A response to Derek Hanway's (director of Irish traveller organisation An Munia Tober) claims that those who defended the Roma under attack in Belfast in the summer of 2009 were pumped up vigilantes.
Derek Hanway’s article in the July/August issue of Fortnight magazine, among other inaccuracies and distortions, accused anti-racist activists of being pumped up vigilantes whose actions were counter-productive. He isn’t alone in that attitude, it is a position which has been whispered by many, from the voluntary and community ‘sector’, church ‘leaders’, bureaucrats and politicians and more publicly by the police.
Hanway betrays his lack of knowledge about the situation when he says anti-racist activists' presence outside Roma homes, which had been attacked, attracted unwelcome attention.
"Anyone with a knowledge of Roma people would have known about a general reluctance by Roma to attract attention," the director of An Munia Tober Travellers Centre said.
"While the Roma families were still in their damaged homes, they were being 'protected' by anti-racist activists. I witnessed many acting like pumped up vigilantes, some bringing cider carry-outs to the garden of one home. This response strengthened the Roma families' sense of fear and attracted more unwelcome attention to their homes."
True, 3 or 4 punks brought a couple of tins of beer while they sat-down outside the home, but they were very much a minority of those at the home, and were told that doing so was inappropriate. That said, they were among the few people who did bother to stay with the families all night on the Monday. Hanway can say what he likes, but he was not there helping these people defend themselves, and his ill-informed comments read like he did nothing more than drive by in a car. He clearly did not speak to the Roma families, who overwhelmingly welcomed the support from local residents, anti-racists and anti-fascists. They brought cups of coffee out to supporters and made abundantly clear that they very much welcomed the showing of solidarity demonstrated by locals and activists.
Hanway ignores the fact that there had been no publicity surrounding the attacks before Monday 15th June. The only unwelcome attention being visited upon the Romanian families was that of the racists who had persistently carried out attacks in the absence of any protests, defence or publicity.
The Socialist Party were right when interviewed by the BBC, that “The Roma families were extremely supportive of the stance that we took and if Mr Hanway was there he would have seen the hospitality we received from the families." The supporters only stayed with the Roma families as long as they were asked. When some supporters thought about leaving after repeated hassle from the police about the crowd outside the house, the families politely asked us to stay, and help them defend their homes.
It should come as no surprise that the only nights the houses were not attacked were those when a physical presence was visible. Hanway also bemoans the fact that the police did not realise the “damage” anti-racists were doing, wishing that they had acted to remove those acting in defence of the Roma families. Gary Mulcahy of the Socialist Party, who were central to the organisation of support for the families points out in their response to Hanway’s article that:
Mao Maughan On Channel 4 News a representative from the PSNI was unable to defend their inaction and admitted that the PSNI did not respond appropriately. The most effective defence of the homes was not to rely on the police; it was by organising local residents to be present outside of the homes. This approach, combined with the protest and publicity, succeeded in stopping the attacks.
It was the intervention of the authorities, church groups, liberal ‘do-gooders’, the political establishment and the Northern Ireland Executive who began a process of ‘repatriation’, encouraging the families to return to Romania. In doing so they are guilty of handing a victory to the racists.
This article was the continuation of a series of articles on anti-racism and anti-fascism in issue 2 of The Leveller (Aug-Oct 2009), the newspaper of Irish anarchist group Organise!.