Leadership on Racial Equality Strategy would resonate around the world

Councillor Ross Brown and Dr Richard Montague urge the Executive to make the Racial Equality Strategy a priority

The Racial Equality Strategy was first introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly in July 2007. It proposed to tackle issues of racial discrimination and inequality. Eight years on, however, the strategy has still not been delivered by OFMDFM. A draft for public consultation was released in 2014 but was met with much criticism as a policy document ‘not fit for purpose’, since it failed to address a wide variety of concerns facing minority ethnic communities.

The toxic legacy of sectarianism has stymied political approaches to challenging racism in Northern Ireland, particularly the on-going saga of fractious inter-party relationships within the Stormont Executive. Indeed, Northern Ireland is much out-of-step with the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of legislative measures to tackle racial inequality. It is deeply worrying that ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland have much less protection in legislation than in Great Britain. With OFMDFM still dragging their heels in delivering an effective Racial Equality Strategy, this raises considerable questions about the political commitment to prioritising racial equality and racist crime as issues in much need of redress.

To date, the lack of a Racial Equality Strategy (RES) is an indictment of political failure to assure minority ethnic citizens in Northern Ireland that the authorities take racist victimization seriously.

For example, after being forced from their homes by racist attacks in north Belfast during August 2014, two Sudanese families have spent 10 months in hostels with nowhere else to go. The Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) state that such stories are shared by many ethnic minorities here, who have fled homes in fear due to campaigns of racist intimidation. Given the plight of these families, it is a scandal that we lack appropriate measures to challenge hate crime at the structural level.

In fact, hate crime figures remain at an all time high in Northern Ireland, with racist attacks of varying descriptions occurring ‘every three hours’ according to the PSNI. In this context, the absence of a robust Racial Equality agenda sends the wrong signal to minority ethnic groups, effectively telling them their victimization isn’t regarded as a priority. Moreover, the lack of willingness by politicians to effectively confront racism to date also sends the wrong message to hate crime perpetrators in Northern Ireland. Racism is seen as something almost ‘acceptable’ in the offenders’ eyes because the problem is not being appropriately addressed or condemned at the political level. Indeed some political and religious leaders have, in recent cases, actually pandered to the prejudiced sentiments underpinning racist expressions.

Further, the state is evidently failing to confront racist offenders in the disproportionate amount of successful convictions via ‘hate crime legislation’ (i.e. the Criminal Justice No. 2 Order 2004). For example, of the 13,655 hate-motivated offences reported to the PSNI between 2008 and 2012, only 12 cases were successfully prosecuted using the legislation.

There is a gaping lack of legislative reforms to improve protection against racial discrimination. The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) assert: ‘Existing racial inequalities, socio-economic disadvantage and systemic discrimination are a by-product of the lack of effective legal protections against racial discrimination in Northern Ireland’.

We call for OFMDFM to unequivocally place racial equality as a priority issue and implement the Racial Equality Strategy as a matter of urgency.

This would, in the words of the African & Caribbean Support for Northern Ireland (ACSONI), send a ‘strong message of leadership on this matter, which would resonate around the world, especially in these times where we continue to see racial conflict headlining the international media’.

It is vital that all sections of the community are represented and valued equally in Northern Ireland if we are to remain hopeful of seeing a genuine shared future.

Councillor Ross Brown and Dr Richard Montague
Green Party in Northern Ireland
31 July 2015

Statement from African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI)

We wish to reiterate the importance of continuing to make the publication of the racial equality strategy a top priority. This would be a significant step in progressing the work being done to eradicate the increasing spate of xenophobic attacks, sectarian and other racist hate-crime, which unfortunately continue to undermine the positive image of Northern Ireland that has attracted many people from various cultures to settle here and make it home. We believe that the publication of the racial equality strategy would be a strong message of leadership on this matter, which would resonate around the world, especially in these times where we continue to see racial conflict headlining the international media.

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