8 Jul 2015

Racist flags taken down across NI ahead of loyalist bonfires

Sectarian tensions in and around Belfast are rising ahead of next week’s bonfire night and the annual July 12 Orange Men parades. Swastika and Confederate flags have been removed over the last week.

A number of racist flags have been removed from areas bear a loyalist bonfire site in Carrickfergus, just north of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Several Nazi flags featuring the Swastika and the Confederate flag, seen above in this picture taken by The Irish News, were among a number of other sectarian flags flown around the site of the bonfire, ahead of the annual 11th night bonfire festival due to take place across Northern Ireland this weekend.

Confederate flag

The Nazi flags have been taken down, police said, but the Confederate flag remains, police say. The incident is not being treated as a hate case at this stage. PSNI Superintendent Ryan Henderson said:

“PSNI actively engaged with community representatives who thankfully were able to bring good sense and influence to bear, leading to the removal of most of these flags. The people of Carrick will be glad that these unwelcome symbols were quickly take down, though at this stage one Confederate flag remains and the community are working hard to have this removed.”

Last week the Confederate flag was placed outside the home of a black footballer in east Belfast. It was removed after a few days by his teammates from East Belfast FC, with the support of East Belfast ACT a community programme supporting former loyalist paramilitaries.

‘Knee-jerk reaction’

Dr William Mitchell, director of ACT, told Channel 4 News all the flags represent a knee-jerk reaction by some elements of the loyalist community to the political tensions building ahead of this year’s festival.

“It is people reacting to people tensions around the bonfires this year. There is no way anyone within the community in Carrick, or any community connected with loyalism would be supporting Nazism, in fact quite the opposite; alot of people who are associated with the principles of loyalism fought and died to oppose the Nazis during the Second World War.”

Earlier this week a group of masked men posed alongside sectarian graffiti threatening to crucify “Taigs”, a derogatory term for Catholics, in a picture posted on social media. The men featured in the picture are armed with a number of weapons including a pick axe.

The picture was taken at Belfast’s Broadway roundabout – one of the main intersections of the city through which tourists coming from Dublin travel would pass on their way into the city centre. A PSNI spokesman told Channel 4 News they were investigating the images and urged the public to come forward with any information they may have.

The picture appeared on the same day that police seized 11 petrol bombs in west Belfast after a group of young people were seen carrying a crate of explosives down an alleyway in the Bog Meadows area, close to where the picture was posted.

The threat comes after a month of anger from members of the loyalist community during which at least six bonfires were deliberately ignitied ahead of the July 11 event. The PSNI told Channel 4 News they are investigating the burning of four of the bonfires as “hate incidents” and have arrested one man over the burning of the Sandy Row bonfire on June 25 – traditionally one of the biggest in Belfast, police said.

“At this stage it is believed that a bonfire sited in the area has been deliberately ignited which has led to disturbances in the area. One man in his 30s has been arrested as a result of the disturbances and is in custody helping police with their enquiries.”

Community workers across the city say they are increasingly anxious about the spate of attacks and disturbances across the city. A youth worker from a loyalist area of the city, speaking on the condition of anonmynity for his safety, told Channel 4 News, tensions had been heightened by the perceived acts of ‘sabotage’ ahead of this weekend’s events.

“There has been a number of cars going around with petrol bombs in the back and firing them at bonfires to burn them early. At the moment there is a lot of republicans who are trying to heighten tensions.

“It is just getting out of hand. What is clear to me is that there is a demonisation of loyalist culture and these burnings are deliberately trying to heighten tension to provoke violence.”