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North’s racist incidents could ‘rocket’

Resource type: News

Irish Times |

by Dan Keenan

Officials at two Stormont departments are working on specific policy proposals to meet the needs of immigrant communities in Northern Ireland following recent racist attacks.

The Assembly was also warned that the rate of racist incidents was due to “rocket”.

Initiatives from the Department of Social Development, expected to be published in the next few weeks, follow the intimidation of more than 100 Romanians in south Belfast this month. They were forced to spend a night in a church hall, which was later attacked, before being allocated emergency accommodation by the North’s housing executive, an agency of the department.

The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister is also finalising a Cohesion, Sharing and Integration programme which is designed to tackle what Peter Robinson called the “inextricably linked” problems of racism and sectarianism.

The First Minister told the Assembly yesterday he hoped the proposals would be published “without delay” and that the programme’s measures would tackle racism “in a substantive and holistic way”. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the house: “It’s my intention to provide the draft strategy to the committee before the summer recess. If that isn’t possible we will continue to work through the summer.”

Just two members of the Roma community targeted in recent racist attacks have opted to stay in Belfast, while the remainder returned to their own country last week on a flight paid for by the department. It is understood that those who have remained are in employment and are not in receipt of support by the state.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has expressed regret that so many from one community chose to leave Northern Ireland last week. She has committed herself to measures aimed at tackling racist attitudes.

Commending the response of many in south Belfast towards immigrants, Ms Ritchie said: “We must capture that positive warmth and translate it into actions which will help us all build a shared future for Northern Ireland.

“I am looking at how my own department can specifically help in countering racist attitudes in our community in the weeks and months ahead.”

Mr Robinson told Assembly members debating this month’s racist attacks on Romas that the cohesion programme would act as “a framework for us, moving forward into a new society based on tolerance and respect for cultural diversity”. This would be the basis on which Northern Ireland’s future prosperity would be built.

Jolena Flett of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities said yesterday that action was urgently needed to protect vulnerable immigrant communities.

“There’s nothing in place for people who basically have no access to benefits,” she said. There was also a need for “strong policy and leadership”.

The council also criticised the police response to the intimidation, claiming that “initially, police did not understand how much fear they were in”. Ms Flett said a more fitting police response was then put in place.

South Belfast Alliance Assembly member Anna Lo said yesterday she did not believe Northern Ireland was a racist society.

“A small minority can bring us all down in the eyes of the world,” she said. “Racism is on the increase. Last year we had nearly 1,000 incidents, but this year I can tell you I have no doubt the figure is going to rocket.”


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Human Rights & Reconciliation, Immigration & Migration

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Northern Ireland