NI’s least understood virtue: Diversity has a Dollar (not to mention a Yen) value…

Perhaps it is time to revisit the NI Executive’s as yet non existent strategy on Cohesion Sharing and Integration… but not from the point of view of a negative (sectarianism, whose pervasiveness can be overwhelming for policy makers).. Rather from the point of view of embracing diversity…

Belfast’s large and well established Chinese community (not to mention those arriving each year at Queens and UU could be one of its most positive assets). Here’s the Economist from yesterday:

Some 500,000 Chinese people have studied abroad and returned, mostly in the past decade; they dominate the think-tanks that advise the government, and are moving up the ranks of the Communist Party. Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution, an American think-tank, predicts that they will be 15-17% of its Central Committee next year, up from 6% in 2002.

Few sea turtles call openly for democracy. But they have seen how it works in practice, and they know that many countries that practise it are richer, cleaner and more stable than China.

As for the old world, its desire to close its borders is understandable but dangerous. Migration brings youth to ageing countries, and allows ideas to circulate in millions of mobile minds. That is good both for those who arrive with suitcases and dreams and for those who should welcome them.

  • thursday

    Concern for cohesion and sharing of diverse cultures slightly undermined by yen being the Japanese, not Chinese, currency… but sure they all look the same anyway?

  • mandrake

    nice post. thanks.

  • damon

    I’m struggling to understand this post.
    Is it that the Chinese community that is here or has been here, could be a conduit for bringing investment into NI?

  • Mick Fealty


    It’s firstly that planning for a society on the assumption we merely need to manage the fault lines of the past is misguided; not least because it does not recognise the tangible ways in which NI and its people are changing.

    Secondly, we of all people should understand the principles by which Diaspora operate. They thrive on profound bonds of kinship and through former locality. Thus Philadelphia was the destination for northern Donegal folk for five or six generations.

    In the past these links retained important sources social and economic strength, in that they created safe havens for the generations that were to follow the first ‘pathfinders’, so to speak.

    Nowadays, the speed of travel and communications mean that these bonds are much more capable of maintaining much more elaborate forms of human commerce: not least the building and expanding business opportunities.

    Those of my forebears who, for instance, settled in the Ohio valley in the early 19th century, were never likely to come home or even have any further contact with close family back home.

    Now even the enormous distance between Belfast and rural China has a much more marginal effect on such important familial bonds. We need to value those human bonds, precisely because they bring immense diverse value to Northern Ireland’s human proposition there.

    Commerce is based on trust and capacity to traverse the cultural divide between whatever here and there we need to cross. The rest will follow, whether it’s in the form of inward investment or developing new overseas market opportunities.

    The Chinese community is merely one of the most established migrant communities here whose economic growth rates back home are currently off the scale. In more recent times we have other folk from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Eastern Europe.

    But the key is that we are wasting lots of time and energy mythering over old divisions when the more beneficial route to growth is through embracing diversity in all its forms.

  • Damian O’Loan

    The original post doesn’t say much, but your comment at 1:56 adds a lot.

    I’m not sure why the Yen features in your headline.

    “richer, cleaner and more stable than China”

    NI, for one, is none of the above. Far from being richer, as you say. Cleaner in parts, perhaps, but too small to form a meaningful comparison. And no stabler, much less so.

    The idea that people who return from NI to China are leaving behind civilisation is absurd. They may leave close friends who form part of the network you describe.

    It’s sad though that to render cultural exchange in NI attractive, it has to be sold as a business investment. From the MTV awards to the Titanic quarter to your post, it reflects little sincerity. I suspect it appears that way to the outsider too.

    Also, where is the quote from? I don’t think NI is in a position to sell democracy to anyone.

  • damon

    Diversity is such a huge subject, and this is just one small way of approaching or looking at it. It even sounds rather twee I thought. I’m from London and there we’re much further down the road of diversity and multi-culturalism than NI is. And it’s hugely complex.
    And people view in very different ways – from the very positive, to more like the Daily Express with it’s endess stories about foriegners taking the jobs off locals.

    I’ve yet to really get a full understanding of how increasing diversity is viewd in NI. Whether in Belfast, or with the migrant workers in the food processing industry in Mid Ulster.

  • Mick Fealty
  • Mick Fealty

    That’s just it Damon. It isn’t generally viewed. Certainly not a policy making level. Equality has something to say to it, but that’s to misstake the nature of the ‘problem’.

    Newton Emerson came up with a gem from some community organisation in west Belfast. This was prior to the devolution of Policing and Justice.

    It was a leaflet aimed at minority ethnic residents explaining that in that particular area support for the police was not the norm.

    Now things have undoubtedly moved on since then. But we still have legacy policies like the CSI which focus on managing legacy issues rather than becoming more open the potential of new arrived populations.

    Damian, I’m sorry for not adding the link earlier…

  • aquifer

    Restricting immigration is killing our economy. Not even superskilled researchers can stay. A critical mass of most nationalities and religions and bright lights will always draw talent to London rather than Belfast or Dublin, so we will have to work or get dispensations to welcome it here.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s it in one A. Twee or heartless or not, diversity is not about being ‘liberal’ or ‘right on’. The economic arguments are compelling for valuing the latent social power amongst all our migrant communities.

  • damon

    Rather than what the opening post was making a point of, what excercises my thoughts most when I think about diversity issues here in Belfast is how are ethnic minority people actually finding living in NI.
    In the Holylands, I read that one of the primary schools has children from about twenty different countries going there. There are very obvious Somalian and other Asian and African minority communities around south Belfast, and because I don’t know, I have wondered how they do get on. In jobs and life and raising their families here.
    I didn’t think it looked too good from what I’ve seen of workers families in towns like Portadown, with the workers who are of Portugese origin, or (I think) from East Timor. Living in Obins street, and sometimes the subject of racist attacks. Do they live there because they can’t live in Loyalist areas in the town?

    I know this is not quite what the OP was talking about, but as I’m not from NI, I’m not even sure how safe and integrated the Chinese community in places like Donegall Pass feel. I saw an Indian familiy on Lisburn Road last July 12th watching the parade, and I wondered what they made of it. There was a look of bemusment and perhaps mild concern on the parents faces I thought.

    I think that practically none of the black and asian origin people I know in London could come to Northern Ireland to live because, of how it is here. Maybe you just have to learn where you can and can’t go – like everyone else.

  • Toastedpuffin

    “It’s sad though that to render cultural exchange in NI attractive, it has to be sold as a business investment”

    Sad? Cultural exchange has rarely been anything else, for as long as anyone can care to look.

    Studies on ethic minorities in NI tend to be geared to identifying negative aspects of experience – I wonder how healthy that approach is? Are we creating an expectation for both new immigrants and settled people? The Chinese and Indian communties in NI are well established, yet very few are involved in local politics – I do think it’s a positive sign when new immigrant names appear on ballot papers.

    Damon: I think we tend to impose our own thinking on immigrants – how they perceive our culture may be very different from our rigid notions.

  • damon

    I have been reading Slugger for some time, but have seen very few discussions on the new diversity in NI.
    South Belfast reminds me sometimes of how it must have been in England decades ago when immigrants first turned up in towns and cities.
    And now, their English children are very aware of how it was for their parents and grandparents.

    For the men from Pakistan who went to towns like Bradford, Blackburn and Oldham to work in the mills and later brought wives over and started families.

    And the experience of the Caribbean people who came over on ships like the Windrush. That is now part of the collective memory of England and is celebrated and discussed in things like ”Black history month”.
    But in Northern Ireland, it seems like this new society is starting out without people really noticing.

    We’ll hear in twenty years time how it was growing up black in Portadown, the child of migrant workers in the food processing industry, when someone writes a book maybe. But it seems a pity to hardly notice it untill it’s brought to our attention years afterwards.

    I have often wondered how NI would deal with having big ethnic minority communities, where roads like Sandy Row and Antrim Road became enclaves of Pakistani communities and businesses like you get in Birmingham and London.

  • Dewi

    But it seems a pity to hardly notice it untill it’s brought to our attention years afterwards
    Slugger had a go: