By Irish political journalist John Coulter
THE racist British National Party has confirmed it will contest the next Northern Irish council elections.
Mid Ulster, Upper Bann, Craigavon, Portadown and Dungannon – all with substantial ethnic minority communities – are the BNP’s key target areas.
Tensions between the BNP and anti-racist organisers in Britain are at an all time high with anti-fascist campaigners fearing the BNP could win between one and three London Assembly seats in the 1 May poll.
Kieran Dinsmore, the BNP’s so-called Ulster Regional Organiser, confirmed his organisation would be contesting the next local government poll, scheduled for 2011 – the same year as the next Stormont Assembly elections.
Local government is being reorganised in the North with the number of councils being slashed from the current 26 to just 11.
His remarks are bound to enflame anti-fascist campaigners as this month also marked Intercultural and Anti-Racism Week, which is part of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the late Ulster Unionist Party MP Enoch Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood speech in England when he warned of the alleged consequences of mass immigration.
Powell was then a Tory MP when he made the speech, and later became UUP MP for South Down before losing the seat to the moderate nationalist SDLP’s Eddie McGrady.
And Dinsmore also suggested the BNP could field a candidate in the North in next year’s European Parliament poll, but a final decision on this had still to be made by the organisation’s leadership.
Unionist and nationalist politicians have already condemned the BNP’s Northern recruiting campaign.
When quizzed about the BNP’s Northern plans to contest elections, he said: ‘They will. We are a legitimate political party and our remit is to stand for elections. That’s why we are here.
‘We are aiming to contest local councils for a start. We know we won’t have MLAs straight away, but we want to walk before we run.
‘In the meantime, if there is a by-election in local councils, we will consider contesting those as well.
‘The key areas we will be targeting are those worst affected by mass immigration – Mid Ulster, Dungannon, Craigavon, Portadown and anywhere else.
‘The European elections are a possibility, but that has not been confirmed.’
The European poll is scheduled for June 2009, and if the BNP won London Assembly seats, it would be used as a springboard for the Euro poll – and almost certainly one of the North’s three European seats could become a target for the Far Right-wing party.
Last year, Ulster Unionist deputy leader and Assembly member Danny Kennedy and the UUP’s hot tip to run in the next Upper Bann Westminster poll, warned in the Assembly about the serious implications of the BNP gaining a foothold in the North.
Anti-fascist campaigners have constantly and consistently branded the BNP as racist, fascist, extreme Right-wing or neo-Nazi, all descriptions denied by Dinsmore.
He said: ‘We are slated as racists. The BNP is a mainstream political party that has the interests of the indigenous people at heart. One in 10 people in the Republic is a foreign national and that is ridiculous.’
Dinsmore refused a request for a photo of himself, claiming he had received death threats from republicans.
But when the BNP did contest an election, it had a ‘duty of obligation to publish photos of its representatives’, he added.
He would not be drawn on how many members the BNP had in the North, but said the organisation had Catholic members.
He added the decision on fielding a European candidate in the North would be taken in conjunctions with talks with BNP boss Nick Griffin, who has a long history of visiting the North on recruitment drives.
In the late 1980s, Griffin was then chairman of the racist National Front and made trips to Belfast to visit its bookshop and headquarters in east Belfast.
In the early 1990s, the NF twice contested a council seat in Newtownabbey in Co Antrim, but only received a handful of votes.
As BNP boss, Griffin said he would like to see an Irish National Party, similar to the Northern BNP, established in the Republic of Ireland.
Last year, the neo-Nazi British People’s Party was at the centre of a leaflet recruitment storm during the traditional 12 July holidays.
Dinsmore’s announcement about BNP plans for the North is expected to spark a backlash from anti-racist campaigners and political parties.
As well as the BNP and BPP, the North has witnessed activity in recent years from other racist groups such as the NF, British Movement, Ku Klux Klan and Combat 18.
Figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show a steady increase in the number of racially motivated crimes in the North.