Violence has again erupted in parts of the North, with potential for further strife in the coming days. People Before Profit share the deep dismay felt by thousands of working class people across the divide toward these developments. Vulnerable people, isolated communities, and already impoverished areas will be the first to pay the price for any escalation of violence. We unequivocally condemn it, therefore, and call for its immediate cessation.
We would point out, however, that events like these do not occur in a vacuum. Efforts to explain away tensions as the actions of mindless youth, or by anti-working class appeals to “bad parenting” will not suffice. Certainly, we should not be uncritical of those who have instigated or engaged in this violence. PBP are not. But we have to acknowledge that it has emerged within a context of some 18 months of rising sectarian tension, orchestrated by those at the top of society. Establishment politicians who have increasingly stoked division—but who now wag the finger at people involved in sectarian violence—have to take their share of blame for creating tensions, which invariably lead to conflict.
The normalisation of sectarianism—the well-worn strategy of the Northern state—has failed. For too long flagrantly bigoted displays of hate have been tolerated or facilitated by the state during the marching season. People Before Profit do not believe that bonfires, whether erected under the guise of ‘culture’ or not, have an inalienable right to exist, or to be funded or facilitated with public money. Especially if they are unwanted and foisted upon already beleaguered working class communities by a small minority, where there is a danger to public health, or where they espouse rotten sectarian or racist ideas. The disgusting attack on victims of the Ballymurphy massacre seen on one bonfire, references to killing all catholics on others, and the engulfing of photos or effigies of nationalists are stomach churning. This would not be acceptable anywhere else in the world, and it should not be acceptable here.
Who is surprised, then, that some people rise to this provocation? People have a right to be appalled at some of the grossly sectarian displays instigated by loyalists during the marching season. But we have to be clear, petrol bombs thrown into the Fountain estate in Derry—or other impoverished working class areas for that matter—will not challenge sectarianism. Instead, it will only reinforce division, strengthening the hand of those on both sides who set out to stoke it. Those that scrawl bigoted slogans on bonfires, or cover them in other sectarian paraphernalia, will be emboldened by petrol bombs landing in protestant housing estates. And attacks by nationalists on these areas will further isolate the voices in the protestant community who want to move beyond this division. Worse still, is the effort by some groups to use this sectarianism as cover to have another go at reigniting an armed struggle that is doomed to fail. The only way to challenge bigots is to bring people together. That’s what they fear the most.
The political establishment cannot wipe their hands clean of this violence. Few will take lectures from Theresa May’s Tory government—who continue to be propped up by a DUP guilty of some of the worst incidents of sectarian provocation in the last few years. Ironically, these events are occurring just as Theresa May’s vicious program of welfare reform is being rolled out in the very same communities where this violence is taking place. Those parties that afforded the Tories a free hand at implementing this assault on the working class—including Sinn Féin and the DUP—must acknowledge that this austerity deepens the alienation that causes division to grow. Poverty begets sectarianism—sectarianism begets poverty.
Several parties, including the DUP, have signed a joint statement condemning the violence. But this is just empty words giving their actual practice. Progressive forces should be calling out this hypocrisy, rather than giving them cover by putting their names on statements with the DUP. People Before Profit are proud that we did not join this charade. We will work with anyone genuinely interested in building a space where sectarianism can be challenged, and where we can begin to construct the kind of alliances needed to uplift our communities out of the misery that creates division.