A new book on Irish racism explains how racial violence in the North cannot be combated without dismantling state racism.
Anyone who reads IRR News will be aware of the serious level of racial violence in the North of Ireland. In fact it was Bill Rolston writing for IRR News who first explained how to interpret, in terms of housing settlement and the Catholic/unionist divide, horrific attacks to chase ‘foreigner’ families from their homes in the Village, South Belfast in 2004. (Read Bill Rolston’s IRR News article.) Now, a new book looking at the whole of Ireland, After Optimism? Ireland, Racism and Globalisation by Ronit Lentin and Robbie McVeigh puts the issue of Loyalist racism into the larger context of state racism – and the very particular form that it takes in the Six Counties.
It is important to realise how racism has been woven into the Northern Ireland statelet – first through colonialism, then with partition which specifically created a ‘racial state’, later through the imposition of direct rule and finally in the ascendancy of the Democratic Unionist Party in 2005. The authors show how, caught between autonomy and direct rule, Northern Ireland seems to experience the worst of all worlds where racism is concerned.
Asylum, migration and citizenship policy (powers which will never devolve) are determined by the British state; policing and criminal justice (which may devolve at a later date) are also determined by Britain. ‘The Northern Ireland “racial statelet” – subordinate to British state racism, but also exhibiting its own autonomous racial logic – is the key determinant of racism in the north.’
But understanding the new forms of popular racism in Northern Ireland means understanding the changing relationship of Loyalism to the state. The Protestant working class has, through globalisation, the peace agreement and the imposition of the market, lost its privileged position. And vicious racism is the response. Instead of clamping down on the racism – so evident in blatant attacks on Chinese people and migrant workers – the state which is often in dialogue with such groups – pretends that Loyalist paramilitaries are neither sectarian nor racist. The Independent Monitoring Commission has, according to Lentin and McVeigh, wilfully ignored paramilitary racism though the links between extreme rightwing groups based in England and groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association are well known. ‘We have organisations well experienced in terror, well equipped with weapons, systematically engaging in racist violence and working with the imprimatur of the state.’
But, conclude the authors, one should not blame Loyalist communities for racism, but blame the state. It is the state which refuses to confront racism and holds to a useless and outmoded ‘community relations’ model. It is the state that does little to prevent racist policing; it is the state which imprisons asylum seekers and teaches the population to fear them; it is the state that denies basic rights to migrant workers (a Ukrainian worker, forced to sleep rough, lost her legs to frostbite); it is the state that colludes in racist violence.
‘Where states lead, others follow. It is hardly surprising that the most pro-state, pro-British communities in the north of Ireland begin to manifest their “loyalty” to that state by mimicking British state racism and “defending” communities in the same brutal, racist way.’
Read Bill Rolston’s IRR News article: Legacy of intolerance: racism and Unionism in South Belfast