PBP councillor Matt Collins issued the following statement on violence in Belfast in the aftermath of Belfast City Council removing bonfire material.
“The recent violence across Belfast in response to the removal of bonfire material was wrong and should be condemned outright. Residents of these communities were left isolated and frightened in their homes. The majority of residents have come out against the violence and have long called for an end to the bonfires in question. But we should also be clear in condemning any reactionary calls to expel whole families from their community as a result of this violence.”
“The recent violence, of course, was more than just ‘anti-social behaviour’. It was also a reflection of the underlying alienation in working class and deprived communities - manifested in a destructive manner. Some of those engaged in violence are as young as twelve. Others grew up in the most poverty-ridden areas, which suffered terrible violence that has perpetuated through generations. In this context, I think it is inappropriate that some today have called for evictions and punishment, before looking at what support could be given to these families, and what support should be given to these communities as a whole to tackle prolonged issues of mental health, drug abuse and low pay. The reality of the situation is that increased state repression such as forced evictions will not work. Neither will paramilitary shootings, nor any other skin deep reactive measure bandied about when this type of situation arises.”
“In the special meeting of Belfast City Council that ultimately voted to allow the removal of bonfires, I proposed an amendment. I argued that any scheme to remove bonfire material should be led from the bottom up, by local communities affected by these bonfires and also informed by trade unionists who represent staff. Any serious approach to reduce bonfires should be instructed by this kind of approach, and I tried to amend the motion to this effect. Unfortunately my amendment was rejected, in what I think has been proven to be a serious mistake.”
“People Before Profit do not believe that bonfires have an inalienable right to exist on either “side” of the sectarian divide, whether erected under the guise of “culture” or not, especially if they involve displays of bigotry and are forced upon communities by a small minority. But we also believe that foremost in tackling this issue means challenging the state’s longstanding role in fostering sectarian division around bonfires, and demands maximum cohesion from local communities. Anything less would be hypocrisy, and indeed may make the problem worse.”
“And without this, working class youths with little opportunities who are living in the most deprived and impoverished areas of this city have little reason to listen to the hollow words of establishment politicians, who have spent the last decade propping up a sectarian state which presides over continual attacks on the living standards of ordinary people. Most importantly, we believe that we need to build a politics that unites working people across the sectarian division, a politics capable of fighting to uplift large parts of this city from poverty, deprivation and division.”