Battle for jobs feeds Northern Ireland xenophobia

Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:35am EDT
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By Andras Gergely

BELFAST (Reuters) - "Foreign bodies" coming from eastern Europe to take jobs are a new adversary for Alan Skey, more than a decade after Northern Ireland's peace deal secured the former militant's release from the Maze prison.

Standing next to the mural of a masked gunman that marks the entry to "South Belfast's loyalist heartland," Skey -- who fought to keep the province a part of the United Kingdom -- praised the peace process and revealed a new raw nerve.

"We can't work in our own city. We didn't take up the struggle for that," said Skey, who spent 16 years in jail before being freed under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

"I took up the struggle to keep that British flag flying. Now loyalists and republicans are oppressed in their own country due to foreign bodies."

Historically, it was economic migrants from the largely Catholic Republic of Ireland who stirred up sectarian trouble in Protestant communities. The south, a "Celtic Tiger" until the credit crunch kicked in, is now the euro zone's weakest link.

Nonetheless, the "foreign bodies" Skey refers to are workers mainly from Poland, Lithuania and Romania. His views are more radical than most, but nearly 50 percent of those polled in one survey believed migrant workers take jobs away from people born in Northern Ireland.

Of the 1,215 adults interviewed between October 1, 2008 and February 27, 2009 for the Queen's University Belfast and the University of Ulster, only 38 percent disagreed with that assertion: 46 percent were in favor.

Northern Ireland's racist underbelly has been on show this summer.   Continued...