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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sectarianism should be defined as a hate crime

Posted by Jim on October 26, 2017

Jim Gibney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday , October 25, 2017

HOW do you spot sectarianism, I asked myself as I read Sinn Féin’s One Community document which the party will debate at its Ard Fheis in a few weeks’ time and its campaign literature on the same theme #SUAS (Stand Up Against Sectarianism), which it launched a few weeks ago?

I remember a few years ago coming out of the lift on the top floor of the assembly and bumping into the north’s deputy first minster, Martin McGuinness, who was red in the face and clearly in a reflective and rushed mood.

I asked him how he was. He said it is difficult when you are dealing with bigots as he disappeared into the lift. He had just left a meeting with the DUP.

I stood beneath the large chimney pot towering over the yard of ‘C’ and ‘D’ wings in Crumlin Road jail. It was the spring of 1977.

I watched lads in their late teens and early twenties ‘bouling round the yard’, chattering away and animated, as young men are when they are together. You would think they were on a social outing.

In fact, many were walking a tightrope: balancing very grave matters indeed. Many of them would spend the best years of their young lives in jail – on the basis of forced statements usually composed by their RUC assailants.

Judges, educated in some of Ireland and Britain’s most prestigious universities, with trained minds to spot police brutality and injustice, dished out cruel justice that ruined lives.

I was 16. I was in competition with another 16-year-old for a plum job as an apprentice electrician. It was touch and go.

I was asked what school I went to. The other lad, a Protestant, got the job.

In the mid-1970s the Workers’ Party ran a poster campaign: ‘Sectarianism Kills Workers’.

In May 1975 I stood in Richard ‘Oatesy’ McErlean’s parlour in Thompson Street in Belfast’s Short Strand/Ballymacarrett area.

Two of his sons, John and Thomas, lay in the parlour side-by-side in their coffins. They had been killed by the UVF as they played cards in the loyalist Mount Vernon estate having been lured to their death by a work colleague.

In a rally of thousands in the mid-1990s outside Belfast City Hall, organised by trade unionists, I shouted with scores of others, at the platform party for failing to mention the sectarian killing of Catholics by loyalists.

The march was against sectarianism.

The northern State was set up on the basis of a crude sectarian head-count. How many Protestants were needed to keep Catholics and their united Ireland aspiration at bay?

Historically the English administration fostered political sectarianism using Protestant colonists from Scotland and England to hold Ireland for the Crown.

You can usually see racism based on skin colour. You can see homophobia and misogyny because specific groups – gays and women – are the target.

Sectarianism in the north is insidious because it was a cornerstone of the state. It was state practised and all classes played their part in ‘keeping Catholics in their place’.

State-sponsored sectarianism is visible and invisible, crude, sophisticated and divisive.

It dictated employment, education, housing and voting rights. It demeans, demoralises and disempowers its victims.

That is why in Sinn Féin’s One Community document it argues for it to be defined legally as a ‘hate crime’.

Opposition to it is driven by the principles of equality and parity of esteem – the bedrock of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

This is the only acceptable basis on which the north’s administration can exist in the all-Ireland framework of the GFA.

The document argues for the all-Ireland institutions of the GFA and the councils to drive opposition to sectarianism and for sectarian awareness training for the police, trade unions, public sector workers and for children to be educated about it also.

It calls on the GAA, rugby, soccer and boxing organisations to promote anti- sectarianism similar to the high-profile campaigns they ran against racism and homophobia.

Important anti-sectarian work is ongoing in local communities, civic organisations, education, business, sport and faith groups and with foreign nationals.

Sectarianism not only kills, it poisons the mind and the society that tolerates it or pretends it does not exist.

It does exist but there is no acceptable level of sectarianism permissible.

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