Belfast anarchist on Sectarian Intimidation and North Belfast

As an Anarcho-Syndicalist living in North Belfast, on the Limestone Road/Newington Street/Duncairn Gardens interface with the Loyalist Tigers Bay, I was interested to read Gregor Kerr's article in the last issue of Workers Solidarity 'Sectarian Intimidation and North Belfast'.

That sectarianism is alive and well in Glenbryn, and other areas of North Belfast is no surprise. The area I live in has seen almost nightly sectarian riots for months now with regular fixtures on Sunday afternoons. Several weeks ago a young man in his teens lost his life senselessly. 'Spacer', the young boys nickname, has been accoladed as a hero for his commitment to Loyalism by such organisations as the UDA, LVF and Ulster Young Militant which he was a member of. He was a working class youth from a shit hole of an estate who, as far as I can see, joined the UYM to be one of the 'lads' and join in the regular riots in the area because there really is little else of any 'excitement' for these kids to do. 'Spacer' was buried wearing a Celtic football top with a UDA flag draped over his coffin, he was killed throwing a pipe bomb made by the UDA.

It is much the same on the other side of the 'peace line', kids with nothing better to do, and often from areas away from the flash-points, congregate in order to kick off a riot.

That the picket at Holy Cross amounted to the "cries of desperation of people who see their supposed position of privilege disappear" is far from the whole story. While not downplaying or excusing the appalling sectarian abuse and violence these children were subjected to it must be pointed out that Protestants have also been the victims of sectarian attacks across North Belfast. This may not have been co-ordinated, unlike the UDA/RHD pipe bombing campaign, but it has fed into a sense of grievance in many protestant communities in interface areas. This is an grievance which the UDA, the predominant Loyalist organisation in these areas, has been able to take advantage of.

This has not happened despite the peace process, the 'Belfast Agreement', as Gregor correctly points out "is as much the cause of this worsening situation as anything else". In fact in an area where we have what is regarded as a close Westminster seat, with Nigel Dodds (DUP) sitting and Gerry Kelly (Sinn Fein MLA) hopeful of taking the seat next time around, I would suggest that our sectarian political settlement is central to the escalation of sectarian violence. North Belfast has always been the worst hit area of the troubles, with around two thirds of the violent 'troubles related' deaths taking place on its streets.

More than seeing "supposed marginal privileges" disappear, and looking at Glenbryn and Tigers Bay, its hard to imagine any of the residents feeling 'privileged', most protestants feel that a united capitalist Ireland is on the cards and that Sinn Fein have ditched the long war in favour of the long wait. This is about demographics, territory and the balance of votes in an area.

There are also deeper problems across the north, even if the sectarian element of counting votes as 'unionist' or 'nationalist' at Stormont was removed we have the very real problem that for many working class people the 'other' community is across the street hurling bricks, bottles, petrol bombs, pipe bombs or shooting into/at 'your' community. Most people from working class areas go to exclusively Roman Catholic or 'protestant' (mostly state run as opposed to specifically Protestant in a religious sense) schools. We grow up in segregated housing estates, we drink in our 'own' pubs. It is therefore extremely easy for demonisation of the 'other' community to grow largely unchallenged. This is the reality for many people, who do not make a conscious effort to try and break out of their surroundings, sometimes by doing something as straight forward as drinking in a 'mixed' city centre bar, or perhaps getting a job in a mixed environment.

Yes, we must point out that working class people have more in common than they do separating them, and that while they "expound their energies on hating each other, it plays into the hands of those who are in power". This is essential but we cannot rely on vision alone. The breaking down of sectarianism needs wide-ranging and practical work and leadership by example. All too often the very idea of confronting the scale of division across the north seems overwhelmingly daunting.

Yes we have a mammoth task, but not in the long term an unrealisable one, we need to start breaking down the sectarian barriers where people do work together, we need to work for real integrated education for working class kids and a separation of church and education, we need to encourage people to work together for the benefit and well-being of our working class community. Only as Anarchists can we offer the practical implementation of our ideas along with our revolutionary vision, one that does not simply deal with the symptoms of sectarianism but which challenges the sectarian party political system, and capitalism itself, which have failed our class and which, far from being respectable and detached observers, lie at the very heart of our problems.

Jason Brannigan
Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation

[This is the full version of the letter, due to limited space an edited form was printed in the print edition]