“The only thing terrifying about Belfast are the beer prices”

Matthew Collins, Belfast, August 2014

Matthew Collins, Belfast, August 2014

These days Matthew Collins is a leading anti-fascist campaigner and a Researcher/Northern Ireland correspondent  for the organisation HOPE not hate. But this wasn’t always the case.

Back in 1987, aged 15, he was a Mein Kampf-reading Nazi, flogging copies of National Front Newspaper ‘The Flag’ around south London housing estates before becoming a party organiser and touted as a future leader. He was also a volunteer at the BNP’s head office and active with violent neo-Nazi street fighters Combat 18.

540767_10150882986167927_172142165_nHis ‘conversion‘ came in 1989 when the BNP disrupted a public meeting in Welling, Kent. Bloody violence ensued and Collins questioned “what freedom of speech and fighting for British democracy had to do with stamping on little old ladies’ heads.” He was prompted to ring anti-fascist magazine Searchlight and gave the names of those involved in the carnage. His subsequent role as a mole led to death threats and forced exile in Australia (arranged by Special Branch) where he lived in hiding from 1993 to 2003. Since his return he has written extensively for Searchlight and subsequently HOPE not hate and in 2012 authored the acclaimed book “Hate: My Life in the British Far Right”.

We caught up with Matthew on a recent visit to Belfast.

You’re a frequent visitor to be Belfast, why?

It’s my third favourite city in the world. I like Northern Irish people, I like all Irish people regardless of their religion or politics. My father’s from Cork, my mother’s from Fermanagh so I’ve always had an interest in Ireland – Northern Ireland in particular – because as a young man I got involved in far right politics and there was an obsession about Northern Ireland and para-militarism. On my first trip to Belfast in 2004 I got to meet David Ervine, Jackie McDonald and Alex Maskey so I’ve been hooked on the place ever since. It’s a proper working class town. I call it a town because I don’t feel Belfast is a city because you can kick a football across it. I’ve just always really really liked Belfast. I’ve traveled the world and Belfast is a brilliant place. What makes it is obviously the people because everyone has a story to tell – although the stories aren’t always uplifting. As a spotty school kid from London who obsessed about the troubles, it still has a sense of mystery and danger and culture and it still has a general conversation which you can join in and fall out of.

You’re also a big fan of Crusaders F.C.?

I was drawn  to the Crues because I witnessed them doing some community stuff so I went to a game of theirs,  I dunno,  4 years ago in Portadown I think it was, could be longer, and ended up cadging a lift back to their ground on the Shore Road and to the social club. Next thing I know I’m in the back room holding the Irish F.A. Cup. In forty years of supporting Crystal Palace, I’ve never even had a tour of an empty dressing room. So I’ve been a bit hooked on them and their burger van ever since – superb curry sauce and chips.

Matthew Collins with the Irish Cup. Seaview, 2009

Matthew Collins with the Irish Cup. Seaview, 2009

All my mates say they follow Cliftonville etc, etc but I’ve never been to Solitude. I came over for the game v Cliftonville when the flag dispute kicked off and there was a really nice, quite genuine excitement about the game and Crues supporters were going to meet the Cliftonville fans and walk down together but instead hundreds of loons from across Belfast turned up to spoil it and the game didn’t go ahead. An absolute disaster because what they really didn’t want was Catholic and Protestant fans walking down the road together, it still really pisses me off because Cliftonville had a hell of a team. I think I’ve seen Crues play 20 or 25 times and I’ve never heard any racist or sectarian chants. It’s like an English non league team; why the fuck would you be racist or sectarian when you need decent players? They had a great player from the League of Ireland  called Michael Collins for a while. I dunno where he ended up, he was suitably half genius and half hatchet man but I think he struggled with our artificial pitch.  He always seemed to arrive a split second late for a tackle…

You mentioned the right wing obsession in England with loyalism, looking at some of your work you have highlighted factions who are pro united Ireland – how has that impacted the right?

In Britain the sort of old-guard Fascist Mosleyites and the descendants of that are sympathetic to republican ideals about a united Ireland whereas your 1970 National Front and the descendants of that which go through to the BNP etc. are very very pro-loyalist. In the past it has been a problem because obviously everyone is a Mosleyite and loves Mosley – the British Hitler. In the 80s I went to some Mosley fan club dinners and functions and of course they would all talk about Michael Collins and things like that because the Mosleyites actually believed that Michael Collins would have been a fascist. It’s bizarre. It’s all to do with O’Duffy, the Blueshirts and all that. There’s a Michael Collins association, not to be confused with anything that’s mildly progressive, which was run by people associated with the League of St. George, they basically think Michael Collins would have been an Irish Hitler.

In the National Front how was Ulster loyalism sold to you?

Nobody joins the National Front or the BNP because it’s a loyalist organisation, you join them because you hate black people and then you get involved and there’s a whole host of bizarre and daft things you have to believe; the holocaust didn’t happen, Jews are evil. You’re talking about political parties who recruit people on the basis of fear but also genuine misunderstanding and misconceptions about immigration. So you join this anti-immigration party and it’s like oh while you’re in here as well, we hate the Irish, we hate the IRA, Northern Ireland must remain British forever. It’s only like ten years ago I realised that Ulster has nine counties. So one of the things I like coming here is I spend loads and loads of time with Unionist people, I find them easy to get along with, bizarrely. I like drinking with them because they get messier and about 11 o’clock at night you say, you do know we are in Ireland? And one of the things that the fascists don’t understand about Unionism and loyalism, the majority of them acknowledge that and say, yeah I know we’re in Ireland. And if you’d told me that twenty five years ago I’d have gone no way. The majority of them say, yes we know this is Ireland, we share this island.

I’ve had an obsession with Irish politics and a warped interest since I was a kid who grew up with an  distant dispassionate Irish Catholic father, and obviously growing up in England, a constant picture in your living room on television about things that happen here, life that happens here. Then you get here and find that Belfast is spectacularly mundane, people are spectacularly average. But the most brilliant and wonderful thing is the people are very conversational and fantastically articulate with wonderful stories and of course the thing you always want to do is say, so what religion are you? In England they ask what football team do you support. I find unionists and loyalists over thirty years old are a lot more flexible, understanding and comprehending about post conflict Northern Ireland. I have friends who spend hours and hours on Facebook or on Twitter or in pubs banging on about, oh I love the IRA and all this kind of bollocks, they never come here. I know people in England who are still too terrified to come here and yet the only thing terrifying about Belfast are the beer prices. You talk about the legacy of war, I don’t know how they manage to justify charging what they do for a pretty average lager.

In part two we discuss racism, the BNP in Belfast, and David Ervine

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  • chrisjones2

    Its worse …… there is the terrible confluence of Wetherspoons …cheap beer and full of spides

  • Gerry Lynch

    He’s right about the price of drink in Belfast!

  • Reader

    Matthew Collins: I like drinking with them because they get messier and about 11 o’clock at night you say, you do know we are in Ireland? And one of the things
    that the fascists don’t understand about Unionism and loyalism, the
    majority of them acknowledge that and say, yeah I know we’re in Ireland.
    And if you’d told me that twenty five years ago I’d have gone no way.
    The majority of them say, yes we know this is Ireland, we share this
    island.

    Well, if they are that drunk by 11pm, I have a plan. On the day before a referendum, start them drinking and keep them drinking until the polls open. The extra 8 hours might befuddle them and loosen them up enough to think they are nationalists.
    The only problem is, the price of beer.
    (Most unionists I know don’t need to be drunk to say that they live in Ireland. Are you sure the ones you hang out with aren’t exploiting you for your hopes and dreams?)

  • Paolo

    He did say “most” Unionists. It was the Fascists who would not understand. I like the boy. He writes well.

  • chrisdbarnett

    “It’s my third favourite city in the world. I like Northern Irish people,
    I like all Irish people regardless of their religion or politics.”

    Erm…if you like Irish people, even those that are racist and fascist but won’t extend that standard to British people, then there is a word for that – racist!

    Matthew Collins, has always been a lying nutter, who must have been very good a finding nutters! Anyone in the BNP’s orbit who admits to admiring Mosley would quickly have their cards marked and quickly find themselves isolated.

    Collins has never made any sense. If he regarded himself as EVER on the side of the BNP, if his bullshit about old ladies being violently attacked in Welling (or wherever) had been true, he would have reported the whole thing internally within the BNP with a view of protecting the party’s interests.

    I suspect it’s not true, because he claimed that people who took part in the “attack” were chanting “We’re white we’re working class” – Yeah righty-oh.

    Then there is this gem that Collins claimed : “The party knew they had informers in their midst. Suspicion alone had
    led to broken legs or arms, being beaten unconscious, setting fire to
    your house, breaking all your windows. I felt scared for my family, but I
    had to do it.’

    If the BNP had ever broken anyone’s ligaments, beat someone unconscious, smashed in windows or burned down someones house, believe me, the press would hound us with the gory details for decades.

    “So you join this anti-immigration party and it’s like oh while you’re in here as well, we hate the Irish, we hate the IRA”

    The BNP has flown the Irish tri-colour at many meetings and events. If anything, statistically the Irish are over represented in the party, so how the BNP can “hate” the Irish is a complete mystery.

    When Nick Griffin was an MEP, no less than 3 of his staff claimed Irish ancestry…I’m one of them….oh and the party was actually founded by someone who had Irish ancestry!

    What a wicked lie for Collins to put about. But hey, that’s how low he would go. He’s quite happy for Irish and just about anyone else not exactly native to Britain, to be cowering in fear behind their curtains when a BNP activist calls around.

  • Duncan Cahill

    I shall defend my former work colleague here:

    I don’t know what you did for the BNP in Europe Mr Barnett but judging by the state they’re in I guess it was really, really important? Am I the only one confused by his rant? It gets weird as early as the 2nd paragraph and just seems to continue from there. Maybe Chris cannot read properly?

    “Anyone in the BNP’s orbit who admits to admiring Mosley would quickly have their cards marked and quickly find themselves isolated.” Perhaps he should read up on the history of his own party, including until recently the Editor of their irregular party magazine who was a former Mosley henchman until he quit of his own accord in 2011.

    Then there is Nick Griffin himself (for 15 years not quite isolated-see point 6 on here http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-bnp-when-you-watch-question-time-tonight-1806874.html)

    As for Welling library, maybe Chris should use google or even watch Nick Griffin admitting it happened and was “unfortunate” on various documentaries, including “Dead Man Walking” the BBC3 documentary in 2004 that asked Griffin about it.

    Plus, I can find no reference to Collins ever saying the BNP chanted “we’re white working class”-Chris can google that too, for himself. Or can he just provide us a link to it as there are hundreds of links where he says they (the BNP) just chant “BNP”.

    Whatever Chris did for the BNP he may not have had much access to google at all because if he did, all he would have to do is just google to find out how many BNP members are involved in beating people up. Chris,check this 1997 report into racist violence in the UK committed by BNP members: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d2PmadZOASYC&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=BNP+violence+and+assault&source=bl&ots=6BTj_FSQZK&sig=JTQ1VhQtuXubLUP1sZQNcLDpGEM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=9r_wU738Ieay7AaDrYGICg&ved=0CFIQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=BNP%20violence%20and%20assault&f=false

    Collins says the BNP hates the IRA and Barnett seems to think this is “also completely untrue”. Oh well then, Griffin has no problems with Fenians, then? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-19777479

    As for the other nonsense from poor Chris. I think he should read the article again because Collins has made the same point about the Anglo-Irish and the far-right.

    What a disturbed individual Chris is. And stupid

  • Duncan Cahill
  • chrisdbarnett

    “… including until
    recently the Editor of their irregular party magazine who was a former
    Mosley henchman until he quit of his own accord in 2011.

    Perhaps he quit because he felt isolated?

    As for your link to the Independent re Nick Griffin it doesn’t work.

    Regardless of what you can or can’t find on google, I know for a fact that Collin’s claims about the BNP in Welling etc are just bizarre. Of course weird and even regrettable stuff happened, but it’s funny how that only happens when there are Searchlight stooges about!

    “Chris,check this 1997 report into racist violence in the UK committed by BNP members:”

    That lists the names and BNP membership numbers? No of course not.

    Because psssttt….we know the drill.

    Media says “BNP is racist.” – then some racist knob end carrys out a racist attack, mumbling the BNP or whatever, then it’s all recorded as a racist attack by the BNP.

    Self perpetuating bullshit.

    “Collins says the BNP hates the IRA and Barnett seems to think this is
    “also completely untrue”. Oh well then, Griffin has no problems with
    Fenians, then? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-n…”

    If I called Collins a “fat c*nt” does it mean I have a problem with fat people?

    Like I said, it’s stupid to claim that Griffin has a hatred (and by implication the BNP) of Irish people, if he ended up employing so many people around him that are of Irish ancestry.

    It’s Collns and Hope Not Hate who are the racists, who are the ones that cause divisions in communities. They are quite happy to have immigrants and non-whites absolutely petrified of BNP activists.

    Collins is the hate-monger. He’s the one who is claiming that the BNP hates Irish people.

  • chrisdbarnett

    Do you know what the FIRST thing I was told when I said “I’ve not been on a BNP demo before.” ???

    They said to me, “Chris….the most important thing you should know, is that there will be a time, when someone will punch you clean in the face…whatever you do, do not hit that individual back because there will be a Searchlight photographer waiting with his finger on the button to photograph the returning punch or push to defend yourself…that….photo…and ONLY that photo will be the one that ends up in the hands of the police, with an assault complaint.”

    So there could have been an Irish flag that day, my point is that there is no way in this world Searchlight would ever publish it.

    By there by, there wasn’t one there that day…if that’s the Lee Rigby Westminster demo…there is no official dictate on it – we don’t have to make sure one is flying.

    The only (unwritten) rule that we have, is that if we are to photograph the tri-colour at a party event and publish the photo, there must also be a British flag OR (Preferably) a Northern Irish flag in the photo as well.

    With a lot of these things, it’s really down to each branch of the party. The more Irish connections the branch has, the more likely they are to fly the Irish tri-colour at any of their events.

  • chrisdbarnett

    And speaking of Welling library….what does Collins have against fish?

  • Comrade Stalin

    We have one Wetherspoons opposite Ormeau Avenue. Allegedly there is another one planned for the old Bank of Ireland building at the end of Royal Avenue (clearly intended to target some of the audience of the wonderful Hudson Bar).

  • Paolo

    Wow! This guy is disturbed even for a BNP member. Pity him. It’s the Christian thing to do.

  • Paolo

    I wouldn’t have wasted my time. I think most people realise the BNP kid is a little bit disturbed and a liar. We’re all aware what sort of shower the BNP is.

  • Paolo

    Didn’t the current BNP leader get convicted for slashing the tyres of some young boys, by the way?

  • chrisdbarnett

    “I love all Irish people no matter their religion on politics”

    Points out the obvious racism in this, along with how daft it is to accuse an entire organization of “hating” the Irish and I’m called “disturbed” WTF?

  • chrisdbarnett

    Who’s YOUR leader then?

    Come on then, sell me something better than Adam Walker. If you can’t, then Adam Walker remains my leader.