Today, the interview given by MLA Anna Lo has added another blow to those whose hearts are heavy at the unfolding racism row dominating our airwaves this week.
That a consummate politician with a public profile in Northern Ireland, who has lived here since 1974 (this is her home as much as anyone else’s) – to be announcing that she is leaving politics and considering leaving here altogether, speaks volumes.
She’s likeable, and has attracted something which tends to be difficult for Alliance, a huge chunk of the Nationalist vote in South Belfast. She did that by breaking down barriers, and through sheer hard work.
She does not deserve to be attacked, bullied, followed, kicked, demonized, or to have bullets sent through the post. She does not deserve to have insulting and disgusting public remarks made about her. No one does.
Northern Ireland is a sick, sick place, and contained within it are some sick, sick people. People who lack in educative awareness, who have no respect for diversity, whose minds are entrenched in every ‘ism’ . Sectarianism. Racism. Xenophobism. People who don’t want to think outside their own confines. They are afraid of change, because change for them is unfamiliar. They’re comfortable with the ghetto. And those minds are fanned, and that thinking endorsed and ignored by ill thought out weasel words from people within this society who should know better. People in positions of so called leadership.
Anna Lo is also afraid, and she has stated that she feels vulnerable. We’ve known it since witnessing disgraceful catcalls at her on our TV screens, through her interviews, and through watching vile and disgusting comments on social media sites. And, apart from an #istandwithanna twitter hashtag, which lets face it does nothing only give us an outlet to vent frustration; what have we done about it?
As ridiculous as it may seem, Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers have still not published the long waited for Race Relations Strategy. Not. Good. Enough.
For too long, race attacks have been carried out across the board here, in both Nationalist and Loyalist dominated areas. However, the recent escalation of attacks has undoubtedly come from some pockets of Loyalism, who, not content with holding the rest of Northern Ireland to ransom over flag protests at huge cost to the taxpayer, have branched out in their irrational fear and hatred of anyone else who isn’t “on their message”.
Where are the responsible leaders of Loyalism? The PUP, TUV, DUP, UUP, UKIP and anyone else within the Loyalist community who should be standing shoulder to shoulder with Anna Lo? Where are the UDA and UVF representatives within communities? Where are they when they are needed to send out a message to the more ignorant members of that community to stop?
They need to lead from the front, and unequivocally condemn it. Not to do so is an absolute abdication of influential social responsibility.
This is not about politics. It is about an inexcusable campaign of bile using minions to deliver a message that Loyalism is supreme, and that everyone else is inferior. It is not about political opinion which of course everyone is entitled to, either. It is racism dressed up as “freedom of speech”. Pure and simple.
Anna Lo deserves our support. She has served all of the people in her constituency without fear or favour. She is entitled to have views on issues such as sovereignty here, as much as the next person. If you don’t like it, don’t vote for her. Plenty of people do, and did. On this issue, she has become a figurehead for every person in Northern Ireland of a different ethnicity or religion ; people who regard Northern Ireland every bit their home as much as we do.
We owe it to her, and to them to tackle racism properly, starting with a tangible and workable race relations strategy which actually makes a difference. No point in blowing hot air about it, politicians, by voicing support on Twitter.
Plenty of hot air in Northern Ireland as it is already.