“Horrified”. That is how Labour MP Kate Hoey described the news of masked contractors invading a community sports facility in East Belfast to tear down a self-funded hub, designed to provide education and mental health provision for young people, many of whom come from areas of social deprivation.
That was bad enough, but worse was to come. The twist in the battle of the hub took a sinister turn; it was revealed that not only was the hub not on the site illegally- but it was council officials who advised the club to place the structure on site and gave permission for it to remain on a temporary basis.
This little detail evidently wasn’t communicated by council officials to elected representatives, or if it was then Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance- the regular pan-nationalist coalition- simply ignored it believing they could deny it was ever agreed. The recording of the meeting put an end to that strategy.
I also wonder, as I often do, about the role of the PSNI. This was slightly different than those appalling apocalyptic scenes we seen in July went hundreds of officers descended into East Belfast; at least in that case there was a court order, albeit a rather ropey decision given by Justice Keegan at a time that allowed no time to appeal.
On Tuesday morning, there was no court order, simply a ‘request’ for assistance. On what basis was this request acceded to?
Did PSNI put a memorandum of understanding in place, as required by law, in order to carry out a joint operation with a statutory body corporate? If not, why not?
Further than this, given the countless health and safety breaches, are the PSNI accepting liability for this given it appears this was a joint operation?
I suspect PSNI will say they were simply ‘observing’ following a request for assistance. This would be an interesting line of defence; will they be providing assistance in all private civil disputes?
For example if Mr A rents a property to Mr B, and Mr B places a shed in the back garden. If Mr A rings the PSNI and asserts (without any judicial oversight) that this should not be on his land and breaches the tenancy agreement, will the PSNI accompany Mr A to knock the shed down?
The tenant and landlord comparison is actually quite apt, because East Belfast have a partnership agreement with Belfast City Council. So on what basis did the council feel they would be required to enlist the services of the PSNI or masked contractors?
All of the aforementioned is, as Kate Hoey MP rightly said, horrifying. We need to look beyond it however, and instead look at the institutionalised sectarianism within Belfast City Council and a range of statutory agencies.
Thanks to the perverse Belfast Agreement nationalist activists have taken their politics into the civil service, into the police and across various professions. Quite often such inviduals fail to discharge their workplace duties with impartiality and fairness, instead using the workplace as an extension of their political activism.
The purpose beyond such institutionisled sectarianism, which is the root of cohesive sections of the unionist community being treated as second class citizens, is to bring down the social cohesion of working class unionist communities.
If a community has no common identity, no social cohesion and no shared interests, then it isn’t really a community at all. It is fractured and easily turned into a complaint underclass.
The bands and Orange Order are targeted in order to break cultural cohesion.
Social clubs are targeted to break social cohesion.
Predominately unionist football clubs are targeted in order to break a common community bond achieved through sport.
Unionists seeking to engage in journalism or the media are subjected to relentless attempts to de-platform them. I know, because I am the prime target. The purpose for this is that a community earmarked as the underclass can’t be allowed to articulate political arguments or hold the state to account; because such accountability and discourse would expose the agenda of demonisation.
That is way Saturday’s protest at East Belfast is, for me, about much more than the horrifying scenes of masked mercenaries tearing down a community hub. It is about the relentless targeting of one community, about the institutionalised sectarianism that by stealth is spreading its tentacles at a rapid rate.
Of course there are some happy to sit idly by and say nothing. Quite often funding is a convenient way to buy silence.
“For what so shall it profit a man, to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul”
This article first appeared in UnionistVoice.com