The seeds of Bad Blood were planted in July 2014, when a slogan, which read ‘Romans Out’, was spray painted on a wall in a housing estate in Belfast. It was aimed at Roma families and marked the second such targeting of refugees in the city, after a concerted campaign in 2009 saw almost 100 Romanians having to leave their homes and flee the country.
What made the slogan, and associated events, most interesting to me was how the old sectarian divisions between Catholics and Protestants seemed to have changed, how a new enemy had been identified. These attacks were primarily carried out in housing estates and were blamed on right-wing groups with ties to paramilitaries. They were, put simply, exercises in the ethnic cleansing of a community.
It was clear that some in the communities in question felt that outsiders moving into the area were diluting their sense of identity. Already feeling aggrieved at the curtailment of their annual marches and the restrictions on the flying of flags, and feeling betrayed by their politicians who were in Government with old enemies, and carrying too a sense of having been left behind by the Peace Process and the failure to see manifested the promised prosperity peace would bring, such individuals were easy targets for extremists to exploit their discontent.
And it wasn’t just happening in Northern Ireland.
Though the causes of such discontent varied from one country to another, it was a pattern being replicated in the Brexit debate and, most clearly, in the election of Donald Trump in the US.
There was a reason why people felt left behind, disempowered, unheard beyond the echo chambers of social media. That was what I wanted to explore in this book.
Of course, it goes without saying that Northern Ireland has an added history of those who use religion as a way to further enflame discontent. Various events over the past few years here have lead to a widening of the gulf between those who, for example, support gay marriage, and those who see such a thing as antithetical to their religious beliefs. All it takes is someone with a bit of authority to stir that up, to pour petrol on already smouldering embers rather than pouring oil on troubled waters. Northern Irish history is not short on people hiding hatred behind a white collar or a national flag.
All of these things collide in Bad Blood.
Bad Blood is published 18 May by Little, Brown