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The community is not united against sectarianism

(by Suzanne Breen, Newsletter)

Thousands of people might take part in the anti-sectarianism rally at Belfast City Hall but only a fool would believe it will have a lasting effect on our society.

Anger at the killing of Gerard Lawlor and events in North Belfast is understandable. There is certainly no harm in trade union leaders meeting the UDA to urge an end to sectarian attacks.

But is the Irish Congress of Trade Union rally not really a waste of time? The demonstration is meant to show the community is united against sectarianism. The problem is, it isn't.

Sectarianism means different things to different people. Just listen to BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback. Everyone thinks everyone else is sectarian. The community is deeply divided over who started the recent trouble in north Belfast and what are the causes.

Protestants say the INLA was the instigator when it shot Mark Blaney in Ardoyne. This argument is made not just by tattooed thugs but by ordinary men and women in Protestant areas.

On the nationalist side of the peaceline, the reality is there was little condemnation of Mark Blaney's shooting among ordinary Catholics. Local SDLP councillor Martin Morgan "noted with regret" that this was the case.

Catholics in North Belfast say they have been subject to a UDA-orchestrated campaign of violence for months. They are willing to support any organisation which they see as standing up for them.

Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin activists who arrived at Rosapenna Court after a Catholic man was shot in the thigh were given a hard time by some residents who claimed the Provos had left them undefended.

Around 30,000 people attended the last trade-union organised rallies across Northern Ireland in January to protest against the killing of Catholic postal worker, Daniel McColgan.

Did that change the situation? Not a bit of it. Within hours, nationalist youths stoned buses carrying disabled young people to the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church and petrol bombed Protestant homes on the Whitewell Road. Protestant youths petrol bombed Catholic homes in Serpentine Gardens.

The Secretary of State, Dr John Reid, said he really believed Northern Ireland could turn the corner following the McColgan killing. He said the picture of Daniel's innocent, trusting young face had touched people in a way he hadn't seen before and he really believed things could be different in future.

It all sounded very nice but it was nonsense. Another equally young and innocent face, that of Gerard Lawlor, has unfortunately appeared in our newspapers and televisions in the past fortnight. And who believes his will be the last?

The UDA might turn the tap of violence off for a few weeks following ICTU's efforts but it won't be more than a token gesture. Rioters and gunmen will undoubtedly return to their old tricks in North Belfast and many ordinary residents will justify their actions.

Let's remember that we have seen these peace rallies before - in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In those days, they were generally directed against republican violence. Despite media hype and a feel-good factor for the organisers, they proved utterly irrelevant.

The Provo ceasefire followed years of secret negotiations with the British establishment and the Sinn Féin leadership's growing political ambitions. It had nothing to do with anti-paramilitary rallies.

The IRA didn't pay heed to 'peace' demonstrators. No matter how many thousands turn out this time, the UDA ultimately won't act any differently.

August 2, 2002

This article appeared in the August 1, 2002 edition of the News Letter.