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Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00

Reinventing the wheel of sectarianism

by Lynda Walker

The factors behind recent loyalist violence in Belfast

The attacks on demonstrators in Belfast over the past week have again highlighted the fragile peace that exists in our community.

The demonstration, to commemorate the use of internment in 1971, was organised by what the media calls "dissident republicans" and "anti-peace process republicans."

It brings to light three connected issues. The first is the right of people to protest peacefully, the second is the role of the Parades Commission and the third is the continuing abuse of civil rights. There is also a fourth issue - and that is the upsurge of sectarianism.

On August 9 a demonstration was organised by Anti-Internment League, supported by Republican Network for Unity, the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and others.

One of the organisers Dee Fennell claimed that "political activists are being held for up to two years on remand before having charges dropped or beating them in court."

The demonstration prompted some loyalists to hold "counter-protests," which in effect turned into a riotous attack on the marchers, police, pubs and businesses.

The Communist Party of Ireland condemns the use of violence to prevent this demonstration taking place, and we call upon people in loyalist communities to ask themselves in whose interests they are holding such protests which will result in people - especially young people - being criminalised purely for sectarian purposes.

Amazingly, the Parades Commission gave loyalists the go-ahead to hold six counter-protests.

Amazing because loyalists quite often do not abide by decisions of the Parades Commission, because the Democratic Unionist Party, which represents a sizable section of loyalists, does not recognise the Parades Commission and because the commission itself should have known that it would result in violence.

The whole issue of "shared space" was called into question over the right to demonstrate, but this issue is a minefield in that some want the space but have no intention of sharing.

And while the republicans have a perfect right to walk the streets of Belfast, at the same time there is a need to build a cross-community movement that will challenge attacks on civil rights and that will bring in a bill of rights.

In the past our anti-internment banners called for the "release of loyalist and republican prisoners."

If we have learnt anything from the past it has to be that unity is strength.

Yet again the DUP has provided some unsavoury "role models" in the form of Ruth Patterson, who put comments on Facebook endorsing a fictional account of a massacre of senior Sinn Fein members.

While she later issued an unreserved apology, the point is that the cat was out of the bag.

Had she not apologised she may have been prosecuted under the Incitement to Hatred Act.

In addition, DUP Assembly member William Humphrey in a radio interview was asked 18 times in a row, but refused to directly condemn the attack on the Belfast Lord Mayor Mairtin O'Muilleoir when he went to open the refurbished Woodvale Park.

Last Thursday night several bonfires were lit in Belfast to mark anti-internment night 1971. This again turned into a violent confrontation.

It should be remembered the Festival of the People - Feile an Phobail - grew out of the anti-internment protests, to steer people away from what in effect became "recreational rioting" and drinking binges, turning it into a celebration of culture and a critical analysis of politics, and to remember those who were interned and who fought for civil rights past and present.

It feels as though we are reinventing the sectarian wheel instead of building a united working class that can raise us up from the ashes of violence.

Lynda Walker is chairwoman of the Communist Party of Ireland

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