Race less a factor than culture of violence?

Though it’s always hard to quantify such things, the apparent growth in race-related crime in Northern Ireland has disturbed many. Mary O’Hara in the Guardian has been back to the city recently and provides a thoughtful, thought-provoking analysis. In particular she suggests that the reason for the crime may not actually matter to the perpetrators. It may simply be that it has become the norm in some parts of the community. Thanks to Mark for the heads up!

She draws on some insights gained from local research:

Politicians and organisations such as the Northern Ireland Commission for Human Rights (NICHR) and the Institute for Conflict Research (NIICR) are pondering why a community so long ravaged by bigoted attitudes appears to be embracing fresh ones. Some speculate that Northern Ireland’s legacy of violence makes it unusually fertile ground for racists and homophobes. When a young gay man was attacked outside a Belfast club last year in an ostensibly “gay bashing” incident, his assailant called him a “Fenian bastard”, as if the reasons behind the violence were blurred beyond recognition – as if the violence itself, and not the target, mattered.

Neil Jarman, of the NIICR, suggests that the hostile reactions may partly be the shock of the new, coinciding with Northern Ireland’s recent prosperity. Most incomers are economic migrants, seeking employment in food processing and agriculture, often in small towns or poorer working class areas. Jarman says that in such places “a period of adjustment” is to be expected, but what is needed is better support and education for local people.

Nevertheless, Jarman concludes that there are factors unique to the culture and history of Northern Ireland. A “suspicion of difference” is entrenched. It is a more conservative, religious society than the rest of the UK. “There is a very strong sense of hostility toward the gay community coming from some religious quarters and this really does have an impact on how people think and behave,” he says.

  • 6countyprod

    Union flags billowing from lamp posts, and streams of red, white and blue bunting draped across streets. The sectarianism, and intolerance it represents, chills me just as it did when I was growing up in Belfast in the 1970s and 80s

    Yeah, right Mary, and the sectarianism and intolerance represented by the tricolours and green, white and orange kerbstones littering the rest of the six counties chill the rest of us.

  • canwebanulstermnaplease

    you just don’t get it do you 6countyprod?

  • Mick


    Can you explain?

  • 6countyprod

    CWBUP, Call me paranoid if you wish, but it seems like Mary is portraying racists and homophobes as being from only one side of the sectarian divide.

    With a first paragraph dripping with partiality, and a line like: in an ostensibly “gay bashing” incident, his assailant called him a “Fenian bastard”, I don’t even want to get it.

  • Fraggle

    6countyprod, in the last week , I’ve driven from Belfast to Monaghan several times. I was struck by the TOTAL absence of any tricolours along my route. I passed many loyalist paramilitary, scottish, northern ireland, union and GAA flags but even in south armagh, I didn’t see a single tricolour. The last tricolour I saw was on the Sinn Fein centre on the Falls Road so it seems that after travelling from monaghan, through south armagh to Belfast, I had to go to the Falls Road to be ‘chilled’ by a tricolour.

  • carlosblancos

    No disrespect but the main point is being missed here. While there has been an increase in race and homophobic attacks, there is no evidence to suggest that compared to other regions its any higher here.

    I always take the Guardian and its moral panic writings with a pinch of salt. Something tells me that it quite likes sermonising from Farrington Rd about poor uncivilised N.Ireland. And just like we have self-hating Prods, London is full of self-hating Northern Irelanders who will happily offer their own ‘interpretation’.

    Also why the shock that “Graffiti declaring “keep the streets white” and “asylum seekers go home” has appeared?….Such slogans appear throughout Europe…we were probably free from the uncivilized wretches who write such nonsense before because they were too busy going around fighting for Ulster/Ireland. It doesn’t take Einstein to work out where they’d vent their fury once that conflict was over.

    Personally I think London papers should look closer to home next time they fancy an ‘expose’ on racism.

  • 6countyprod

    Fraggle, in the past fortnight I have been in all 6 northern counties, along with 5 southern counties. I seem to recall seeing a lot more tricolours in nationalist areas in the north than I did in the southern counties. I wasn’t keeping track, but the ones I clearly remember were in Newry, the southern hills of Fermanagh, on the NI side of the Donegal-L/derry border, Stabane, and the Garvaghy road.

    We are getting rather trivial, aren’t we?

  • GavBelfast

    Flying high from the top of the blocks of flats between York and Antrim Road, big tricolours on each one.

    (Plus other pleasantries).

    There are plenty of tricolours and black flags about the place, but there’s much more “loyalist” stuff, though obviously there’s a particular peak right now.

    Not seen so many Israeli and Palestinian ones this year to date, though, so not all doom and gloom.

  • David

    The Guardian piece is interesting.

    There is a whole community relations industry in Northern Ireland which receives large tranches of taxpayers money. Much of this is premised on the idea that violence has a “root cause” and that the “root cause” is community division or community attitudes towards “the other side”. The community relations industry tries to make communities feel good about others or themselves as a way of eliminating this supposed root cause.

    My own view is that much of this community relations industry is misconceived. It disregards the fact that human nature is fundamentally flawed and all human beings have a tendency towards evil. It also fails to appreciate that many violent people actually enjoy violence.

    The suggestion made in the article about a “culture of violence” is in my opinion much nearer the mark. Many people have violent urges, yet if social and moral restraints are placed on them they will exercise self control and not act on those urges. Here in Northern Ireland these restraints have been eroded by political theories that rationalise and glorify violence. This leads to violence becoming acceptable and it is hardly surprising that those who enjoy violence then disregard the political theories that gave them free rein in the first place when this becomes inconvenient and go looking for other people (usually powerless people who cannot strike back) to inflict violence on.

  • aquifer

    There are people out there for whom violence is a bloodsport for sure, whatever colour their football shirt, and they pick on targets who are not expected to fight back successfully.

    Immigrants are likely to have poor local and family connections, and no paramilitary or security force ones, and are at risk.

    We need convictions. We actually need entrapment.

  • kevser

    I’ve lived and worked in germany for the past 10 years.
    I must say that it continues to shock me how different the british and german media/political cultures are.
    Read the british/irish newspapers, listen to the pols. violent racist reactionary language is the norm. Its not even questioned.
    Even so called left wing commentators can refer to the french in a racist manner and it isnt even an issue.
    I find theres a place reserved for violence and aggression in the cultural life of the british isles which is very disturbing. I know i’m being lazy with my regional references, but it must be admitted that ireland and great britain, to a large extent, share a similar political and social climate (comapre to other european countires).
    I of course, for many years, accepted this state of affairs as normal, not knowing anything else.
    But after so many years away and utilising the amazing resources the internet has given us, its quite easy to make realtime comparisons in the way stories are related and the language that is used.
    Celebrate the battle of trafalgar anyone?
    Does noone see how blatently bizarre that is?

  • blue-kite

    A couple of comments:

    I agree with you Carlos – I think the article may have some basis but is predestined to link sectarian hatred to other kinds of hatred (racial/homophobic) before it was ever written and it suffers because of it. I don’t buy the correlation.
    I was born in NI but lived a lot in Wrexham… it had its own race-riot only 2 years ago. Not surprisingly it was a working class deprived area of the town, not unlike the areas where most of the incidents in NI occur. Look to the real roots of the problems – the urban deprivation, the lack of hope, change etc – and not to contrived sectarian stuff. Too easy.

    GavBelf… I did see some Israeli flags somewhere below Cave Hill but no palestinian around Falls… last month or so.


  • Betty Boo

    I still remember with shame the racist attacks in the former GDR after the fall of the wall. At the time it was explained by the sudden loss of nearly all the facilities for young people by the state, the vacuum arising from it, leaving them in an environment where the toughest succeeds and everything is to believe possible.
    Children as young as five taking part now in acts of vandalism.
    It is not locally defined nor does it take two opposing communities.
    It is what we’ve created.

  • David


    Plenty of individual Germans believe all sorts of Jewish conspiracy theory claptrap. This type of thing is pretty rare in the UK outside the BNP and is largely unheard of in Ireland since the priest who whipped up the Limerick pogrom retired. I also see that Synagogues and Jewish bookshops often need police guards over there.

    Best not to become too complacent I’d suggest…

  • IJP

    I have to say I’m wary of alarmist journos (for example, I live here and have never seen any of the graffiti referred to), but this is an excellent paragraph:

    it is hard not to conclude that the anger, distrust and isolation inculcated by sectarianism and segregation over the years has spawned a deeper and more profound form of intolerance, not just each community fearing the other, but a broader, potentially lethal fear of difference. It is not a good omen for a place that must face up to the challenge of diversity.

    Until we remove the ‘right to segregation’ we will be left with fear, distrust, loathing, intolerance and violence.

  • Eddo


    Absolutely right, ditto when we cease giving organizations who celebrate difference and perceived/actual supremacy over other human beings rights to parade that sense of supremacy over other humana beings in front of other citizens and when the mainstream media colludes in the protrayal of those organizations as valid cultures worthy of the respect and tolerance of others.

    Racism is not exclusively an orange or loyalist phenomenon or indeed a working class one here but it is scarecly surprising that it is most noticebale in working class loyalist communities which are steeped in orangeism, loyalism is deeply rooted in the politics of reaction so it’s entirely natural you’d have a more pronounced sense of racism there. Those of us who have lived and worked in London will be all too aware however that racism is also rife among some sections of the Irish working class there, there is also evidence of racism, perhaps more sporadically, among sections of irish nationalism in the North. Such is nationalism everywhere.