Travellers Support Group, the Black youth network etc. Also there were representatives from political parties, human rights organisations, trades union councils, trade unions, community organisations and student groups amongst others. We then agreed that the ARN should be established and that its primary role should be as an activist based network that seeks to take a practical, visual and collective stand against racism from whatever quarter or area that it came from.

SW- Davy you say that the primary role of the ARN was to be an activist based network, what has the network done then to date?

Our first opportunity for activity actually came at one of our first meetings. The Ulster Unionist Party Craigavon councillor Fred Crowe had came out with deeply racist and provocative remarks. So we decided to draw up a statement against this calling for him to be expelled from his party. Within two days we had ten Minority ethnic organisations, trades union councils, many leading trade unionists from several trade unions, leading human rights organisations, community organisations and hundreds of individuals signed up to the statement. We then got the statement printed in the main Northern Irish press and had called on others to issue similar statements from their organisations. We also hand delivered the statement directly into many of the UUP leadership hands such as David Trimble, Reg Empey, Stephen King, and David Burnside etc at their conference.

So with our call for others to speak out many of the churches, student and community umbrella networks issued statements against racism, with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) issuing a statement on the same day as ourselves against the racist attacks happening in Craigavon. Such was the representation of our statement and the response to our call that others should speak out that Fred Crowe was then censured by the Ulster Unionist party and the whole issue of racism was then raised by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons

We had therefore done something practical and had also been at the same time working on other projects via sub committees, yet we needed to do something visual and collective. So we decided to call a visual and representative vigil on Dec 10th, which was International Human Rights Day. A lot of people were again pessimistic including some closest to ourselves, believing that only a few people and organisations would turn up but a number of us worked tirelessly to make it happen knowing success would give the ARN a real boost and a viable launch pad. With that up to twenty-five organisations attended including all the main minority ethnic organisations, trade unionists, community workers, human rights organisations and many others from across the ‘divide’ making it the largest such event on the day. This was important as such unity would be needed and very much tested as systematic and orchestrated racial attacks were to happen only a few weeks later in South Belfast.

SW: Yes Davy we have heard a lot about this in recent times what did the ARN do to try and bring a halt to the attacks.

Firstly it must be said that the attacks were not only systematic and orchestrated but there was also paramilitary involvement as even loyalist politicians have acknowledged. Also there was underlying localised issues that also came into play. The sheer brutality of the attacks though on heavily pregnant women along with arson attacks on homes and seeing persons getting bricks smashed repeatedly in their faces attracted the international media to the issue. The world press where now calling Belfast the ‘race hate capital of Europe’ with the concentration of the media due to that sheer brutality on the minority ethnic community now focused on that particular local area. As many of the network were away over the Xmas period or were not able to be contacted we did what we could, doing numerous interviews while at the same time attempting to get people together for an emergency meeting ASAP. When the meeting was called we all agreed something needed to be done and we agreed on various strategies as to how to attempt to bring a halt to the attacks. Part of that was a rally to give people a chance to express their anger at this. Again some were pessimistic whether we could deliver, yet it was argued hard by some and was eventually agreed to. It would take place on Jan 27th, International Holocaust Memorial Day.

By this stage, although unfunded and voluntary participation only, the activist based ARN had already become the leading anti-racism voice in the North. The home and international media was contacting us from all over the world with more than fifty interviews and meetings within a week. From BBC to RTE, from ITV to Channel 4, from the Irish Times to the New York Times, from CNN in the USA to news stations in the Middle East. From around Europe to Australia and Canada and elsewhere, all wanted to know what was happening.

Both the situation and therefore the ARN were now the focus for the international press. We needed to show therefore that the minority would not dictate for the majority and that our collective voice of opposition to such attacks would both be heard and in doing so sending out a clear message.

So with that we started to work on our various strategies while at the same time seeking to create a ‘public momentum’ for the rally. For the ARN our immediate priority was to attempt to bring a halt to the attacks. The rally was originally scheduled for 5pm on the 27th, yet for a number of reasons we had to change it to 1pm, (by 5pm though the heavens had opened and it literally poured down). As the momentum for the rally built up we met the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) who offered their full support for the rally. So we held a joint press conference of ICTU and the ARN which I chaired, this the day before the rally. Our final ARN meeting held in the MCRC a few days before was packed right outside the door seeing and welcoming many new faces including those we had contacted on numerous occasions from the very start to get involved.

On the day around 2000 people rallied outside Belfast City Hall on a bitterly cold lunchtime at the end of Jan 2004 to show their opposition towards the attacks. Not only was it one of the largest rallies of its type to make a stand against such racist attacks in Belfast but its make up made it unprecedented in Northern Irish political history.

So with many attending we saw trade union banners from the FBU, NIPSA, NAFHE and UNISON amongst others. Trades Union Council banners stood also shoulder-to-shoulder with minority ethnic support organisations banners. Human rights banners stood beside homemade banners. Community representatives and workers from the Shankill to the Falls Road were in attendance. From the Village to Twinbrook, from North, South, East, and West Belfast they came. Republican and Loyalist, Nationalist and Unionist, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter all represented. The ARN now with the support of the trade union movement and many others had stood shoulder to shoulder, spoke out, and stood firm.

The rallies impact has give inspiration and strength to many others to now speak out. The collective and united nature and stand by the ARN has now enabled others to get organised or to find the strength to make a stand, as they now know that they are not alone. The ARN and its actions have given a breath of fresh air to the call and workings of unity for a common cause as opposed to the sectarian politics of division. As importantly though to date the overt racist paramilitary involved localised attacks have all but ceased (but can start up any time, so we have but a breathing space to organise and build local branches). With that we have also seen a significant decrease in racist incidents reported for the last few weeks around the North, (Feb - for the time being). We have also seen since the rally that the British National Party (BNP, far right organisation) Belfast’s branch having now been closed down, although they cited their own reasons for their departure.

SW – Davy where now for the ARN?

Firstly this is a long-term campaign and with that the ARN is now to hold meetings around the North with the view of setting up local branches. We are also to host anti-racism gigs again around the North as so to let music express and put out the anti-racism message to younger people. We will of course be dealing with many other issues such as the plight of refugees, to dealing with the impact of various legislations on the minority ethnic communities. Our main focus though and the reason for our establishment was to take a practical, visible and collective stand against both racial attacks and racism. So to date we have held white line pickets and vigils such as the recent one on the Falls Road where a Chinese man was the victim of a racist attack. We have held rallies in South Belfast as well as having done leafleting etc, with also meetings in North Belfast and East Belfast and branches also established outside Belfast.

So to that end we have elected an initial ten-person steering committee that will work and engage with the ever-growing network and deal with the practical proposals that come out of the ARN. To those that wish to take a stand with us can e-mail the steering committee at

I had found once again criticism coming ‘from the outside’ and from the old ‘part participation left’, (those who take part simply to say that they are taking part, and who play no active role in the campaign, but snipe from the sides and behind the scenes at others putting in the back work). Even when some eventually became involved a few days before the rally, calls of ‘it should have been bigger’ to ‘the speakers were not good enough’ were whispered amongst their clan as similar usually is from such party mindsets.

So such now amuses me and have learnt in very recent times that it is best on many occasions to ignore it. I have learnt also that there cannot be a strict activists' handbook of how to deal with all situations. Some advice we had received as to how to attempt to deal with this situation would have been completely counter - productive if followed. This was acknowledged by every activist based organisation involved in depth on the ground.

Yet for oneself and indeed the ARN, the priority was the immediate end to those particular systematic and escalating attacks on the minority ethnic community. This to a large extent (in this localised case and this specific time) was achieved via various strategies by those who knew exactly what was going on on the ground. Of course the attacks could arise just as quickly again, but nevertheless a significant decrease or a complete halt would give a breathing space to many.

Therefore it is my belief that one needs to look in detail at what is actually going on (the underlying factors in this case) rather than ‘right let’s get people from outside the area and go in’ or other such tactics as some said they did (although if indeed done it was done well after the intense period). Which in this case (if done at its height, and in this particular situation) would have been madness and even more dangerous to the minority ethnic community within this area.

We wanted a reaction, yes, but we wanted a positive re action. Thankfully though all those involved in the ARN (at the time) in conjunction with an ongoing engagement with the local community, minority ethnic, trade union and those with on the ground knowledge of the ‘whole’ situation knew this. Yet I, therefore, was once again the target for the left for not working the purist hand book, which ironically (but of no surprise) they themselves did not work at the height of the situation. Rather than the purist handbook the ARN instead choose with all those ‘very local’ minority ethnic, trade unionist and human rights on the ground activists and those ‘front line’ community activists to deal with the ‘practical reality’ of the situation. It was a situation that had many underlying localised (historical and present) factors that ‘had to be’ taken into account, and we, in having done so, with others, so effected a situation that provided a breathing space for the minority ethnic community.

I personally believe though that if the far right organisations such as the BNP do eventually attempt to take to the streets here then we will have to mobilise working class communities, trade unions etc, to stand firm against them on the streets.

Yet again in this situation the ending of those specific systematic attacks came not from a knee jerk reaction or a purist handbook of tactics. But our collective (ARN) on the ground knowledge, working and engaging with others and the logical conclusions as to how to attempt to bring an end to the immediate attacks (in this particular case, and at its height).

I have also found that many of the organised left (I believe) tend to put party interest before the issue at hand on many occasions. This was brought home to me yet again in strength when for five months and although constant invites too many such ‘socialist parties’ not even one would attend a ‘united’ and ‘real’ campaign against racism (especially given the increasing brutal attacks). Some eventually only did so (I believe) when they realised that they could not ‘as a party’ afford to stay away as momentum grew and we had moved the trade union movement for involvement. Yet our primary engagement was with the ‘new’ activists and those inspired by the growing international movements as it is still. Yet these activists have seen full well and have told such persons who ‘still’ attempt to engage in the mindset of petty party politics where to go.

One would think such organisations would learn, but all they seem to do is to continue to dig their own increasingly isolated graves due to their behaviour. I genuinely feel sorry for some dedicated and non-sectarian activists in such organisations and more especially those ‘lead’ by such politics. I hope such (in whatever organisations one is) can come to the understanding of class and campaign as the priority.

Saying that though, persons are aware through my writings of my ‘problems’ with aspects of democratic centralism, not because of the ‘almost full disc’ of what such organisations have said or done to oneself and comrades (collected over the last while from those sickened by their behaviour). It is more especially about democratic centralist workings in ‘all’ such organisations. That’s not to say that I am an anarchist or whatever, but simply it is as I have always done and will always do, that is, but to question and to search for my own answers if I am not satisfied with what I am told.

Yet for oneself, as stated, I have found many dedicated activists within the ARN whose priority interest lays in the fight against racism and who are prepared to put in the work and the graft on the ground. It is such activists that I personally have and do find common bond with on issues of common aims. I can hold much respect for many activists I know from other parties, organisations, trade unions, communities or wherever, whose graft, dedication and belief on an issue fills me continually with inspiration and hope.

For to long, in my earliest of years in activity I had battled (as others have done) against sectional interests in a room over the interests of an important but specific campaign or issue. I find increasingly though as I slowly remove myself from such gatherings that my politics are that of pragmatism and not dogmatism and purism (as I see increasingly in some). I hold the same political understandings as I had previous (to effect fundamental revolutionary change) but I continue to learn practical experiences through engaging and working with many others, and within various issue campaigns and movements. Therefore once again I have learnt much from engaging and working with others, This time within a far wider activist based network (based in the main on activity) as opposed to my early days sitting in a room of differing small groups of sectional interests (where for some) their version of activity was based almost solely on sectional historical polemics and inactivity. So on that point, real activity.

To date we have now established a branch in West Belfast with a recent meeting seeing a whole host of local community, campaign, and minority ethnic support groups in attendance amongst others. Similarly groups have been established in South Belfast (two branches) with another being set up in North Belfast and again another in East Belfast and of course our central Belfast branch. Others are due to be set up also in local schools and colleges, with again others outside Belfast. All this takes work on the ground. Again the media interest and coverage has been good with all those local groups set up to date receiving coverage in the main media outlets and many of the branches are engaged in ongoing activity.

In conclusion I have again learnt a lot of valuable lessons and an important one being, that there are a lot of committed activists outside of any party structures whose whole sense and priority of involvement on an issue, any issue, is the issue itself.

To finish I must add that one of the turning points for myself in life on this issue, and there where many, but one of the main turning points, was as below.

As a child I had witnessed and borne the brunt of much racism from the state and had got involved in later years in politics through witnessing more overt state brutality on loved ones. Yet it was, as I had reported on this site and elsewhere, the Gardai, (Southern Irish police) treatment of oneself on a bus going from Belfast to Dublin that brought forth a reaction. It was not in the main because that they had singled me out due to the colour of my skin or indeed even the four car Gardai escort cars (surrounding the bus) I got from the Irish border right into Dublin itself.

It was when I looked around and seen their first victim, a young Chinese girl visibly shaking in fear with her head bowed that made it clear in my head. That like oneself as a child she to was now bowing her head as I had did so many years ago also as a child – nothing had changed. I therefore there and then knew that although I had bowed my head to the institutionalised racism and state brutality as a child, now though as an adult I then decided that I could bow my head against such no longer.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

7 June 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


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Acquittal of the Bogotá 3 - Interview With Caitriona Ruane
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Da Big Gorilla
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John, Pat and Neil Sedakas
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Volunteer Robin Livingstone
Anthony McIntyre


The Anti Racism Network (ARN), in the beginning …
Davy Carlin


1 June 2004


No More Lies


Can Irish Speakers Survive Reverse Colonialism?
Seaghán Ó Murchú


On the One Road
John Kennedy


The Wretched of the Earth at the Polls
Mick Hall


SS General
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In Solidarity with the Iraqi People
Ghali Hassan


Neo-Cons, Fundies, Feddies, and Con-Artists
Francis A. Boyle


Mis-reporting Venezuela: Hugo Chavez as processed by the "Independent" newspaper
Toni Solo




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