3. asked the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, in the absence of the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy, if it would consider reviving the racial equality strategy to require Departments to produce annual action plans to tackle racism and racial discrimination. (AQO 2953/09)
The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister remains committed to the implementation of the current racial equality strategy endorsed by the Assembly on 3 July 2007. We certainly consider that the six shared aims of that strategy remain comprehensive and robust, especially given the increasing diversity of the population in recent years. Practical work to improve racial equality and good relations continues to be done as part of the racial equality strategy. For example, the migrant workers thematic subgroup continues to operate, and its work has been widely welcomed, including the migrant workers strategy and action plan.
While work to fulfil the commitments in the first action plan to implement the racial equality strategy continues, our resources are now focused on developing proposals for the programme for cohesion, sharing and integration. Those proposals will include actions to tackle racism and sectarianism. While work to finalise the programme for cohesion, sharing and integration progresses, the work of challenging sectarianism, racism and all forms of intolerance continues with the active support of OFMDFM Ministers. That support has been clearly demonstrated since the restoration of devolution in May 2007.
As the Member will be aware, the very first event that the former First Minister and the deputy First Minister hosted was a reception here in Parliament Buildings for new and existing minority ethnic communities, migrant workers, and those who work closely with them. We recognise that real change takes place on the ground through local people providing local solutions to local issues. We acknowledge the valuable and vital role played by groups working with ethnic communities on the ground. In recognition of that, we have recently announced a further tranche of funding to support work with minority ethnic people and communities in the financial year 2009-2010.
This year, we have increased the amount of money available in the fund by 10%, to over £1 million, to meet the increasing demand. That is on top of a substantial increase last year following devolution. The aims of the funds align with our Programme for Government commitments by supporting work that contributes to the promotion of good relations between people of different ethnic backgrounds, the building of community cohesion, and the facilitation of integration.
I thank the First Minister for his comprehensive answer. Although ethnic minority communities are very appreciative of the increased funding for their work, they are anxious that work needs to be carried out in Departments, something that has not happened in the past two years. Will the First Minister outline what work has been done by OFMDFM and other Departments on promoting racial equality and addressing racial discrimination?
The role that the deputy First Minister and I have in that area requires us to meet a number of organisations that work with migrant workers and minority ethnic communities. We encourage that work in our speeches and statements, to indicate that they have our support and that they continue to do so. We encourage it through the funding that we give to those organisations that are best placed, on the ground, to make the change that is necessary.
There are a number of schemes in place, some of which, for instance, take people from our indigenous population to other parts of the world, such as the site of the Holocaust, so that they can have a better understanding of the migrant workers who come into Northern Ireland. All of that helps, but the overall programme for cohesion, sharing and integration will identify the actions that need to be taken. Considerable work is going into that, not just on sectarianism, which is our own, home-grown problem, but on racism and the difficulties with the integration of minority communities.
I thank the First Minister for his detailed, factual and helpful response. Obviously, to try to tackle racism and racial discrimination, it is important that there be a possibility, and that we are hopeful, of meeting the targets. Can the First Minister confirm that the targets are still in place, and that achievements on cohesion, sharing and integration can be made?
I shall tie that question with the question about the measurement of targets. In such an area, on-the-ground contacts and communications are critical. Although it is important to measure the work that is done, to use a rural expression, you do not fatten a pig by weighing it. The system can have all sorts of measurements, but it is the real groundwork that can make the difference. Of course there are targets, and the amount of reported difficulties has reduced.
The exception was the considerable blip that took place as a result of the Northern Ireland v Poland football game. Some Polish football supporters, who have a worldwide reputation for their behaviour, left behind a trail that led to innocent Polish people having various hate crimes committed against them. The Executive want to be identified as being opposed to all those who might be involved in that kind of activity, especially when it targets a section of our community that has made a great contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and to the community as a whole.
Apart from that blip, the number of hate crimes had been reducing considerably. None of us should be complacent and write off the fact that one incident can cause considerable difficulties. We, as Assembly Members, are required to be actively working on the ground in our constituencies to give support to those who have been facing any such difficulties.
First, I condemn those attacks. We should not consider that Coleraine is somehow different from the rest of the Province and that Coleraine is the problem point. There is underlying sectarianism across our community, and it emanates from all sides of the community. Therefore, it must be tackled in a comprehensive and robust way.
Immediately after the attack in Coleraine, the deputy First Minister and I met the police to discuss the investigation. Often, the best way of tackling such issues is to ensure that prosecutions take place and to ensure that the courts, using due process, can deal with the incidents concerned. We also sent a message to the community relations unit, which was fairly quick off the mark without any prodding — for want of a better word — from OFMDFM. The lasting contribution that OFMDFM can make on such matters is to get our cohesion, sharing and integration strategy through the Assembly and to have it in place so that the action plan can be used to work to eliminate sectarianism.