Economic consequences to racial attacks

By Wednesday afternoon when he filed the story below, Newton Emerson noted that the Indian Press had not yet picked it up, but that “it will certainly be reported among the families and friends of those affected”. Well it has now. The New Kerala, Yahoo India and Chennai Online have all subsequently picked it up. As Emerson notes, both India and China are becoming major overseas investors of capital so that Belfast cannot afford to sustain a reputation for racialist attacks. He also notes that some local politicians may need to get beyond narrow constituency interest and think about wider impacts on NI economy as a whole. NI notoriously loose political affliation with the law means there is little likelihood that society will do much about the offenders either.

By Newton Emerson

You could hardly imagine two stories better-timed to tell a larger tale. This week, Indian firm ICICI-OneSource announced the creation of 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland, generating £28 million a year in local wages. The company is India’s fifth-largest outsourcing firm and this is its first major investment anywhere in Europe.

Also this week, an Indian under-19 cricket team visiting Belfast was attacked with iron bars by a mob in the city centre, then attacked again in East Belfast, where children threw stones at the team’s accommodation. The Indian youngsters were reportedly traumatised, their parents told them to get the next flight home and only an intervention by SDLP Mayor Pat McCarthy stopped everybody leaving at once.

Ashok Sharma, the local businessman who arranged the team’s trip, pointed out that the cricketers come from wealthy Indian families – but despite the announcement from ICICI-OneSource, few people made the obvious connection. Let’s hope that few people in India make it as well, because the implications are stark. Racist thuggery in Northern Ireland is about to become a very expensive habit.

So far, this week’s violence has not been reported in the Indian press – however it will certainly be reported among the families and friends of those affected. We’ll never know how many jobs this might have cost us but it could easily be thousands. India is an enormous country but it has a small, tightly-knit business community and no doubt word gets around.

Last year, Indian companies invested £5.2billion overseas, up 35 per cent on the year before. Securing just a tiny fraction of that booming wealth would solve all our economic problems at a stroke – but we won’t get a penny if Northern Ireland earns a racist reputation. Ironically, the very same scumbags who attacked the young cricketers would be the first to blame their own worthless existence on a shortage of suitable employment.

India isn’t the only new superpower packing a punch. China invested £3.7billion abroad last year and has just relaxed its foreign exchange controls, which is certain to send that figure through the roof. Chinese firms are particularly keen to expand into Europe and their offshore operations often focus on technology and skilled manufacturing. This is exactly what Northern Ireland wants – but do we want the Chinese?

Nodding alongside Pat McCarthy on television this week was Belfast’s DUP Deputy Mayor Ruth Patterson. In October 2004 she objected to a Chinese community centre in South Belfast, saying: “The Protestant community living in Donegall Pass have grave concerns about their culture, their identity and way of life.” Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the spate of racist attacks on Chinese people which took place around South Belfast at the time, just as nobody will be punished for the attacks on the Indian cricketers.

The PSNI says it is conducting an investigation – but even if the culprits are caught, will they ever be imprisoned? Of course not. Will the parents of the stone-throwing children be fined or challenged by the law in any way? No chance. They have too many fashionable excuses – like the ‘social exclusion’ they inflict on themselves through their own vicious stupidity.

When Indian call centre firm HCL came to Belfast two years ago, this is how the Times of India introduced the story: “India is shining, here in the dark heart of Europe’s longest-running conflict.” If we won’t crack down on our racist morons, that light will soon shine down somewhere else.

First published in the Daily Mirror Friday 16th June 2006

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty