Loyalists greeted members of an Irish language rally last weekend with Nazi salutes.
Around 10,000 members of the Irish language community took part in ‘An Lá Dearg’ on Saturday afternoon in a protest demanding an Irish language act in the north and greater government support for Irish speakers.
Several thousand children from Irish language primary and secondary schools across the island were among those taking part in the rally. Despite criticism of its role in implementing cutbacks in the Irish language sector, Sinn Fein also had a presence in the march.
“My heart is bursting with pride”, said Caoimhe Ní Chathail, a member of the organising committee. She said that the event was “just the beginning”.
“Today we are making a stand, but tomorrow we will be engaging with our elected representatives to compel them to act to keep their promises in the hope of a better and brighter future for the language - free from hostility, discrimination and demonization,” she said.
“The language threatens no one and enriches us all. We ask only for the legal protections of our rights and that the promises we have heard are made real in practice.”
Some marchers were said to be intimidated, however, when they were met by around 20 loyalists on a small stretch of road in the city centre. The group could be seen jeering, intimidating and hurling anti-Irish insults at members of the rally from behind a police line.
Images later emerged appearing to show possibly more than one loyalist giving a Nazi salute as the rally passed by. Loyalist paramilitaries such as the UVF and UDA are known to have connections with Neo-Nazi groups in England such as Combat 18 and the National Front.
Recently racist leaflets, claiming to be from the ‘British Movement’ were put through the letter boxes of homes in north Belfast.
The UVF is behind an upsurge in racist attacks. Statistics have shown that over the past year there has been an increase of more than 43% in such attacks across the Six Counties, mostly in Belfast. The UVF had been found to be orchestrating “ethnic cleansing” in south and east Belfast, the Policing Board was told by a PSNI representative this week.
Unionism in general has also been moving steadily to the right in its politics, and that trend was confirmed this week when the DUP urged its supporters to give transfers in the upcoming elections to the UK Independence Party. UKIP has extreme anti-immigrant policies.
DUP leader Peter Robinson also state that no unionist should transfer their vote to the moderate unionist Alliance Party, which he said could no longer be considered a “small ‘u’ unionist party”.