Belfast Telegraph

As local communities become increasingly diverse, a sinister new tribalism takes hold

In streets where sectarian graffiti has been replaced by racist slogans, Adrian Rutherford and Claire Williamson hear the concerns of worried residents

Faded paramilitary slogans scrawled on the walls of working-class areas of Belfast offer a grim reminder of the hate that once divided a city.

But as the sectarianism of yesteryear slowly heals, an ugly new prejudice is emerging.

The influx of migrants has reawoken the bitterness and bigotry of bygone times, with foreign nationals now a target for some people's rancour.

A grotesque legacy of the past, animosity is now grounded in a new, 21st century guise – race and nationality.

An issue which has been growing in recent months reached new depths this week when 11 members of a family from the Traveller community were targeted in a gun attack in west Belfast.

They had lived there for less than a week and had barely unpacked.

Young children, tired from a sleepless night, looked around in confusion as reporters and television cameras arrived at the place they had called home for only a short while.

Mother Kathleen Doherty said: "To the people that did it, God forgive them. And pray for them, because they judged us and didn't take any time to get to know us."

A woman who lives on the street said: "I am absolutely appalled. My mother has lived here for over 60 years and we cannot take it in. Everyone is entitled to live. This is racism."

The shooting came just hours after news that three young Polish people were brutally attacked by a 15-strong gang of thugs armed with golf clubs.

That incident took place on a strip of land which has been turned into a community football pitch on the boundary straddling the east and south of the city.

Painted on the walls are illustrations of team jerseys, including one in the colours of Glentoran FC.

A fading mural of George Best also watches over a new generation who dream of emulating east Belfast's most famous son.

A few streets away, loyalist murals and slogans recall a very different history.

However, once tight-knit communities have become more diverse and multicultural over the years as immigration, particularly from eastern Europe, increases.

One resident, who lives around the corner from the scene of Monday's attack, explained: "We used to know all the people in our street but not any more."

She says most of the migrants who live there now are from Poland, while others are Romanian.

None of them, she adds, have caused her problems.

Outside a bar, a couple of men claim their migrant neighbours are involved in various anti-social activities, but this is not backed up by residents.

Many locals are worried at the spate of attacks on foreign nationals, and are keen to stress it doesn't reflect their views.

One middle-aged woman, who calls herself Margaret, says she is alarmed by Monday's attack. "It's worrying. That type of thing is becoming more common," she said.

She points to a wall just a few feet away where anti-Polish graffiti has been freshly sprayed. "That's only new. I think it happened on Sunday night."

Other racial slurs had been daubed on a second wall but were quickly painted over by angry locals, who were determined not to be associated with the prejudice and the bullying.

There is a steely determination amongst many people not to allow the hatred to take hold. Yet a minority of thugs continue to bring terror to communities.

Earlier this month a Polish family fled their Mount Vernon home in north Belfast after two attacks in three days.

Yesterday, in the wake of the latest attacks, people were angry and disillusioned.

"It's very sad," reflected one woman. "We are still getting used to not hating each other without all of this."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph