Racism and sectarianism are indistinguishable: both are used to dehumanise and incite hatred.
The support from senior DUP politicians for Pastor James McConnell after his public attacks on the Islamic faith and Muslim citizens says much about a mind-set prevalent within sections of political unionism.
There is no difference between “trusting” Muslims to go to the shop, and the mind-set which “trusted” black Americans to pick cotton in the Deep South, or black South Africans to be house servants under apartheid. And there’s no difference between that, and the sectarianism upon which the northern state was built; the ethos of which was infamously summed up by James Craig’s boast, “that we have a Protestant parliament and a Protestant state”.
Racism and sectarianism are indistinguishable. Both are used to dehumanise and incite hatred.
One year before the Good Friday Agreement, James Morgan, a sixteen-year-old Catholic, was picked up by unionist paramilitaries outside Annesborough. They beat him to death with a hammer, set him on fire, and threw his body into a pit of animal carcasses. A year later in Ballymoney, unionist paramilitaries burned to death three Catholic children at home; Jason, Mark, and Richard Quinn, aged 8, 9 and 10 years.
Those responsible for such depravity were motivated by a sectarian mind-set which remains endemic within northern society. These attitudes, and support for sectarian segregation between Catholics and Protestants have encouraged the growth in racism here.
The recent public racist commentary, and dramatic increase in ongoing violent racist attacks against ethnic minorities is a product of sectarianism.
All this is happening because of insidious demonization, which is very real, and not at all nebulous.
Attempts to down play the significance of racist attitudes and attacks here are inexcusable.
There should be no tolerance for either racism or sectarianism.
New, and improved legislation is required to protect all citizens from persecution, discrimination, and hatred because of their religious faith, ethnic origin, or cultural identity. No section of our community should made to live in fear. That’s another reason for a Bill of Rights.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has just completed an outstanding year as Belfast’s Mayor. He made mutual respect and tolerance for difference, and celebration of our community’s diversity, emblematic of his term of office.
Hopefully cultural and ethnic diversity will continue to grow throughout the north.
Racism and sectarianism are ideologies of hatred and division. They have no place in Irish society.
Those who tolerate or promote such thinking are opposed to the development of a pluralist, multi-cultural, and agreed Ireland.
Declan Kearney is Sinn Fein's national chairman