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Racist and Sectarian Attacks

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 29th June 2009.

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Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 29th June 2009

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

I beg to move

That this Assembly condemns unreservedly all racist and sectarian attacks; calls for the rights and entitlements of ethnic minorities and other vulnerable communities to be protected; commends all those voluntary and statutory agencies which assisted in the recent upheaval inflicted upon members of the Roma community in Belfast; and calls on all Departments to respond appropriately and on all political leaders to display leadership and unity of purpose in tackling all manifestations of hate crime.

From the outset, I state that my party accepts unreservedly and embraces the Alliance Party amendment. It is a most appropriate amendment, and we, as the party that nominated the deputy First Minister to his role, are keen that the Executive bring forward a strategy on cohesion, sharing and integration. They are important concepts that must be translated into policies and strategies.

Although my party accepts the amendment unreservedly, it is important to restate what a number of Members have said recently. It is critical that we devise such a strategy and implement it as soon as we can, and, in fact, a lot of work on that area is done in each Department. However, as adults and as political representatives of all the parties in the Chamber, we do not suggest in any way that a strategy is needed to ensure that civic leaders and political representatives should behave in any manner other than with courtesy and absolute respect for everyone. I do not suggest for one second that people need a strategy to learn how to behave. We can say the same about some agencies and Departments, but we need to map out such strategies for some wider elements of our society, because there is a bottom line in showing respect for others.

My party argues that such a strategy must be implemented and grounded in the principle of equality. If we do not have equality for all our citizens, there is no point in talking about respecting others. That would be an empty cliché. If, as we have been doing, we enshrine equality in the Programme for Government and other areas of legislation, equality becomes the premise on which we treat everyone. That means that we have to carry out certain actions and implement particular policies to make sure that people are brought to a certain level of equality. Therefore, it is important that I say that at the outset. For us, equality is rooted in the equality of rights and entitlements, it is about respect for difference, and it welcomes and embraces diversity as the principle upon which society moves forward.

In the past number of weeks, there is no doubt that our society has once again been disgraced and scandalised, and it is unfortunate that that is with good reason. There is no question or doubt in our minds that the images of families having to gather their belongings, be bussed into church halls, spread mattresses and makeshift mattresses in community halls in order to get a roof over their heads and some type of protection are nothing short of an absolute disgrace.

We should not forget either that just a few weeks ago Kevin McDaid was beaten to death in Coleraine in a brutal sectarian assault. In fact, a number of other people were injured on that occasion, and similar incidents have occurred. I appreciate that people are in court as a result of the events of that day in Coleraine, so I do not want to labour the point. However, I must say that in recent months, when people were sentenced for the sectarian murder of Michael McIlveen in Ballymena, many said that that was perhaps a wake-up call and hoped that there would be no more brutal and barbarous killings. Unfortunately, we had the death of Kevin McDaid.

In the aftermath of the killing of Kevin McDaid, people who comment on such matters, including those in the media, speculated on who might have been involved, the purpose of the killing and why it happened. Some of the remarks, commentaries and observations made in the media and through public discourse were shameful and sought, in my view, to either justify or minimise and explain away what happened on the day on which Mr McDaid was brutally killed. That is in contrast to how they responded to the treatment of the Roma families and suggests that an awful lot of people in this society find it much easier and are more comfortable to deal with the issue of racism than the issue of sectarianism. Sectarianism is the elephant in the room. I am struck by the fact that many people in our communities are able to tackle the issue of racism much easier and more comfortably than the issue of sectarianism.

The motion commends the people, as well as the agencies and Departments, who came together to show solidarity with, and give comfort and support to, the Roma families. It is important that the immediate needs of those families were addressed and that solidarity was shown with them and others who felt equally vulnerable because they had been targeted in the past. It is important that we, as a community, stand up and show our support for and solidarity with victims of racism and sectarianism.

The motion, first, condemns unreservedly all racist and sectarian attacks in the broader community, and, secondly, calls for all rights and entitlements to be given to the victims of such attacks. Later in the debate, some of my colleagues will itemise measures that may need to be adopted. We fully commend all those people in the community, voluntary or otherwise, who rose to the occasion, as they often do.

The primary purpose of the motion is to ensure that we put a spotlight on the need for political representatives and other civic leaders to stand shoulder to shoulder with victims of hate crimes and to do our level best to root that out and face it down in communities, if necessary, because some people are hell-bent on displaying racist tendencies. That is why we are adopting the Alliance Party amendment. Strategies, sanctions and a broad range of educational and awareness programmes need to be implemented to tackle those problems. It is vital that we, as public representatives, display our influence in a positive way to help victims in their time of need.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance 3:45 pm, 29th June 2009

I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that Members and party leaders, in whatever representative role they may play during the life of the Assembly, should be continually trying to educate the public about the need to help others in the community, not just in times of crisis, such as that which occurred a fortnight ago?

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Part of my commentary is precisely in that vein. I am always torn when such crises happen, because like others, I want to highlight the tremendously good work that goes on in our communities. Members who are familiar with south Belfast know that tremendous projects are under way in the Village area, Donegall Pass, the Markets area, and the lower Ormeau Road, and that many people in those hard-pressed communities are doing their level best to help people. Whether it be providing language classes for the Polish community, providing crèche facilities for children or welcoming the Muslim community into the lower Ormeau Road area, there are so many examples of people in that community and, indeed, further afield, working day in and day out to provide those services.

However, there are people in positions of influence in those communities who are not giving them the political, moral or practical support that they need. I am sure that every Member could identify a number of projects that are happening quietly and under the radar, and we need to highlight such activities.

I said that I am torn because although I want to make sure that we support the fantastic work that goes on every day in many areas, which occurs outside crisis scenarios, when we draw attention to that we tend to veer away from the naked sectarianism and racism —

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member should bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thought that I would get an extra minute.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The proposer of a motion does not get an extra minute for taking an intervention.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I will seek greater clarification from the PSNI, because a week after it defended its response to the attacks on the Roma families, as it did after the killing of Kevin McDaid, it has had to acknowledge publicly that its response was not up to scratch.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member has gone well over his time.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I beg to move the following amendment: at end insert

‘; and calls on the Executive to publish immediately the draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy.’

I thank the Members who tabled the motion for bringing it to the House for debate and for accepting our amendment. Given that the motion refers to what has happened over the past number of days and weeks in south Belfast, I will begin by talking about that. I give my support to the people in the statutory and voluntary sectors who showed great compassion in a very difficult situation. I also add my thanks to those who worked in the various churches as well as the individuals who offered assistance; they showed great generosity and speed in their response to a deepening crisis.

In addition to visiting misery on the families involved, the individuals who conducted the attacks brought massive shame on our city and on Northern Ireland as a whole. There is nothing that we can do or say about the generosity of our people that will ever diminish the damage that that episode has done to the public and international perception of Northern Ireland. However, the episode does raise massive challenges for us with regard to how we want to be seen and, more importantly, how we want to be as a society.

I recognise that the individuals who were involved in the attacks do not represent the people of Northern Ireland, do not represent the people of Belfast and do not represent the people who lived next door to, and in the streets around, the Roma families. That is clear, because it was those people who offered their support and assistance to the families who were worst affected. However, the perpetrators have raised major challenges for political leaders in the community, and society as a whole, in how we are going to move forward and deal with difference in a more positive and constructive way. It is clear that we have problems in our society and that, although this episode may represent the sharp edge of the problem, it is not the full extent of it. We need to reflect that in everything that we say.

Nothing that I have said about the perpetrators of the attack not reflecting the community in any way diminishes the impact of their actions or the damage that they have done to our reputation. We must rise to the challenge and deal with the issues that have emerged from the episode.

Our society faces a number of issues, because we do not deal with division or difference well. On top of that, we are now trying to integrate people from a host of different backgrounds into a deeply divided society. The challenges presented by that are massive, and we need to recognise that without a vision on what the future should look like and the role of people in that future, the journey ahead is incredibly difficult to plot out. We have to look at how people in local communities can have the confidence to embrace and welcome difference, not just our traditional difference, but all of the other differences that arise in modern society. We also need to look at how we can build capacity and support for that into communities that are already doing so much work.

Much work is happening in local communities, evidence of which I have seen in my roles as a councillor and an Assembly Member. I am hugely impressed by the work put in by people who are trying to build relationships from the bottom up. However, that work must be more widely covered and more strategically supported. The difficulty for many communities is that when they seek support — not necessarily funding — from Government for their aims and objectives, that support is not there.

One example of that is the situation in Suffolk and Lenadoon in Belfast. People in those communities have done much hard work together to try to build some sense of shared space and shared future. That work has been difficult, but it has been driven by the local community. However, Suffolk Primary School will close this week; in fact, I believe that it closed last Friday. The result of that is that a community living in the city feels marginalised and excluded. That will add to the impetus for that community no longer to feel that services and provisions are there for it to remain part of the wider community. The school closed not because of residents’ lack of activity and effort but because there was no Government support for the will to transform the local primary school into an integrated primary school, which would have given people a sense of shared space and shared future.

The problem is that the only framework that the Minister of Education has to go on is one that considers the school. However, schools are about sustainable communities, and unless the shared future framework and the cohesion, sharing and integration framework are in place to allow us to examine the issue more strategically, we will continue to make decisions that entrench division rather than challenge it. A massive amount of work needs to be done.

Two competing surveys were published last week: one found that Belfast is one of the friendliest cities, while the other found that we are one of the most prejudiced groups of people in Europe. We must consider what those surveys say about us, because it is probably true that more people in Belfast, and in Northern Ireland generally, consider their neighbours to be their friends.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

No, because I will not get extra time in which to speak.

We view our neighbours to be our friends, because our neighbours are those who are most like us. Nevertheless, we do not necessarily extend the same welcome to those in our communities who are different from us. The key challenge is to build on the positive, warm, friendly and welcoming relationships that exist in communities. We must extend those welcomes beyond the immediate community to those who are new, who are different and who come to reside beside us.

The development of the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy has raised some issues. The biggest challenge for the strategy is to achieve cohesion around a vision for the future of the kind of society in which we want to live. At times, we swing between despair and complacency on those issues. We must adopt a strategic approach that will underpin the good work that is already being done while driving it forward with momentum to put a vision in place. That work must be more coherent. I listened carefully when the deputy First Minister said earlier that legislation in itself will not make people good. We all accept that, but what legislation can do is set the standard for what society feels is acceptable. It can create a vision that people can buy into and work towards. It can underpin and reinforce positive actions that come from the community, and it can deal with exclusion in communities, which can lead to violence and frustration.

We need the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy to be in place for all those reasons, not as a response to an incident but as an ongoing, dedicated piece of work that tries to move our society forward. When it comes to prejudice, sectarianism and racism are not only close relatives but interplay to create a dangerous cocktail in some of our most vulnerable communities.

No one will say that ‘A Shared Future’ was perfect. We all accepted that it needed to be changed and revised, and that local parties should have ownership of it in order to sell it as a vision to local communities. That is absolutely key. However, we need not reinvent the wheel on every occasion but simply refine the strategy. Two years in which to do so seems excessive. We really need to move quickly from strategy to action plan, because it is in action plans rather than strategies that we will witness things driven forward strategically.

During today’s debate, there has been a reflection of the perceived tensions among human rights, equality and good relations. I do not see tension there. Those three are like the legs of a stool: when any one is not working, the stool is no use. Those are the three elements that support our society. We have to have respect for equality; we have to have human rights; and we also have to have good relations, because there will be occasions where people of equal status, with equal human rights, will have differences. It is the way in which we deal with those differences and disagreements that will, ultimately, make for a stable or an unstable society.

The motion makes reference to rights and entitlements. One of the most moving aspects of dealing with the families involved in those attacks was how few rights and entitlements they have. We must carry out a massive job of communication with those who write to us to complain that migrant people are taking their jobs and using up social-housing resources to make them understand that those families had no rights and entitlements to anything from the state. They were carving out a living at the margins.

Although it is important that we unreservedly condemn the actions of those involved in the attacks, we must find ways of moving beyond condemnation to deal with the underlying causes of that kind of violence. Although it may spring into violence in particular locations —

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

We have to accept that a social response is required to deal with the challenges that face us.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

I support the amendment. It is an opportune time for us to speak on the issue. I was shocked and disappointed to see the events that unfolded around attacks on migrant workers in Belfast recently. There are many migrant workers in most parts of the Province. In Ards, in my constituency, many migrants from different countries live and work peaceably and make a vast contribution to the community.

One community organisation hosted a multicultural day, during which members of different ethnic backgrounds cooked food, made crafts and exchanged cultural ideas about their traditions. That was a raging success. Willowbrook Foods in Newtownards recently opened a new factory, which employs a large number of migrant workers who have successfully integrated into community life while retaining their sense of identity. Most people are more than happy to have those people working, paying taxes and contributing to the community.

Let us be honest, there have been religious and sectarian attacks on members of the Protestant community that I represent right across the Province over some 30 years. Indeed, my cousin Kenneth Smyth, a sergeant in the UDR, was murdered along with his Roman Catholic colleague at the border on 10 December 1971. The Protestant community there had to move out because of the attacks that they were under. Where there was once a strong Protestant community around Urney, Clady and Strabane, it has now been decimated and is no longer there.

Attacks on Orange parades are another indication of hatred coming from one side of the community. The attacks that occurred on Saturday were an indication of that. All over the Province, we have the same thing, whether at Drumcree, Dunloy or Castlewellan. All sectarian attacks are equally abhorrent. Attacks against migrants are becoming more violent and threatening, and decidedly un-Northern Ireland like.

We er weel kent as tha wee kintrie wi’ a’ big hairt, an oor guid naem o’ waremth an feelin is bein ruinet bi’ thugs hoo irnie representative o’ tha lerge majority in tha Proavince. We hae haud sum kinserns in oor kumunity an sum metters sic as yin in Kummer laust yeer, but that wus a yin-afff an haesnae bin repeetet. Whut hooiniver is cleer ther er fowk whau er fed up wi’ tha woarl in general an takk it oot oan fowk in pertikuler; unfoartunately, it seems tae be that it’s aieser tae pikk oan tha yins that hae nae supoart netwoarks.

We are well known as the wee country with a big heart, and that reputation of warmth is being destroyed by thugs who are not representative of the huge majority in the Province. There have been some concerns and issues in our community, such as that in Comber last year, but that was an isolated incident, and has not been repeated. It is clear that some people get frustrated by the world in general and take it out on people in particular; unfortunately, it seems to be easier to pick on those who do not have support networks.

I do not know all the ins and outs of the situation in Belfast — other Members would be able to give more detail — but some people experience frustrations with their foreign neighbours. One thing that we have learnt over the years is that there can be no place in the Province for violence and thuggery such as that seen in Belfast, which resulted in a place of worship being attacked: a place of worship that gave sanctuary and hope to people at that time yet became the target for attacks for a short period.

I read an interesting article that said that in the past decade, funding for anti-racist initiatives has been increased, new laws brought in and representatives from across the political spectrum have denounced racist attacks. It was once claimed that racism is the new sectarianism, but that has not turned out to be the case. Race crime is not widespread, but neither has Belfast proved to be a safe haven for immigrants.

Events such as those of recent weeks are not isolated; many racist incidents are not publicised or reported to the police. Unsurprisingly, the number of migrants arriving in Northern Ireland was low during the Troubles. However, as more arrived, the number of racist incidents grew, with almost 300 in 2004 as ethnic minority numbers rose to some 30,000.

Such attacks were not limited to ethnic communities: any form of prejudice is unacceptable. The Equality Commission found that Ireland’s Traveller community faces more prejudice than even foreign migrant workers. Although views have hardened against Travellers, the gay community and foreign immigrants, sectarian attitudes might be softening. There is hope. The commission said that just 6% of those surveyed would mind living beside someone of a different religion. Are things getting better? We hope that they are.

That shows that there is change and the hope that we can end this thuggery and accept people for who they are and not where they are from. There was also hope in the response that was shown in the provision of shelter, blankets and food, and the outcry against those acts of violence against women and children, which can never be accepted.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Member to bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

We cannot and will not accept any kind of hate crime in any guise in the Province. Those who perpetrate such crime might be young and foolish, but we who are older and, hopefully, wiser, must ensure that that remains the extraordinary and never the ordinary.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

No right-thinking person could fail to be appalled by the racist attacks in Belfast in recent weeks, and like all other parties, the Ulster Unionist Party roundly condemns them. On behalf of my party, I express to the Roma people our profound sympathy and horror at what took place.

Those attacks need to be condemned not simply because of the damage that they do to Northern Ireland’s reputation across the world but because of the suffering that they inflicted on the families and children involved. Anyone who is legitimately resident and working in Northern Ireland has the right to live and work here in peace. As a broader society, we must welcome people from different cultures and countries and recognise the diversity and great benefit that they bring to Northern Ireland.

I do not, however, believe that it is helpful in this case to use those incidents to level unfair criticism at the police. The Romanian Ambassador to the United Kingdom was specific in praising the response of the authorities here to the attacks. In measured response time, the police response varied from one minute to 10 minutes. The Chief Constable also made the very valid point that the situation was more complicated than press headlines might suggest. Some of the incidents, I understand, involved serious disputes between Romanian families and were not specific to racist attacks. In a free society the police can offer protection, but they cannot prevent people from moving of their own free will.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

I think that what the Member said about a serious dispute between families is misinformation. There were four nights of ongoing attacks on those families, and there was one incident of Romanian families having a party on one night but at which there was no serious violence of any sort. However, the main issue is that local people were attacking Romanian families.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the honourable lady for clarifying that. However, there is an issue that relationships within Romanian families have sometimes given rise to tension.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am sorry, but I have already given way.

There can be no question that delays in the publication of the draft cohesion, sharing and integration strategy, for which OFMDFM is responsible, have undermined the education effort to promote cohesion and better attitudes towards race relations. As the amendment suggests, if we learn anything from these very regrettable incidents, it should be that there needs to be more leadership and incisive decision-making, particularly from OFMDFM. It is easy for all of us to beat our breasts after the event, to say how terrible this thing is and to use endless adjectives to condemn the attacks. However, all of us need to promote better race relations and understanding so that the stigma of bad race relations does not stick to the Province’s reputation.

In the context of the damage that the recent events have done to race relations, it is important to understand, in a mature way, why some people in our communities develop such unacceptable views towards immigrants and those who are perceived to be different. Northern Ireland is a much more tolerant place than it once was, but many outstanding issues of concern need to be addressed. The economic downturn unquestionably plays a part, but it is important to listen to the concerns of all sides, including those of communities who, rightly or wrongly, feel threatened by immigration.

I do not say that to condone what has happened in any sense, but to try to understand it. While setting our faces resolutely against the evils of racism, we must also be willing to undertake the education of individuals and communities that feel threatened by difference and immigration. That is why the continued postponement of the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy is so important. There is a major work of education to be undertaken, and we must get on with it quickly.

I support the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:15 pm, 29th June 2009

I support the motion and the amendment, and I thank the Members for tabling the original motion.

It has been a depressing time, particularly for people who live in south Belfast. I want to start with the attack on Roma families in Belgravia Avenue and Wellesley Avenue; their decampment to the City Church, to the Ozone Leisure Complex and to Queen’s Elms; and the decision of the great bulk of those unfortunate people to return to Romania in the past few days. The situation has generated worldwide negative publicity for Northern Ireland and shamed us before the world. In some ways, the bullies have been allowed to win and to get their way. The subsequent malicious and malevolent attack on the City Church has just added to the hurt. That is the latest intimidation, and I hope that it is the last.

We must all take a good look at ourselves; at our collective inability to learn from the past; at how we keep repeating the mistakes of the past; at our incapacity to accept difference; and at our suspicion of outsiders. Racism is just the other side of the coin of sectarianism. Regrettably, sectarianism is an infectious disease that is endemic throughout our community, and none of us is immune from it.

Some 20 years, or even a decade, ago, I would have had no difficulty in identifying myself, in political terms, as a democratic Irish nationalist first and foremost. I want to see the people of Ireland united in harmony. I want this island to be controlled by all the people of Ireland: nationalist, unionist and others. However, if nationalism means despising people because of their national, ethnic or racial origins or looking down on them because of an accident of birth, I am not a nationalist. Too often, the mindset that being British or Irish is best just sounds like a cock crowing.

I fully acknowledge the right of parents to choose the type of education that they wish their children to receive. However, surely a state-sponsored system can deliver education to children with a Catholic, or any other, ethos; surely all children can be educated together, rather than separately. We must proactively address the segregation of housing and education.

In the European election four years ago, three MEPs who are more or less opposed to the European ideal were returned. Although I do not quibble with the democratic outcome, as someone who embraces the European ideal, I am aware that much of the outside world views us as dour, suspicious, inward looking and self-absorbed.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

Will the Member join me in condemning the utterly contemptible speech made by a television celebrity during ‘Question Time’ on 18 June 2009? She tarred all Northern Ireland people with the same brush. I will not repeat what she called us, but it was out of order, and everyone in Northern Ireland deserves to receive an apology from that individual.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

That lady should spend some time here and learn more about us. It is unfortunate when everyone is tarred with the same brush; that has happened to me and to everyone here in many different circumstances. It is dangerous and hurtful.

OFMDFM must get its finger out and produce a practical work plan for the implementation of the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy. The two Ministers have messed around with the Assembly. Although I am pleased that both Ministers are present, if the DUP and Sinn Féin cannot reach agreement on a shared future, they should be honest about it and tell the Assembly what is happening. We urgently require a vision and a practical plan for how we can learn to live together, respect one another and, perhaps, gradually grow to appreciate one another.

We watched the charade of the appointment of the four victims’ commissioners.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Does the Member acknowledge that at least one Minister, the Minister of Education, despite advice to the contrary from the Department and many other commentators, including some MLAs, ensured that provision was made for Romany children to receive free school meals? They were not entitled to that under the legislation and the state’s immigration provisions.

I suggest that other Ministers do likewise and examine how they can act without waiting for the OFMDFM strategy. Although, as I said earlier, the strategy is important, Ministers can do a great deal of work without it. I invite the Member to acknowledge that Caitríona Ruane took direct action against the advice of many, and that few other Ministers have done the same.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I appreciate the action of any colleagues and Ministers in the Assembly. My colleague Alasdair McDonnell was also heavily involved in supporting that initiative. I support and welcome any move to look after people.

Earlier, during questions to OFMDFM, I said that action on flags is required. The motion rightly:

“calls for the rights and entitlements of ethnic minorities and other vulnerable communities to be protected”.

Yesterday, I drove along Finaghy Road South in south Belfast.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Please draw your remarks to a close.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

As the Union Jack and the Irish tricolour are so often used for coat-trailing, a protocol on flags is required.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

Communities desperately need diversity, new thinking and new ideas to enable them to open up to the rest of the world.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

I support the motion and the amendment before the House. I am sure that we, as a body of elected representatives for the people of Northern Ireland, can unite in condemnation of the attacks witnessed off the Lisburn Road only two weeks ago. Such intimidation has no place in society and must be eradicated. The pictures and coverage that were beamed across the rest of the UK and beyond do not portray the desired image of Northern Ireland.

The media, the PSNI and others must also play their part. I note that Mr Kennedy has left the Chamber. Many of the problems have arisen in the communities in the Village area. Everyone, whether they be elected representatives, the media, the police or other folk involved in dealing with attacks and racism, must be extremely careful about how they are portrayed, because all too often matters can be blown out of proportion.

I want to ask the PSNI questions about some of the statements that were made by Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way and for condemning the attacks. Based on what Mr Kennedy said in his contribution, it is important to put on record that the people who were the nearest neighbours to the families in those cases were among the first to come forward to assist. That is evidence that those people were innocent victims of racist abuse rather than being people who had brought it on themselves in any way.

It is also important to clarify that when the police referred to the complex issues that surround the case, it was not to the complexities of the motivations behind the attacks, it was to the difficulties in engaging with the Roma community, which is suspicious of authority because of the history of abuse that it has suffered across Europe.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask Members to keep their interventions brief.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

I accept what the Member says. There have been many incidents in the area. All of us need to be careful about how we deal with them because the problem is that the area that I represent has been labelled racist for no justifiable reason. Entire communities are being portrayed as unwelcoming: nothing could be further from the truth. As the honourable lady knows, many things are happening in schools in those communities to welcome and help people from all backgrounds. In fact, some of the schools, such as the primary school in Fane Street, are attended by children of many nationalities. That needs to be recognised.

Members have portrayed the attack on the Belfast City Church as racist, but the police have backed away from that stance. Three young men were arrested, and a report on two of them is going to the Public Prosecution Service. Two or three days after that attack, the police were keen to point out that they do not consider it to have been sectarian or racist. Once again, media across the world portrayed Northern Ireland as racist. Criminal damage takes place night after night in that area; it is a regular occurrence, and police resources are stretched to the very limit to deal with it. That is why we all need to be very careful about how the issue is portrayed: we need to be careful that we do not inflame the situation. We Members must get our facts right because within minutes of an attack, before a proper police investigation has taken place, people are keen to portray it as something that it turns out not to be. I urge all Members to be extremely careful in that respect.

I welcome the motion. All of us on this side of the House utterly condemn any attack in south Belfast. People from different ethnic backgrounds in south Belfast live in harmony with all their neighbours day and daily. I continue to appeal for calm in the area. I thank those who helped the victims of the attacks, especially those in the Belfast City Church who immediately provided help for the Roma community. Those of us who work in the area know that they have acted similarly on many occasions.

I support the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Éirím le tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún agus don leasú.

I support the motion and the amendment. All right-minded people will have been sickened by the attacks that forced so many Romanian people to flee their homes. The image of the five-day-old baby being held by our deputy First Minister is embedded in everybody’s mind, particularly given the context: she was born here, but she has had to move to another country with her parents.

Those attacks were the outworkings of a warped mindset that has never tolerated anything but itself. It is a mindset that for years has been ignored and even encouraged by some in the Establishment. Some of the most so-called Christian of places have been underpinned by a culture of intolerance. We have all heard the Pope being described from the pulpit as the Antichrist. Whether the targets are Romanian or Roman Catholic, the bigotry that they face is the same.

The recent Equality Commission report that was referred to by Naomi Long showed rising levels of intolerance here, and clearly stated that not enough was being done to confront and challenge that bigotry. If we are to tackle racism, sectarianism and other prejudice, if we are to truly build good relations, it must be on the basis of equality and respect.

Equality is the foundation on which good relations can be built. Good relations can never be built on inequality. Therefore, I hope that the CSI strategy paper to which the amendment refers does what Naomi Long said at Question Time earlier today, and that it is proactive and ambitious. I would add that it must display what the Programme for Government commitments call for: new and innovative ways of doing business.

Today, I met an organisation called SEEDS (Solidarity Equality Education Diversity Support) and the race relations unit of OFMDFM. SEEDS is a Derry organisation headed by Eddie Kerr that provides help and support for ethnic minority groups. He recently remarked that the only minority group that we have in this society is the one to which racists and sectarian bigots belong, something with which many of us would agree.

The motion calls for political leadership and unity of purpose in tackling all manifestations of hate crime. The sad fact is that it must be said that unionist Members have been found wanting in that regard. Time and time again, we have failed, and they have failed to confront hate crime, particularly sectarianism that emanates from within their community.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, I am not suggesting for one second that all intolerance emanates from within the unionist community. I will repeat that: I am not suggesting for one second that all intolerance emanates from the unionist community. However, the difference is that my party has always confronted those issues head on in our own community.

We have gone toe to toe with those responsible and we have let them know in no uncertain terms that no such behaviour will be tolerated or accepted. We have had a vigil in the Bogside area of Derry after attacks in the Fountain; we have been involved in forums with residents trying to address that. We have challenged and confronted, head on, attacks that have emanated from within our community, but we do not see the same level of confrontation within the unionist community.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP 4:30 pm, 29th June 2009

Will the Member acknowledge that a great many of us in the Chamber, if not all, are also trying very hard to address to address those issues head on and toe to toe, as she said? Does she accept that her statement throws a question mark over some Members? Purely on behalf of my party, we have never been afraid to confront the issue straight on, head on and toe to toe.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

I must say that people in our society would like to see more evidence of that. I refer Members to a case in Derry earlier this year of a loyalist attack on a young Derry man who was left in a coma and remains so as we speak, still fighting for his life. It was not Sinn Féin but the ‘Derry Journal’ that said:

“The silence from Unionist politicians and people since the attempted murder of Paul McCauley and his friends by the UDA especially in close knit Unionist communities like the Fountain has been deafening.”

That is not Sinn Féin saying that; it is the views of the people in our city who witnessed that attack and who wanted and were eager to hear people in the unionist community come out and condemn it.

That “deafening silence” has been repeated right across the North. It has been repeated in places such as south Belfast, where Romanians were forced to flee their homes, and in Coleraine, where Kevin McDaid was so brutally murdered by a sectarian mob. Mr Shannon talks about how his party has gone toe to toe with people, but the MP for that area did not have the political integrity to give personal support to the McDaid and Fleming families: shame on him.

Unless unionists step up to the plate and show the kind of political leadership that is required, I am afraid that the void will continue to be filled by those who have hatred in their hearts. We must move beyond rhetoric and restating our positions —

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member should draw her remarks to a close.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

We must challenge those who engage in that behaviour, and, by our policies and practices, we must promote equality, respect and inclusion. I hope that the CSI strategy attempts to do that and much more. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

I support the amendment. The recent attacks on the Roma community should be, and, I believe, have been, widely condemned by every Member of the House and by all responsible sections of our society. There is a deep recognition that racism has no part to play in our society and nor has sectarianism.

An indication of the problem is that, in 2008-09, the PSNI recorded approximately 1,500 sectarian incidents; 900-odd incidents of racism; 179 homophobic incidents; 46 faith/religious incidents; and, most unfortunately of all, 44 disability-related incidents.

I do not believe that Northern Ireland is a racist state. However, a small element is trying to destroy our image in order to portray Northern Ireland as a cold house for immigrants. I use the expression “cold house” because many unionists understand it and, in one way or another, have experience of it. Visitors to Northern Ireland often testify to the contrary. Only this weekend, I had contact with visitors who were full of praise for the friendliness of local people and for their reception as they travelled for nearly two weeks in the Province.

Down through the generations, we have built a well-deserved reputation for generous hospitality. In many ways, the recent attacks prove that that is true, because all sections of the local community responded generously to those who were attacked, and that reflects the generosity of the wider community. Indeed, Belfast was recently found to be the friendliest city in the UK.

I emphasise again that the attacks were carried out by a small minority. There is a need to educate our young people about racism and sectarianism to stop the problem arising while they are young. However, that requires investment across the board in education, youth provision and community development.

I take issue with the previous Member’s remarks that unionist Members have been found wanting. When one considers Sinn Féin’s history, how dare it lecture unionists about sectarianism and their unwillingness to go toe to toe. It was, and is, always wrong to attack people because of their nationality, culture or religion. It is wrong to attack people because they are Protestants; it is wrong to attack parades in which Orangemen and women are celebrating their British culture; and it is wrong to set up residents’ groups to oppose those parades, which has been Sinn Féin’s deliberate and long-term strategy. Moreover, it is wrong to attack places of worship because they are Presbyterian, Church of Ireland or Methodist churches. It is, was and always will be wrong, and nobody will take a lecture from Sinn Féin on that subject.

It is wrong for anyone to accept, with the minimum of comment, the ethnic cleansing of Protestants along the border areas or the swathes of Protestants from the west bank of Londonderry or Belfast who have had to move because of an orchestrated campaign by a terrorist organisation against them on the grounds of their religion and culture. It is wrong to murder men and women because they were building police stations or Army bases; going out each day to earn their living. Let me ask the Member opposite whether she is prepared to stand toe to toe and condemn those incidents of murder over the years that were part of her party’s strategy.

The work of challenging sectarianism, racism and all forms of intolerance —

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

That work should continue and it needs the support of the Chamber.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

A lot of the argument has surrounded two aspects of life here: respect and responsibility. Many people in the Province and, indeed, those who come to live here need to show respect and responsibility. When people from other countries come to live and work and to settle in Northern Ireland, they have a right to do so without fear of intimidation, without harassment and bullying, and without being driven out of their homes. That is absolutely right. However, those people who come to live and work in Northern Ireland also have a responsibility to remember the culture that they are coming into and to respect the rule of law here.

The difficulty is that a small minority of every section of the community here makes bad blood for the entire community. We do not have to go too far to see some examples of that: south Belfast just a couple of weeks ago.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I will give way in a minute.

South Belfast just a couple of weeks ago was a perfect example. Another example is Moygashel in my constituency, where some people attacked homes of foreign nationals. However, there are other examples of groups of foreign nationals attacking local people in cases where they do not adhere to the law and order in this country as they should.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. Does he have any evidence that the levels of offending among new residents in our society are any higher or different from those of the existing population? We need to be careful about sending out a message that people who come to live with us are committing offences against the local population and that that is different from locals committing offences. That is a dangerous message to send out.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the Member for his intervention. I am quite prepared to say that there are occasions when people from the local community have attacked foreign nationals. We are all aware of that. I am also very aware of occasions when people from foreign countries who have come to live here have attacked local people. Yes; there is evidence of that, and I can forward it to the Member if he wants. We need to move on with the issue.

I agree with what Mr Newton said about respect working both ways. We must respect the culture of people who come here. I put on record my support and appreciation for the work that a lot of the services and local agencies did for the people in south Belfast over the past few weeks in particular. That was extremely welcome and appreciated by all; not only by those who were in difficulty but by local people. I know that from my constituency.

I turn to the wider issue of sectarianism, which we have also heard about. The Protestant community knows exactly what it is like to be intimidated, bullied, burned out, bombed and shot at. Mr Newton and others have referred to that. I heard the unionist outreach officer from Sinn Féin, who has now left the Chamber, a few moments ago. Some unionist outreach officer, I have to say. She should look at her own community, where only a very small minority of Protestants now live on the west bank of Londonderry. Why is that? When asked, most of those who have left say that they have been driven out.

They were driven out by republicanism. I know that only too well from my constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Protestants in the border areas of my constituency have been shot, bombed and killed for no reason other than their religion, as Members will know.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I will give way in a minute. The last remaining Protestant business owner in Rosslea in County Fermanagh was murdered by the Provisional IRA. I challenge Sinn Féin Members on the Benches opposite to condemn that murder, the Claudy bombing, the Enniskillen bombing and all the murders that have taken place in the border areas of Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone and those in the cities of Belfast, which we heard about, and Londonderry.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

The Member made the helpful suggestion that it would be good for all of us to reflect on what our communities do to other people and not just point the finger at them for what they do to us. Unfortunately, the debate has been about Members doing the opposite. Has the Member anything to say about sectarianism coming from his community that might be reciprocated by Members who speak later in the debate?

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the Member for her intervention. If she looks at my record she will see that, as a leading member of the Orange Institution in the county, I debated sectarianism in places for going to which I was often condemned by my own community. On behalf of the Orange Order, I have spoken in such places as Bundoran and Sligo, areas in which one does not often find representatives of the Orange Institution. I have been prepared to do that to listen to the other side’s perspective, and I am willing to continue to do so. However, I want to see respect and tolerance shown to the Protestant community by the other community. That has been lacking.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the debate, and I thank the Members who tabled the motion for bringing it to the attention of the House. On my own behalf and on that of the deputy First Minister, I join with others in unreservedly condemning all racist and sectarian attacks. I urge support for the motion as amended.

I welcome all Members’ contributions, particularly in the earlier part of the debate. I regret that the Member for Foyle Ms Anderson engaged in the blame game; we learned that when one points the finger, three point back at one. The responses thereafter showed that.

The attacks of recent weeks and months bring shame on Northern Ireland. The evils that have been targeted at some of the most exposed and vulnerable people in our community are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. A small number of antisocial, blinkered and intolerant individuals have damaged our reputation around the world.

As other Members said, such individuals are not representative of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland; that has been demonstrated clearly through the highly positive and supportive response of so many good people over the past days and weeks. Such a positive response is the norm across Northern Ireland wherever and whenever there have been racist or sectarian attacks. It is the attitude of those good, right-thinking people that will prevail and which will lead our society into a shared and better future where everyone is treated as an equal, every community and its culture are treated with respect and people from all backgrounds live together in harmony, prosperity and peace.

The attacks have brought shame on Northern Ireland, but they have also allowed us to demonstrate that most of us are supportive of new communities and are appalled by such attacks.

The Romanian ambassador, whom we met, was encouraged by the positive and swift condemnation, from every section of the community, of the recent attacks on the Romanian immigrants and by the reaction of public authorities and voluntary groups.

However, it is important to remember that the attacks are not just news stories or media events; they are highly personal and tragic events for individuals and families. Indeed, several Ministers visited the Ozone leisure centre complex where the group was given temporary refuge. They met the mother of the five-day old baby whose life was threatened, and they saw the young children who were forced from their homes.

I offer my sincere thanks for all the work that Departments, voluntary agencies and individuals have carried out in recent days to help and support the Romanian families who were threatened and attacked. In particular, I single out the South Belfast Roundtable on Racism, the Belfast City Church, and Embrace Northern Ireland for their work. Belfast City Council and the Lord Mayor should also be commended, and I thank the many other people who have shown their support and goodwill. The actions of those groups and individuals have shown the real generosity and decency that exists in our community, which can be built on in the long term.

Sadly, in this particular case, the majority of the group have chosen to return to Romania. However, as the decent people of Belfast have shown, that cannot be counted as a victory for those who carried out the attack. Rather, the recent response from across the community and the prompt action of the statutory organisations should be seen as a sign that we will do everything in our power to protect people and take action to ensure that their human rights are safeguarded.

In recent weeks, we have talked about the attacks on the Roma, and we await the results of the PSNI investigations into those incidents and those that followed. In the past, we have spoken of the Polish people, Lithuanians, Latvians, Travellers, Catholics, Protestants, unionists and nationalists. However, we must remember that whatever the label, we are talking first and foremost about human beings who are being attacked: fathers; mothers; sisters; brothers; sons; daughters; and neighbours.

The PSNI has been able to make arrests already and bring charges for the events, and the perpetrators of such attacks should be in no doubt that they will be brought before our courts and brought to justice. We are committed to working closely with the police and criminal justice agencies to ensure that sectarian and racist attacks are tackled and prevented.

The recent attacks have received a lot of media coverage and have generated a great deal of public debate. Once again, we have seen the people of Northern Ireland described by some as being full of hatred. Of course, that is cheap, inane and ill-informed nonsense spoken by those who are more interested in headline-grabbing than in problem-solving. There are, of course, a tiny number of people here, as there are in many countries, with completely bigoted and narrow-minded views. There are also others, and we have all come across them, who are simply ignorant and misinformed. We, as elected, public representatives, have a responsibility to counter the myths.

Our economy needs many of the migrants who come here to work, and they are very welcome for the economic benefits, skills, new ideas and fresh perspectives that they bring. Many of them fill skills shortages or do jobs that indigenous people will not do. Indeed, our Health Service, for example, would probably grind to a halt overnight were it not for the many internationally recruited nurses. In a wider sense, and in a very real way, racist and sectarian attacks, attacks on tourist buses and that brand of antisocial behaviour cause real damage to all of us in our community. In challenging economic times, we are trying to grow our economy, attract inward investment, and increase tourism. Those types of attacks hinder that and damage everyone’s prospects here.

Our primary focus in recent months has been on the economy. However, we cannot hope to progress economically, or more generally as a society, if racism, sectarianism and intolerance continue to exist. There can be no room for complacency about those matters.

We stated in the Programme for Government our determination to:

“address the divisions within our society”.

In that document, we recognised the corrosive effect that sectarianism, racism and intolerance have on our society and economy.

As a society in transition and moving out of conflict, we have made a lot of progress, but the only way in which we can really move forward is by building a future that is based on tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for cultural diversity wherever it exists. We do not pretend that those problems will be resolved quickly. We do not have to look very far for evidence that there is still a great deal to be done. It will take consistent hard work and effort for us to win that battle. We can and must prevail, but we should look at, and learn from, experiences elsewhere. We face an ongoing struggle against sectarianism and racism, and we are determined to do all that we can to stamp them out.

While policy is developed, the daily work of combating discrimination and fostering good relations continues. Over the period from 2008-2011, we have allocated additional funding of almost £7·5 million to the budgets for good relations and good race relations. That means that a total investment of £29 million has been put towards meeting the PSA target of a shared and better future for all. Earlier this year, we were again able to increase the funding available to a range of minority ethnic organisations under our minority ethnic development fund. Those groups do a lot of great work on the ground to promote community cohesion, prevent attacks and support unfortunate victims. Indeed, several of the funded groups have played a key role in responding to the events of the past days.

The Assembly endorsed the racial equality strategy on 3 July 2007. We remain committed to the six shared aims that are set out in the strategy, and we consider them to be robust and comprehensive.

I am impatient and deeply disappointed that, to date, we have not yet finalised proposals for a programme of cohesion, sharing and integration. That programme will tackle the twin evils of sectarianism and racism, which are inextricably linked, and it needs to tackle hate crime in all its guises. I recognise that the programme is eagerly awaited, and I hope that the House will agree that it is important to get those proposals published without delay and ensure that they address problems in a substantive and holistic way. Such a programme will provide the framework for us to move forward into a new society that is based on tolerance and respect for cultural diversity. It will build on the achievements of previous initiatives as well as previous programmes. It will tackle the kind of racism that we have seen in our Province.

In moving forward, we need to establish a stable society in which people live and work together peacefully, regardless of culture, community background or beliefs. It is that mutual acceptance and appreciation that must and will be the foundation for our future prosperity. I am pleased that today we have been able to show to the world our condemnation of racist and sectarian attacks and our commitment to building a society in which all cultures and people are welcomed.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

I am very heartened by the response from all Members and parties today. I particularly welcome the First Minister’s strong words and his sincerity and commitment to deal with the problem of sectarianism and racism. However, I am also saddened by some of the comments, which seemed to me to be defensive and to stereotype our ethnic minority communities. There are good and bad apples in all communities, and we have to take that into account. Where there are large numbers of new populations, there will, of course, be some people who will misbehave, but that is no cause for racist attacks.

We must address racism and hate crimes of all types in our society. I have lived here for 35 years, and I do not believe that Northern Ireland is a racist society, but a small minority can bring us all down in the eyes of the world. We must be very careful about that.

I believe that racism is on the increase. Last year, there were nearly 1,000 incidents, but I have no doubt that the figure for this year will rocket. In the past few months, more than 80 Polish people have been intimidated, and more than 40 of them have moved out of their homes as a result of that intimidation.

Following that, Hungarian women were forced out of their homes. Next, 115 Romanian families were forced to leave their homes. Only three of those families have stayed in Northern Ireland; the remainder left last week.

The Indian community was targeted last week. Over the weekend and today, a large number of people from ethnic minorities, including myself, received serious threats to our safety. I have never seen the ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland so fearful.

I urge the Minister to publish the draft cohesion, sharing and integration strategy as soon as possible to assure the entire community that the Assembly is serious about addressing sectarianism and racism. The Minister referred to a number of very good organisations. However, those organisations must be resourced to enable them to bring those new and established communities together so that they can work together to promote mutual understanding and break down barriers and fears on all sides.

We need leadership from the Government, but we also need Government action. Many public services are not geared to meet the needs of ethnic minority communities. Over the past two weeks, the Government’s response to meeting the needs of the Romanian community has been inadequate. Children were moving from place to place clutching their teddy bears, their pillows and blankets, and we could not do a thing. We had to put them in a church for one night and shift them somewhere else the next night. What on earth are we doing? We are a large, wealthy population. Why can we not deal with such a situation?

The draft cohesion, sharing and integration strategy must be published immediately and must include strategies to deal with those situations. It is shameful that we cannot look after such a small minority. Those 115 families were attacked night after night and they were absolutely petrified. The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, saw how frightened the women and children were; we all saw that they were fearful for their lives. It is not good for our image, it is bad for investment and it is bad for people who want to come here to live, study or work.

This is a lovely country and we need to defend our name, but how can we? We need action on the ground and action from all Departments. The voluntary sector and the grass-roots sector must work together. It is important to show that we can treat ethnic minorities well and, in doing so, we can show people that we have equality, human rights and good community relations.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to take part in today’s debate. I acknowledge the contributions from all Members who spoke, and I particularly acknowledge the attendance of the two Ministers. I also welcome the First Minister’s support for the motion and the amendment.

As Members said, we are debating the twin evils of sectarianism and racism. The recent sectarian murder of Kevin McDaid, the attempted murder of Damian Fleming and the sight of the Roma families being forced from their homes indicate that we need to do more to tackle sectarianism and racist bigots. It is important to remember that peace does not translate into the absence of violence. In some ways, peace building can be an extremely difficult task, but it is a task in which we must all take part. We must respect the rights and entitlements of everyone.

During Question Time, the deputy First Minister talked about bringing forward a framework to tackle racism, sectarianism and any other forms of prejudice, and it is important that we all work together to do that.

My colleague Alex Maskey opened the debate by voicing the need for a strategy based on equality, and called on political leaders to show direction and to set an example to others by respecting differences and welcoming and embracing diversity.

The images of families gathering their belongings and having to seek sanctuary in a local church were disgraceful, and other Members spoke about that. The sectarian killing of Kevin McDaid and its aftermath were also shameful. Alex said that some people may feel more comfortable when dealing with the evil of racism, but the evil of sectarianism exists as well, and people must also deal with it. He said that it is vital that all Members send out a positive and united message that those twin evils will not be tolerated.

Naomi Long made the point that those carrying out racist attacks do not represent the majority of people in our communities. I agree; they are a small number, but they can do untold damage and they inflicted suffering on the family of Kevin McDaid and on the Roma families who were forced to flee their homes. She said that we do not deal with division and differences well, and it is a massive challenge that must be faced.

She also mentioned the good work of groups and individuals. In my constituency of West Belfast, and in north Belfast, there are groups that work at interfaces every year to calm the feelings that run high on the issue of parades. Much good community-relations work is being done all over the North, and my colleagues, including Alex Maskey and Martina Anderson, have dealt with groups that are dealing with challenging issues.

Jim Shannon spoke about migrant workers and their contribution to society. He spoke about attacks on parades, but I was disappointed that he and some other Members did not mention by name Kevin McDaid, who was murdered several weeks ago as a result of sectarianism. I am not saying that he did not condemn that, but I feel that most of the focus today was on racist attacks and not enough on sectarianism.

Few Members mentioned the Irish Travellers, which is probably one of the communities that is most discriminated against in the North of Ireland. Jim Shannon mentioned the Travelling community and gay people, but many Members forgot to mention the Irish Travelling community.

Danny Kennedy said that attacks should be condemned not only because of the bad message that they send out but because of the suffering that they inflict on families. He also spoke about the PSNI. However, even the PSNI acknowledged that it got it wrong on both incidences in Coleraine and south Belfast. I will not enter into an attack on the PSNI, but there are lessons to be learned.

Carmel Hanna reiterated comments that others made about the shame felt by people here when watching the scenes on television. We visited the Roma families and the McDaid family. She said that we keep repeating the mistakes of the past and that racism is the other side of sectarianism. Several Members made that point very strongly; it is a point that should be made very strongly, because racism is the other face of sectarianism. It is still about, and people need to focus on that during debates such as this. She also said that segregated housing and education must be addressed, as must the issue of flags. One can see from the news this morning that the issue of flags is raising its head again, as it does at this time every year.

Jimmy Spratt spoke about the things that happened to the Roma families and about the media perception and elected representatives. He said that elected representatives, the media and the PSNI also have a role to play, particularly in how events were portrayed. He said that the attack on the church may not have been a racist attack after all but added that we all have our parts to play in condemning such attacks.

My colleague Martina Anderson said that attacks on the Roma community are part of a mindset of intolerance and that not enough is being done to tackle bigotry. She called for political leadership, and she said that some unionist Members had failed to be as proactive as they should have been in challenging sectarianism and racism. Comments were made to and fro, but I do not wish to enter into such a debate. An onus is on all of us to show a united front, and Sinn Féin has always been at the forefront of condemning sectarianism and racism, no matter from where it comes.

Robin Newton said that recent attacks sent out a negative message, that a small number of people carried out the attacks and that strategies are needed to educate young people. He said that the setting-up of residents’ groups by people who do not agree with parades through their areas is wrong. I disagree: people have the right to peaceful protest if they do not agree that a parade should go through their area.

Tom Elliott talked about respect and responsibility. He said that some groups from ethnic minority backgrounds had attacked people from the local community. I am not sure what point he was trying to make. I do not know whether he meant that that was a racist attack, in that people from ethnic minority backgrounds attacked people because they were white and Irish, or whether his point was about antisocial activity.

I acknowledge the First Minister’s remarks. He unreservedly condemned all racist and sectarian attacks, and he supported the motion and the amendment. He said that such attacks are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. He said that the individuals who carried out the attacks are not representative of the rest of society, and we all agree with him on that. He and the deputy First Minister met the Romanian ambassador, who said that he was encouraged by the level of condemnation of the attacks and by the way in which people from the local community reacted. The people in the local communities who helped the family of Kevin McDaid in Coleraine and the Roma families must be commended, along with people from the voluntary and statutory sectors.

We need a society that is based on tolerance and understanding and that embraces cultural diversity. Anna Lo made the important point that hate crime of all types must be tackled. We must understand that not only must racism and sectarianism be tackled but all forms of hate crime. People pick on other people because they are different. Those same people cannot accept that difference, and that must be tackled.

Anna Lo also said that people from ethnic minorities are very fearful and that they need leadership and action from Government to get over that fear.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I support the motion and the amendment, and I hope that the Chamber can send out a united message.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this Assembly condemns unreservedly all racist and sectarian attacks; calls for the rights and entitlements of ethnic minorities and other vulnerable communities to be protected; commends all those voluntary and statutory agencies which assisted in the recent upheaval inflicted upon members of the Roma community in Belfast; and calls on all Departments to respond appropriately and on all political leaders to display leadership and unity of purpose in tackling all manifestations of hate crime; and calls on the Executive to publish immediately the draft cohesion, sharing and integration strategy.