A 51 year old Polish bricklayer gets beaten in Belfast and a crowd of thugs go nuts. Poles think they are being targeted because they are Catholics. But it’s not religion that’s the problem.(photo: UVF - Loyalist paramilitary organization grafitti)
My mother’s family is from Country Antrim, Northern Ireland, and I live and work in Poland. So I have been following this story carefully.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that on 20 March…
‘…Shortly after 10pm a gang of up to seven men armed with baseball bats smashed through the doors of a house in Donegall Street.
They broke windows before attacking the 51-year-old householder [his name is Jurek] with a hammer. He suffered arm injuries and was later treated in hospital before being released…
Detectives believe the same gang, who all wore scarves to cover their faces, then attacked houses in Fortuna Street and Coolfin Street, breaking a number of windows. All the incidents are being treated as racist.’
At the same time a group of about 30 people from the Loyalist (Protestant) Donegall Road, Village area of Belfast were demonstrating about ‘antisocial’ behaviour of Poles who had moved into the area since Poland joined the EU in 2004.
Antisocial behaviour are buzz words in what passes off for British politics at the moment. It means noisy neighbours ,etc. Apparently, Poles in the area have been having some noisy parties and there have been reports of ‘urinating in the street’.
But the BBC reported that:
‘MP for south Belfast, the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell, accused those taking part in the protest of behaving "like Nazis".
"I have a lot of sympathy with the economic plight and difficulties on Donegall Road, and I have done much since I was elected MP to ensure government channeled resources into that area," he said.
"But how long can you go on turning the cheek in that situation when the people are behaving like Nazis?"‘
The attacks on Poles in Belfast this week are not isolated incidents. Last year, between April and August, 11 separate reports of verbal and physical abuse wee recorded against Poles by the police. One Pole told Radio Polonia:
‘Was I ever the target a racist attack? Yes, I was. I was coming back from work with my friends through the local park when a group of 5 Irishmen approached us. They were suddenly joined by 10 more people and started beating us up with wooden planks and anything else they could find. I was taken in an ambulance into a nearby hospital where I waited 4 hours for inspection. I often hear of similar attacks happening near Belfast. Is it about religion? Yes, it’s not about whether you are Polish or Lithuanian but whether you are Catholic.‘
There have also been similar incidents in Country Antrim, to the north of Belfast.
I try and tell Poles that not all Irish Protestants are anti-Catholic thugs. Not all of Billy’s Boys are bully boys. But that’s the type of coverage it has been given here. They are convinced that Poles are being attacked by anti-Papists.
But I don’t think so.
The Donegall area of south Belfast is rough. Unemployment, bad housing, the middle class and the better off moving out. The usual deprived area scenario.
That makes rent in the area cheap and Poles and other immigrants have gravitated towards it. When they get there, however, the reception is not always friendly. And not just for Poles. In December 2004, the BBC again:
'Two houses in the Donegall Road and Coolsin Street areas were badly damaged after being set on fire. The houses were occupied by Romanian and Pakistani families, but both were away on holiday. Also last month, two Chinese families and a Ugandan family were forced to leave their homes in the village area after being targeted on the same night.'
The area has been degenerating for some time. Money is being thrown at the place, community centers are being built, nice murals painted by children are replacing the old, Loyalist graffiti.
But crime levels in the area, by Belfast standards – low crime during the ‘Troubles’, but rising since the Good Friday Agreement, interestingly - are high.
And rightwing gangs feed off that sort of situation. The communities used to be able to police themselves – but no longer.
So Poles are not getting attacked in places like Donegall Road because they are Catholics – but because they just strolled into the wrong part of town.
Gangmasters exploiting Polish in Wales, wales.co.uk March 25