The Blanket

Index: Current Articles

You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress.
- Malcolm X



Hate Crime


Anthony McIntyre


Loyalist hate crime continues to grow, with North Belfast the crucible for the phenomenon in its most vicious form. Pipe bomb attacks are now a perennial feature in the daily experience of nationalists. The threat is there when they get up in the morning, as it is when they go to bed at night. The small hours bring no respite. A recent attempt on the life of Martin Meehan and yesterday's attack on the home of Alex Maskey indicate that once again Sinn Fein is being subjected to the murderous wrath of the UDA hate criminals. The recent attack on an SDLP representative in the North West suggests that the North's other nationalist party too is regarded a suitable target for loyalist murder.

David Ervine, the leader of the PUP, referred to the UDA killers of the young postal worker Daniel McColgan, as 'scumbags'. Ervine's use of strong language to underline his rejection of such murderous activity against Catholics will be welcomed in many quarters. At the same time however, some within the nationalist community will wonder if such rich and earthy language is used precisely because the UDA rather than the UVF carried out the attack. The Loyalist feud left a bitter taste in many mouths within that community and any chance to criticise the UDA may appear a morsel too tempting for the PUP. But within the nationalist community it is strongly suspected that despite the condemnation by the PUP's Ken Wilkinson of those who shot dead Ciaran Cummings last summer, the UVF were in fact responsible.

Furthermore, the PUP cannot evade responsibility for inflaming the situation in Glenbryn at crucial moments thus pouring fuel onto a bonfire of anti-Catholic sentiment. Such sentiment helps create the atmosphere where resolute moral opposition within the unionist community to the slaughter of Catholics (non-existent in the UDA all year round) is seriously diluted.

When the campaign of the Provisional IRA was in full throttle many were eager to offer the rationale that loyalist violence was reactive to that of republicans. There is no doubt that there were occasions where loyalism did respond directly to IRA operations and that - given the nature of localised sectarian dynamics - the loyalist rate of killing Catholics would have been considerably lower were it not for the IRA campaign. Yet this only throws some light on the particular application of loyalist violence and does not explain the raison d'etre of it.

There is a strong supremacist element within loyalist culture that cannot brook existing on an equal basis with those it has long regarded as inferior. Former British Secretary of State Jim Prior once referred specifically to the horrific nature of loyalist violence. The Shankill Butchers made this most manifest. A hatred, many of us delude ourselves exists only in faraway places like Rwanda, drives people to carve up victims in ritualistic murder by torture. Anyone saying that loyalists alone are capable of such hatred and brutality would be stopped in their tracks by recalling the manner of the death of Eamonn Collins. Yet are there any serious grounds for disputing the attitudinal context in which loyalism is much more likely to conduct hate crime?

Sinn Fein may demand of the British state that firmer action is taken against the UDA. In turn it will face cries of hypocrisy from within the ranks of unionism if it fails to call for similar action against physical force republicans intent on carrying on their armed campaigns. If one lesson should have been learned by all as a result of the past thirty years it is surely that a security crackdown is hardly a solution. Where does it end? Interning loyalists? Murdering loyalist youth on the streets with plastic bullets?

At the level of government Northern Ireland may no longer have a sectarian state. But it is very much a state in a sectarian society. And the evidence available from a diverse range of observers such as Emmet O'Connor, Brian Feeney, Pete Shirlow, Eamonn McCann, Jenny McCartney, Robin Wilson and Pete Preston suggests that societal polarisation is anything but on the wane. The Good Friday Agreement may have helped reduce significantly the level of violence but at the cost of irrigating those malignant and entrenched divisions in which violent tendencies take strong root.

It is difficult to refute the conclusion of the Unionist Fred Cobain that the Agreement has essentially produced a middle class government for the middle classes. In poor nationalist areas it has palpably produced nothing. Sinn Fein councillor Tom Hartley only this week pointed out that the Falls area which he represents remains one of the most deprived areas in Europe. Presumably loyalist working class areas fare little better. If the Agreement can only bring to deprived areas an equal right to shout at each other 'our deprivation is worse than yours' then it is, for the poorest sections of this society, merely an agreement to hate each other much the same as before.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters Archives