For Northern Ireland to continue to fight racism we need leadership from right across society…

Issues around race and immigration are making headlines in Northern Ireland and across the UK.  Of course, this is nothing new, it has often been alleged that Northern Ireland stands out as a racist society. The question we face is whether this is fair comment or an exaggeration of the truth?

The answer, to me at least, is that, though the great majority of people here are repulsed by racist attacks, we are a society wherein there are fault-lines of prejudice which we have failed to address. Racism is the most recent manifestation of such deep-seated prejudice.

The debate has surfaced again in recent days. A lack of certainty around future government policy regarding immigration has allowed space for a public debate which has not only added to the uncertainty but, more significantly, has yet to afford any clear reassurance to the many migrants who have chosen to make this place their home.

In Northern Ireland we also had a situation where images, which went viral on social media, showed teenage boys apparently racially abusing a young mother on the school run in Antrim.

Positively, there was swift and strong local condemnation of this event and it now appears that both the parents of these boys and the relevant authorities will work together to ensure they will not engage in such behaviour again.

Alas, however, this was not an isolated incident and we should be in no doubt but that we have a considerable way to go before eliminating racism from this place we call home.

Recent PSNI figures from June 2016, show that racist attacks are happening all too often. In the twelve months to 30 June 2016 1,113 incidents were recorded where there was a racist motivation, of which about 700 contained one or more crimes (amounting to 785 recorded crimes in total).

Although race incidents and crimes are down from last year by 161 and 101 respectively, there are still over 3 race hate incidents notified daily. 

Over many years the Equality Commission has been consistent in its call for a high level commitment in government to drive effective implementation of the Executive’s Racial Equality Strategy across all aspects of life.

This needs a detailed action plan with concrete targets and monitoring mechanisms; and it must be supported by the necessary resources.

This week we welcomed a report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance which clearly supports our recommendations for changes to fill gaps in our race relations legislation.

This is necessary to ensure that all of our citizens benefit from the same level of legal protection against disadvantage on grounds of colour and nationality as there is on grounds of race, ethnic origin and national origin. 

It is important to acknowledge that those who choose to make their homes here make a significant contribution to our economy and culture. Their presence is something to be cherished and not viewed as a threat. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to racism or racist behaviour.

The question remains….do we take this seriously as we try and build a shared and better future together?  It needs a response from all of society – from all of us. We cannot enjoy the luxury of being the bystander. As we have been reminded, evil happens when good people do nothing.

So, we must continue to work with and challenge those who discriminate against others because of their race.

In order to do this successfully we need concerted action throughout our society – from individuals, civil society and with clear leadership and action from public bodies and politicians at all levels.

Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland addresses some of the current issues around race and racial prejudice in Northern Ireland.

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  • Kevin Breslin

    Legislation alone won’t change anything.

    We’ve seen political and media dark forces create a racism epidemic in England despite much better race legislation.

    We’ve even seen UKIP upon UKIP hate crimes these days.

    We need to end the hate not just legislate.

  • Dan

    “It is important to acknowledge that those who choose to make their homes here make a significant contribution to our economy and culture. Their presence is something to be cherished and not viewed as a threat. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to racism or racist behaviour.”

    Wardlow wouldnt dare acknowledge that some of ‘those who choose to make their homes here’ have been involved in criminal behaviour, right up to drug dealing and murder.
    His head would explode to admit that, easier to talk about racism.

  • hgreen

    Care to provide any figures to support this statement? Then we can see how crime within the ex pat community compares with the wider N.I. population.

  • chrisjones2

    “has yet to afford any clear reassurance to the many migrants who have chosen to make this place their home”

    Sorry but that is just not true. Look at the repeated comments made by the PM and by Ministers

    But Michael racial attacks are at a low level and have fallen, so what is the justification for an EU led expansion of what might constitute racism?

    And why does your entire article not mention the other racism sadly so often so evident on Slugger – the crude attacks and abuse against things British or Irish that we dress up as mere sectarianism to make it look better?

  • Dan

    Im just looking at the news here of a Romanian gangmaster jailed today.
    Didnt we have a Lithuanian extradited on rape charges last week…..

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: We’ve even seen UKIP upon UKIP hate crimes these days.
    The notion of “hate crime” was specifically introduced to make an important point about how members of society should conduct themselves when dealing with diversity.
    Well done for devaluing it. That’s probably *not* the sort of leadership that the article is calling for.

  • hgreen

    I was looking for figures not anecdotes.

  • Dan

    Go find them yourself then

  • Reader

    hgreen, you asked for the wrong thing. In order to support Dan’s claim “some”, a couple of actual examples should suffice. 3 examples if you were being picky.
    But since you say you were looking for figures, what have you come up with so far?

  • terence patrick hewett

    To end what you call “racisim” Soapbox, you will have to change the very nature of humanity. We Catholics know that humanity is a flawed vessel and all we can hope for is a better understanding of Charity: but as we all know: Charity goes on the back burner when Charity becomes invasion.

  • Zorin001

    “But Michael racial attacks are at a low level and have fallen, so what is the justification for an EU led expansion of what might constitute racism?”

    EU led expansion you say?

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/28/hate-crime-horrible-spike-brexit-vote-metropolitan-police

  • Katyusha

    A blogpost discussing racism in Northern Ireland, from someone who I presume is tasked with tacking racism in Northern Ireland, and no mention of the fact that the majority of racial attacks occur in staunchly Loyalist areas, nor any discussion of far-right groups or loyalist paramilitaries in those areas, or the comparison of the intolerance of other races with their intolerance of Catholics or outsiders generally, or the poor educational standards which no doubt contribute to such a blinkered, prejudiced view of the world. Actions like the driving out of Roma living in South Belfast are what earned NI its reputation for racism. It is a reputation that will continue to tarnish us unless we directly fight the causes of such incidents.

    Full marks on the “equality” shown by refusing to address specific issues, instead shifting the blame to society as a whole. In neglecting to call out the specific faultlines of racial prejudice in this society, you fail to recognise the issues, never mind begin to address them. It’s all right saying “We cannot enjoy the luxury of being the bystander”, but who is going to remove the racist slogans from an 11th night bonfire? Even the police have no choice but to stand back and tolerate this illegal activity for fear of their own safety, and the risk of inflaming tensions (the irony is not lost on me). What can the ordinary, law-abiding public do in the face of this? How can we hold them culpable for inaction, when they fear for their own safety?

    Of course, where the real burden of guilt lies with regards to inaction is with our public leadership figures. They are the ones who have the public authority to condemn racism in every form and build a vision of a shared inclusive society. Instead, we have a religious leader who publicly described Islam as “a doctrine spawned in Hell” and stated that he did not trust Muslims, and we had a First Minister who defended him, but would at least trust Muslims to go to the shop for him. In GB we have a Brexit campaign that was fought mainly on scaremongering about immigration, and a Prime Minister who, in her former capacity, had vans with “Go home or face arrest” billboards drive around London. The leadership sets the tone, or, in the event of their silence, allows such prejudice to fester as if it was acceptable. It should be no surprise that people determine what is, and is not morally acceptable from the cues provided by their leadership.

    Sinn Fein, to their credit, are being pilloried in some quarters in the South for their pro-immigration policy, especially when it is estimated their supporters are the most likely to oppose immigration. Real leadership means you stand up and take the flak when it is the right thing to do, rather than pandering to your base.

    We cannot start to combat racism until we recognise and understand the circumstances and ideologies that lead to such prejudice, understand the concerns that are driving anti-immigration sentiment all over Europe and tackle – but not necessarily appease – those concerns, and until our political leaders show real commitment and action to eradicating intolerance. Until then, any amount of inoffensive, politically correct liberal handwringing will achieve nothing, because while admirable in sentiment, it fails to address the roots of the problem.

  • Kevin Breslin

    All crimes are hate crimes.

    A racist doesn’t necessarily have to take his frustrations out on person of a different colour or nationality.

    When hate is being driven politically as a way of life, a substitution target can easily be found.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Yes and Dracula and Hannibal Lectar are a bit more sinister than Artemis Fowl.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Here was me thinking the UK government had backed EU enlargement.
    And that British (and Irish) people liked their own freedom of movement.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/60143cab06ec60aa25975a86146ea101ecf24f93de731497cdfc626c76a6c8e2.jpg

    Funny stuff, but it shows what needs to be traded off.

  • chrisjones2

    “This week we welcomed a report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance ”

    Its an EU body that proposed and supported the changes

  • Kevin Breslin

    Are you saying that the Equality Commission and the European Commission are in cahoots?

    What next the Parade’s Commission?

  • Reader

    “All crimes are hate crimes”
    Because you say so? There’s a whole world of stuff that goes on outside your head.
    https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/discrimination/hate-crime/what-are-hate-incidents-and-hate-crime/

  • dodrade99

    Reminds me of this exchange from Life on Mars:

    Sam Tyler: I think we need to explore whether this attempted murder was a hate crime.
    Gene: What as opposed to one of those I-really-really-like-you sort of murders?

  • chrisjones2

    “no mention of the fact that the majority of racial attacks occur in staunchly Loyalist areas”

    Evidence please?

  • chrisjones2

    No its juts an example of the EU and its institutions determination to define everything and apply a uniform model across all of the EU whether needed or not

  • chrisjones2

    I see your point but why should we accept ANY serious criminals from whatever group and where they are caught and we can deport them why should we accept that because of European law we are not permitted to?

    I dont care if they are white / black / French / German/ Italian or Romanian Roma – its about their conduct and the risks they pose, nothing else. We are stuck with our local criminals but we do not need to allow others to stay

  • chrisjones2

    ” dark forces create a racism epidemic in England ”

    Evidence? More Brexit Bollox?

  • chrisjones2

    “hate is being driven politically as a way of life”

    What are you suggesting?

    I know you are very anti Brexit but arent you being a bit hard on yourself?

  • Katyusha

    Here you go: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/22/race.ukcrime

    The involvement of the UVF does not go unnoticed, either.

    The speculation of paramilitary involvement in the latest spate of attacks has been corroborated by the PSNI, who last week revealed that the UVF alone had contributed to a 70 per cent rise in racist attacks in Belfast, in what the Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Will Kerr described as ‘a deeply unpleasant taste … of ethnic cleansing.’ As has been previously acknowledged, there is a strikingly high concentration of racist attacks in areas which are staunchly Loyalist and a traditional heartland for affiliation to prominent Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

    http://www.irr.org.uk/news/spotlight-on-racial-violence-northern-ireland/

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m suggesting people need to have some self-restraint. I also think two UKIP MEPs fighting one another is a bigger insult to any principles Brexit ever claimed to have than anything I came up with.

    Misanthropic revolutions generally lead to infighting.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Racism has been stoked up.That’s very clear. It would still be regardless of how the vote went because these dark forces want to stoke it up anyway.

    Heck The Express’ s outrage at Nadia Hussein winning Bake Off shows that these dark forces were already playing on the minds of journalists and editors.

  • Kevin Breslin

    That never was the case with EU citizens. In fact Brexit could mean scrapping the European Arrest Warrent and those guilty of crimes in other EU countries may find the UK sort of a sanctuary. Indeed this was an arguement made by some on the Tory right. Makes you wonder what they’ve got to hide.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think that is simply the usual display of paranoia I’ve come to expect in these times. The Equality principles of the European Union are of the same ilk as those of the Harare Declaration.

    The big problem is too many people think hating certain groups is a way to get love and respect. They fail to realise love and respect comes from other people’s choice and free will.

    That’s why for many Brexit will never happen no matter what machinations happen. To quote from the book of Will.I.Am “people got me, got me questioning Where is the Love?”

    Maybe they need the “Greatest love of all” and to stop taking their personal demons out on migrants and the European Union.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    It must be a Northern Ireland thing, but it is surely an unfortunate approach to challenge the scourge of racism along sectarian lines.

    Some, it would seem, regard comments like ‘Romanians are criminals’ as infinitely more morally reprehensible than saying things like, ‘Loyalists are racists’.

    To others, thankfully, a collective pejorative characterisation of any specific group of individuals is equally distasteful.

    Some Romanians are indeed criminals. Some are also doctors, scientists, writers, bloggers etc. The overwhelming majority of them are decent human beings trying to make their way in the world.

    In much the same way there are a number of deeply unpleasant people who define themselves as ‘loyalists’. But, difficult as it may be for some people to acknowledge, for every racist thug daubing nasty graffiti on walls there are probably many more who would regard such activities with as much distaste and anger as would others who do not live in “loyalist areas”.

    A reference to ‘loyalist areas’ is interesting in itself. There is no doubt that by far the largest amount of reported racist incidents occur in such areas. However what is actually being implied in the apparent desire to focus concerns about racism on specific locations? (Something that the ECNI is not guilty of in this Soapbox article.)

    Are racist incidents that occur in other areas less important? Is there an ‘acceptable level’ of racism that should be tolerated, or ignored, so long as the frequency of incidents do not increase to levels seen elsewhere?

    Racism is a societal issue. It is a scourge that does not need the patina of sectarianism applied to it. Stepping back from it by implying that it’s the ‘other guy’s issue’ is not a positive move.

  • Granni Trixie

    and I have been surprised that in the debate here sectarianism is not being highlighted as the same side of the one coin. They are linked as each are manifestations of prejudice. Yet after all these years some still refuse to recognise the problem they need to address.

  • Katyusha

    As the one who brought it up, I’ll explain myself.

    If we are going to actually work towards eradicating racism in our society, we need to focus on the specific causes of such attacks. As the majority of attacks are concentrated in loyalist areas, we need to look at the attitudes and ideology that leads to such attacks. If loyalist paramilitaries are involved with intimidating minorities out of their homes, we need to examine why they do it, why they can get away with it, and what supports (if any) their actions draw.,

    In my mind, the fight against racism has several key fronts.
    1) combat against the spread and hold of far-right ideology
    2) dispel myths of ignorance towards other races, ethnic and religious groups that feed xenophobia
    3) to make it absolutely socially unacceptable to express views which dehumanise or vilify other races, such that anyone actually advocating physical attacks or intimidation against another community would be socially shunned.
    4) to identify the real causes of disempowerment and inequality in our society, which can usually be laid at the door of government policy or global business, rather than against immigrants.

    Now, if there is a split in racist attitudes along sectarian lies in NI, I believe it is accidental: a byproduct of how the left and the right wings in Northern Ireland have become polarised along sectarian lines. Both the SDLP and SF have nailed their colours firmly to the left wing to some degree, which pulls nationalist politics firmly towards a more socialist viewpoint. If there was a right-wing movement within nationalism, then perhaps the same problems would emerge. But there isn’t, and racism lies at a very low ebb in nationalist NI. Part of this is because the political leadership condemn it and as such racism is seen as completely unacceptable by the community at large, and people aren’t afraid to condemn it in public.

    Leadership is everything. If the leadership sends the wrong signals, it filters down through society. But for a while now, the DUP have seemed to be afraid of their voters, and have resorted to pandering to base desires.

    A reference to ‘loyalist areas’ is interesting in itself. There is no doubt that by far the largest amount of reported racist incidents occur in such areas. However what is actually being implied in the apparent desire to focus concerns about racism on specific locations? (Something that the ECNI is not guilty of in this Soapbox article.)

    It’s a desire to focus our attention on the problem at source. Taking a broad, tar-everyone-lightly-with-the-same-brush, like the ECNI does in this article, is unable to actually scratch the surface to examine what the root causes of such attitudes are, and it ignores the hard business of forming a strategy to eliminate the problem. You need to focus your attention on root causes, and yes, that means looking at where there attacks are occurring and focusing attention on what is happening in these areas.

    It’s like the rise of the right-wing populism, and indeed racism and Islamophobia in Germany at the moment. You could apply a politically correct brush over the entire country, a feel-good, we-all-agree-this-is-wrong message that fails to penetrate the surface, and you would achieve nothing. You need to focus attention on the groups, ideologies and areas that suffer these problems. In Germany, that means combatting the ideology and draw of PEGIDA and the AfD, and focusing on the specific problems of those areas where these groups gain traction. In Germany, this means the former DDR – cities like Dresden and Magdeburg, which share more in common with the former communist states of Eastern Europe (who, by no coincidence, are also seeing the rise of the far-right) than Western Germany. You need to focus your attention on the problem. There’s no point in spending money or strategy on combating PEGIDA in a city like, say, Mainz, where the graffiti on the walls does not say “Locals only”, but rather, “Racism is no Alternative”, “AfD = Nazis”, “Against Right-wing Populism”, and most heartingly, “Mainz05 Ultras Against the Right”. The problem is not evenly geographically spread, so why would the resources be?

    Every racist attack is as deplorable as the next one, but the frequency is nowhere near comparable. It moves things from being “isolated incidents” to something that pervades the air, at least certainly in the minds of people who live amongst constant harassment and fear of attack.

    Some, it would seem, regard comments like ‘Romanians are criminals’ as infinitely more morally reprehensible than saying things like, ‘Loyalists are racists’.

    I think such a statement, like “loyalists are racists”, is not only completely untrue, but quite frankly disgusting, to tar people like that. But we would be blind to ignore this problem has roots which pervade loyalist communities, and even if it was only 0,5% of the population, it’s enough to cause problems, and should be tackled.
    A comparison could be made with football. To say “All football fans are racists” would be a case of disgusting discrimination and ignorance, but during the 70s/80s, football did indeed suffer a problem with racism, even if it was a tiny minority of fans. The highly successful “kick racism out of football” campaign could not have happened if people complained “why focus on football fans, when you can find racism everywhere?” Where are our “Kick racism out of loyalism” posters?

    Are racist incidents that occur in other areas less important? Is there an ‘acceptable level’ of racism that should be tolerated, or ignored, so long as the frequency of incidents do not increase to levels seen elsewhere?

    No, but it isn’t ignored. SF have a very welcoming stance towards immigration, will condemn those who engage in racism, and welcome new arrivals. That has a very powerful effect on setting the mood. Racism isn’t tolerated. That’s the point

    Racism is a societal issue. It is a scourge that does not need the patina of sectarianism applied to it. Stepping back from it by implying that it’s the ‘other guy’s issue’ is not a positive move.

    I don’t view it as someone else’s issue, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about the need to tackle it. The people of Belfast are my people, all of them. Unfortunately, whatever their intentions, people on the nationalist side can’t have much influence. Those who have such influence – and I’m looking squarely at the DUP on this issue – need to wield it.