Mass commendation has greeted the display of a Klu Klux Klan flag in an east Belfast residential area on the eve of the North’s unionist marching season.
The blue flag representing the New Order Knights or KKK was spotted displayed from a lamppost off Island Street on Monday. It was illustrated with words Klu Klux Klan, an Aryan eagle and the red KKK cross logo. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) removed the flag on Tuesday.
The Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson said, “It’s absolutely outrageous. How some local idiot puts up a flag and gets a reputation for the area.
“This does not represent the people of east Belfast. It does not represent the unionist or loyalist community.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein added that there was “no place” in the North for “racists, racism or sectarianism.”
Overall, reported racist attacks have jumped a shocking 43 percent in the past year.
Ulster Unionist Party Member of the Legislative Assembly Michael Copeland said, "I welcome the fact that the flag has been swiftly taken down, but it should never have been put up in the first place.
"A defunct American racist organization has absolutely no connection or affinity with the people of east Belfast."
In the US, the Ku Klux Klan has had a number of iterations, the second of which began in 1915 and centered on the spread of nativist, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-semitic views.
The KKK does not have an established history in Ireland or the UK, though in the 1960s, an attempt to establish a British KKK was spearheaded by far right radical Robert Relf.
The offensive flag was erected in an area of Belfast where incidents of racism have taken place recently.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long of the Alliance Party pointed out that the flag added an “an even more sinister edge to these recent incidents.”
In a statement she explained that following complaints from locals she had reported the flag to the police.
She said, “Yet again we see those who wish to bully anyone different from them use flags and emblems to assert dominance and control over a community.”
She said to put such an offensive flag up in daylight showed the guilty party was “brazen” and described the act as “sickening.”
She called on politicians to, this week, “stop ducking the issue of the use and abuse of flags and emblems for the purposes of intimidation.”
Local Sinn Féin councilor Niall Ó Donnghaile said, “We cannot allow the conditions to exist for people and organizations with clearly racist motivations to believe that it is ok to fly this flag from a public place,” he said.
He also added that the act was “all the more sinister given the spate of recent racist attacks and intimidation against families in this part of the city.”
Racism has become a major issue in Northern Ireland in recent months.
Peter Robinson himself recently came under fire for seemingly agreeing with Pastor James McConnell’s views that “Islam is heathen, Islam is Satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell.” However, following a formal apology directed toward the Muslim community the incident was dropped.
At the end of May 2013 Anna Lo quit her post saying she could not continue if political figures such as Robinson could get away with such statements in public.
She said that as an immigrant she feels vulnerable and added, "The executive and political leaders need to stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who have been victims of racist intimidation and attacks.
"It's imperative that all of us in positions of responsibility are unambivalent in our stance against prejudice, bigotry, racism and intolerance."
In January of this year there was an outcry over signs erected in County Tyrone. The signs warned landlords not to lease their properties to foreigners. On July 2 the same message was spotted spray painted on a wall in Moygashel, County Tyrone.
It reads “Attention landlords
“Leasing of property to foreign nationals will not be tolerated.”
Also, sadly, an op-ed in the Belfast Telegraph reports that people can expect to see more “local homes for local people” protests in Belfast following the previous event's popularity.