Racial Attacks

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 3rd June 2014.

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Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin 4:00 pm, 3rd June 2014

Order.  Before we move to the next item of business, I remind Members of the Speaker's ruling on the need for good temper and moderation in debate.  Members will be well aware of the seriousness of the issue that we are about to debate and the attention that there will be on it.  I will also mention that the debate will be streamed live.  Members on all sides of the House will, of course, want to express their views on the issue, but let us ensure that we do it in an appropriate way that does not exacerbate feelings outside the Chamber. 

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

Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin

I beg to move

That this Assembly condemns the recent racial attacks and firmly opposes racism, discrimination and intolerance of any kind, wherever it occurs; embraces the growing diversity within our society; emphasises that there is no room for racism or stigmatisation; and calls on all political parties to provide leadership on this issue.

I support the motion and the amendment.  As hard as it is to believe, it may be fair to say that the events of the past week here in the North have been bittersweet.  There is nothing that I can do or that we can do as a society but regret the comments of Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson for the wounds inflicted on our ethnic minority community.  However, it has brought all sides of the community and nationalities together.  We saw that last weekend in Belfast, where over 4,000 people attended a protest. 

I also welcome and acknowledge the fact that Pastor McConnell visited the families of two Pakistani men who were attacked in their homes in north Belfast last weekend.  That is a step in the right direction.

I think that it is sad that our ethnic minority population has never felt more insecure regarding its vulnerability to crime.  That is a challenge for policing and for the criminal justice system, and it is a challenge that must be met without prejudice and with respect for human rights. 

Racism is prevalent in our communities, and we need to show political leadership in tackling the problem.  According to the PSNI's crime statistics, racist incidents have increased by almost one third in the past year.  There were 982 racist incidents in the 2013-14 financial year, which is an increase of 30·9%.  The PSNI recognises that there is more work to be done to build confidence in those communities to tackle hate crime.

Sadly, when it comes to addressing hate crime, sound bites will not be enough.  There was no justification for Pastor McConnell's comments during his sermon in the first place.  We need real solutions to the problem of hate crime.  Otherwise, we will leave the problems unchanged or even worse.  We need political courage, political strength and the political will to deal with these problems.

No one should think that they are the chosen religion.  An important tool, which was included in the Good Friday Agreement and, subsequently, put into legislative form, is a statutory equality duty on all public authorities.  It is known as section 75.  All public bodies are obliged to promote equality across a range of categories, including religion, politics, race and ethnicity.  Everyone living in the North of Ireland has the right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, social or economic status, marital or family status, residence, language, religion, belief or political or other opinion.

There is an obligation on all in society to respect the rights of others and to uphold just laws.  There is an obligation here in government to protect and promote the rights of all and to ensure that all in our society are aware of, and able to assert, their rights.  The question is this:  are we doing that?  Despite legislation outlawing hate crime, which was introduced in 2004 to enable courts to determine additional penalties for crimes aggravated by religious, racial or other hate motives, particular difficulties remain.  Clearly, there is still a view within the minority communities that religious hate crimes will not be taken seriously, and so it is that we have the alleged under-reporting or, indeed, non-reporting of such crimes.  That seems to have become an established practice.  We need to ask how many cases have been prosecuted under the legislation, whether the courts have, in fact, applied additional penalties to those found guilty of religiously motivated hate crime, and how those numbers compare with the police statistics recording religiously motivated hate crime?

The racial equality strategy has been agreed by Martin McGuinness.  It should be agreed, urgently, by the First Minister and go out quickly for public consultation.  The strategy is an essential part of the overall equality agenda.  It demonstrates the Executive's commitment to eliminate discrimination, promote equal opportunities and develop good relations.  The strategy will identify the needs of our ethnic minority population, promote racial equality, tackle racism and increase awareness of the issues in that area.  The strategy will foster good relations, thereby promoting greater social cohesion and equality of opportunity for everyone.

Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of pushing for positive change to transform the delivery of equality on the island of Ireland, but our work is far from done.  Sinn Féin has long lobbied for a bill of rights for the North of Ireland on the grounds that a comprehensive bill of rights can serve as a guarantor of the vision of parity of esteem and equality of treatment for all contained in the agreement.

The Programme for Government reflects the Executive's commitment to improving community relations and building a united and shared society.  The Together:  Building a United Community strategy outlines a vision based on equality of opportunity, the desirability of good relations and reconciliation.  It provides a framework for government action in tackling sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance while seeking to address division, hate and separation.

We all, as a community and as political leaders, need to be extremely careful in our language and discourse.  Sometimes, we say things that may seem OK, but, in the eyes of others who have come to this country to settle and contribute to society, our language can be hurtful, negative, unwelcoming and, bluntly, racist in tone.


In conclusion, Pierre Berton said:

"Racism is a refuge for the ignorant.  It seeks to divide and to destroy.  It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out."

By supporting the motion today, the Assembly can give a strong message that prejudice, discrimination and intolerance must be rejected.  Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I beg to move the following amendment: Insert after "stigmatisation;"

"notes with concern the delay in the delivery of the racial equality strategy; affirms the urgency of addressing racial inequality; calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that the racial equality strategy is robust and is brought forward as a matter of urgency;".

The Alliance Party will, of course, support the motion.  I welcome the opportunity that it gives to all MLAs to take a clear, united and unequivocal stand against racism and to consider how we work together to eradicate prejudice from our community.  It is right that we condemn racism, stand united against it and show leadership, but it is also vital that we see real action.  I ask the Assembly, therefore, to support the Alliance Party amendment, which calls on the DUP/Sinn Féin Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to urgently deliver the long-overdue racial equality strategy, with a clear action plan and an adequate budget.

Some people in our society claim that the issue of racism has been exaggerated or manipulated for political ends.  They need to get their head out of the sand and face up to reality.  It should be no surprise that a society ripped apart by sectarianism will have to defeat its close friend racism.  We, of course, have made serious progress towards peace and prosperity.  The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister needs to get serious about tackling sectarianism and racism if we are to build a united Northern Ireland.  In a political stalemate and with a lack of political leadership, the vacuum is often filled by sinister elements.  That is what we have seen to be the case in recent weeks.  There has been a 30% increase in racist attacks in the past year, 27% of which have been in north Belfast, 23% in east Belfast and 16% in south Belfast.  There was more race hate crime reported in Belfast in 2013 than in the whole of Northern Ireland in 2003.

Unfortunately, I have had first-hand experience of racist attacks on Filipino families serving our health service, where swastikas were painted on their homes.  I have seen windows smashed in the homes of African families.  Families, including people serving as scientists in our universities, have been put under serious strain.  Polish families serving the community and working hard to integrate have been attacked.  We have also seen the recent racist attacks against Pakistani families.  We know that paramilitaries, including the UVF, have been involved in the attacks.  My colleague Anna Lo has been subjected to vile racist abuse and threat, the veracity of which has been questioned by political parties, including UKIP.  She has been called racist by a DUP councillor.  Anna and I, as, I am sure, she will agree, do not agree on everything, but we are colleagues in a political party working for a safe and shared society for everyone.  I stand firmly with Anna and all victims and survivors of racism in our community.  It is wrong, and it has to stop.

It is unfortunate that, in that context, a number of unhelpful high-profile interventions have been made.  Christian pastors should absolutely have the religious freedom to preach the gospel of Christ.  They are absolutely right to campaign for religious freedom in other parts of the world where it is being so brutally and inhumanely denied as we speak.  They should also be free to challenge doctrine in a robust manner, but they should make that challenge in love.  They must stand clearly against prejudice and hate.  I sincerely respect the service of Pastor James McConnell and his congregation, but the assertion that all members of a group of people are untrustworthy is a prejudicial and dangerous generalisation that he should retract.  The language used by the First Minister, Mr Robinson, in an attempt to qualify the comment, whatever the intention, was ill conceived and demeaning.  I welcome the private apology that the First Minister is understood to have given on the matter and the public apology that, I understand, was given today by junior Minister Bell for offence caused by the DUP on these matters, but I believe that it is the duty of the First Minister to ensure that all people are safe and welcome in Northern Ireland.  A clear, unambiguous public retraction of the comments by Mr Robinson remains urgently required.  Indeed, it is a missed opportunity that the First Minister is not here to make a contribution on the issue.

It is clear that many people in this community, from all backgrounds, stand firmly against racism.  That was evidenced by the demonstration attended by people of all backgrounds outside City Hall at the weekend and the planned Unite Against Racism march this weekend, as well as by the many interventions that we have seen from people across our society during the week.  That response gives me hope, and I believe that, out of what is a negative situation, we can seize an opportunity to renew and reactivate our commitment to build a united community. 

I welcome the action taken by the PSNI to establish a dedicated hate crime unit and helpline, which can be accessed by dialling 101.  In May, Operation Reiner saw 20 hate crime-related arrests in Belfast — 11 relating to race — and 15 searches on premises.  Six people have been charged with a range of offences as a result; four have been reported for prosecution; and 10 have been bailed for further inquiry.  Between 20 and 31 May, the dedicated hate crime helpline received 53 reports of racist hate crime.  I believe that the PSNI is taking its responsibility seriously, but we need others to do the same if we are to tackle the root causes of racism and maximise the positive contribution that people of ethnic minority background make to all elements of our society, whether in business, research, health, public services or culture.  

Most importantly, we need to see leadership from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in the delivery of the devolved racial equality strategy for Northern Ireland, which was scheduled for publication by the end of 2013 in the Together:  Building a United Community strategy.  As I understand it, the last direct rule racial equality strategy finished in 2010, which begs this question of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister:  "Why the delay?".  The racial equality strategy, if supported by a good and sound assessment of current key inequalities and containing clear actions and timelines, has real potential to deliver improved racial equality in Northern Ireland. 

The Equality Commission has made a significant contribution to work on the strategy and has listed key areas that we should see in it.  In the area of legislation, it recommends a single equality Bill and a bill of rights or that the Equality Act 2010 be extended to Northern Ireland.  On community safety, it recommends that we address the under-reporting of race hate crime; endeavour through early intervention to prevent low-level hate crime escalating; improve our operational response to hate crime; and provide improved support for victims of racist hate crime.  We should also publish clear data to allow us to make end-to-end tracking of hate crime cases.

On education, the commission recommends that ethnic minority children see their culture and language reflected in the classroom and school curriculum; that we provide adequate support for newcomer children in our schools; and that we respond to prejudice-based bullying.  On employment, we should see initiatives aimed at tackling the exploitation of migrant workers; reducing ethnic minority disadvantage in employment; raising awareness of the rights of migrant workers; and maximising migrant workers' access to the labour market.  On housing, we need a more strategic response to the accommodation needs of asylum seekers and refugees in Northern Ireland.  On healthcare, we need to see a coordinated approach to known inequalities among ethnic minorities.

We should also see the OFMDFM emergency fund and minority ethnic development fund made available on a more sustainable and long-term basis to ensure that there are adequate resources at grass-roots level in our community to respond to the issue.

In the upcoming Community Relations Week 2014, which starts on 16 June, the Community Relations Council will urge us to finish the job of the peace process.  I hope that the Assembly will today send out a clear message to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister that racial equality must be a fundamentally important part of that job.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP 4:15 pm, 3rd June 2014

Racism should have no place in our society.  I am unequivocal in my condemnation of attacks that have happened in recent days, as are all my colleagues.  It is deeply concerning when we look at recent figures released by the PSNI and see that there has been a 30·9% increase in racist incidents in the last 12 months.  The high number of race hate crimes is highlighted further when we see that there have been almost 700 racially motivated attacks over the last 12 months.  In the Craigavon area in my constituency, 45 racially motivated attacks have occurred in the last year.  I am sure that Members will agree that statistics like these are unacceptable.

Those who inflict hate crimes on members of ethnic minority communities should be ashamed of their actions.  It is only right that they be subject to the full force of the law and that the punishments are appropriate.  I am pleased that, in recent days, the PSNI announced a telephone line for reporting and providing information on race hate crimes, which is some progress in the PSNI's efforts to deal with these issues.  It is my hope that people who have been victims of these crimes or, indeed, those who have witnessed them will feel comfortable coming forward to the police and helping them as they carry out their investigations.

We, as a society, must not allow the small section of our community who carry out these hate crimes to tarnish the name of Northern Ireland.  The overwhelming majority of our population is tolerant and respectful of those from other cultures and backgrounds.  They recognise that people from ethic minority backgrounds should be allowed to live peaceably and to make a positive contribution to our society as a whole.

Northern Ireland has been moving forward in recent years, and we want that to continue.  According to the Alliance Party amendment, Northern Ireland has been idle in this regard, with claims made regarding a seven-year delay in providing a strategy.  That is clearly not the case, because a strategy was in place from 2005 to 2010.  Since then, the Department has been working to tackle the problem with the setting up of the racial equality panel.  Work by Ministers is ongoing to progress a new strategy that will undoubtedly provide a robust and effective framework to tackle hate crimes.

This Government have been to the fore in combating racism and sectarianism through their Together: Building a United Community strategy.  The strategy provides the framework for government action in tackling sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance while seeking to address division, hate and separation in our society.  I am aware that consideration is being given to the possibility of incorporating the United Against Hate campaign and building on its achievements to date.  In addition, government has been to the fore in investing in communities through the minority ethic development fund, with £1·1 million having been allocated this financial year on top of the £1·1 million last year from tier 1 alone.

As I draw my remarks to a close, I want to again utterly condemn racist attacks.  We in this Assembly have a responsibility, and we are certainly not shying away from it.  We remain committed to stamping this out and providing legislation and policies that work towards that end.  We cannot allow a very small number of people in Northern Ireland to halt the progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years and will hopefully continue to make in the years to come.  Government alone cannot eradicate the problem of racism.  Combating racism is an issue for all sections of society.  As we move forward, it is up to society as a whole to promote good race relations and to make it clear that there is no place for race hate crimes in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

This is a very timely debate given the events of the past week or more: the comments by Pastor McConnell; the unfortunate defence of those comments by the First Minister; the outrageous racist attacks on Anna Lo, our colleague and a Member of the Assembly; and the egregious attack on two Pakistani residents of Parkmount Street in north Belfast.

Given the fact that we have an opportunity here to put to bed the evil of racist attacks and intolerance in our society, I have to ask the House this:  where is the First Minister? Why is the First Minister not here? Why is he not making a statement to the House to clarify his position in relation to Pastor McConnell and in relation to racism?  His absence hangs over the debate, and I have to say that it is deeply regrettable that he is not here.  There is an empty chair there where the First Minister should be.  I believe it is his duty to come to the House and clarify his position.  It is the duty of all of us to give leadership in relation to that evil within our society.  

Sectarianism and racism are simply two sides of the one coin and the one evil, which is intolerance and bigotry.  It is incumbent on all of us, particularly those in high office, to show leadership.  If we do not show leadership, then we are letting down the whole community and letting down those from an ethnic background who come to live here as our guests and our citizens and who make a great contribution to our society.

I believe that there is a crisis of confidence among those in our community who come from an ethnic background, and that has shown in the events of the past week.  It is clear from the comments, not only by Anna Lo, who has given great articulation to the fears and concerns of the ethnic communities in our society but by the most articulate and dramatic words of one of the victims of the attacks in Parkmount Street — one of the Pakistani gentlemen — who said that the words of the First Minister had set a "fire in the jungle".  Those were very poignant remarks, and I believe they highlight the real fear that exists in our community.  Given that, those who have been affected in such a tragic and evil manner deserve all of our support. 

It is not right for the First Minister to hide away, given the opportunity that the debate has created to clarify his position.  It is not right, and he should come to the House even now in order to clarify his remarks.  It is a dereliction of duty not to come to the House.  We have been given the task of leading this community, and we should do so in a forceful manner.  We should directly attack the intolerance, bigotry and racism that have caused so much hurt to people in our society.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I am extremely pleased to speak today to support both the motion and the amendment

I want to start with a story. I am lucky enough to have travelled a great deal earlier in my life.  I met an American who had worked on the Alaskan pipelines for a year.  Every year he worked on the Alaskan pipelines, he then travelled around the world.  When I asked him where the best place in the world was, he said, "Northern Ireland", not knowing that I was from here.  He said, "Those were the friendliest, loveliest people of any country I have been in".  That is what we want to get back to.  We want to get back to the world realising what a great place Northern Ireland is.  Let us get back to what we saw around the Giro d'Italia and the Olympic torch — Northern Ireland all pulling together, all celebrating, all happy.  That is what this place should be.

Is it really that bad?  We have just heard from Chris Lyttle how appalling it is for some.  We have to take that and change it.  I am proud to be on the all-party group on ethnic minority communities, when I can get to it, and to have chaired it.  However, I have not been proud of the fact that we cannot achieve half the things we want to achieve because we are not getting it back down from OFMDFM.  We need that racial equality strategy today and everything coming back down to us so that we can actually get on with making Northern Ireland a better place.  The statistic that shows that four out of 14,000 cases have actually been prosecuted shows how bad we are at protecting those whom we should protect.

Last night, when we went to the Islamic centre, I was appalled to hear that the two people who had been attacked at the weekend were too frightened to go out and get food, and I am really impressed and glad to hear that the pastor has been there today.  We have to change this society, and it is up to us, as the politicians, to do so.  It is all of us, from the First Minister downwards.  It is leadership.  That leadership is not just in press releases and statements but in our parties and communities and particularly in challenging those who disagree with us and who have a warped mind and feel that it is all right to attack or intimidate somebody.  Let us make sure that we challenge it.

I particularly enjoyed meeting the people last night in the Islamic centre, because they are exactly what I expected to find.  They are people who came to Northern Ireland with fantastic skills.  They are heart surgeons and scientific specialists.  If you look all the way through Northern Ireland, on the back of the £1·4 billion that is brought in by ethnic communities, you will see the skills that make Northern Ireland the great place that it is.  Whether it is the nurses or those in industry, we want to make them welcome.  Let us see that they are all very much part of our society.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green 4:30 pm, 3rd June 2014

I thank the Member for giving way, because I may not get the opportunity to speak later.  Will he agree with me that, while I agree with him about the skills and expertise we get in through immigration, regardless of why anyone finds themselves in Northern Ireland, no one, in whatever circumstances, should be subject to racist attacks?

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Thank you very much, indeed.  I full-heartedly agree with you.  That should not happen to anyone in any country anywhere but especially not in our country.  It should not happen anywhere in the world.  Thank you.

Last week, I was pleased to see the British Council here.  One of the other great changes we have to get in place is in our education system, and, with the visit of the British Council, we were able to see excellent examples of schools learning about foreign cultures and differences, schools with classroom connections with Uganda and Spain and people teaching how to paint or draw Chinese letters and, equally, how to learn Arabic.  There is so much that we all need to learn at school, and it should start right at the beginning and go all the way through.  As we heard from someone else, we especially need to learn about each other's cultures.  I know one school in my constituency that has 16 ethnic groups, and I know that it makes sure that everyone understands all those communities.

I was sad to hear the comments of the First Minister and really sad to hear his begrudging apology.  What we need is a clear apology.  When I put out a press release on the back of that last week — I wish that I had not had to do it — within 20 minutes, someone from the Middle East sent me a text to say, "Well done".  That is how quickly that little bit of bad language in describing us in Northern Ireland in a way that we do not want to be seen had gone around the world.  That is what we have to change, and that is why we need a public and heartfelt apology.

Last week, I was also lucky enough to be at the event with the Turkish ambassador to launch the new consul.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

The Member's time is almost up.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Thank you very much.  I want to make one more comment.  The more we push this and publicise it the worse it will get.  Let us all work together to calm it all down and never see it happen again.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

I will commence my contribution by unequivocally condemning every racist attack as unacceptable and an affront to Northern Ireland society.  Despite recent media hype, I believe that firm leadership has been clearly shown in Northern Ireland by the House.  I also believe that certain sections of the media, in some cases, could cause division and increased fear by continual coverage of stories that suit their agenda.  Have the proposers asked the media what leadership they are giving in these circumstances?  When we read our newspapers and hear on our radios and televisions about incidents of race hate, I know that the vast majority of our citizens totally condemn these despicable attacks. 

It is a sad fact that Northern Ireland is not the only part of the United Kingdom to suffer from racist crimes, which should be unequivocally condemned.  Indeed, the UK is not the only country in the world where these crimes occur.  This is by no means a justification for these attacks but simply a factual observation, and they should not happen.  Racist attacks are only one part of the overall category of hate crime, and I believe that it is dangerous to make single aspects of hate crime a special case.  All hate crime is abhorrent and must be totally condemned.  It is up to all of us to ensure that perpetrators are adequately punished for their dastardly crimes.  In the past, crimes such as these were treated as sectarian.  I should know, because I was on the receiving end of them.  I condemn them all, as I deeply understand the untold distress caused to the victims who have been targeted.  It is also important to understand that, in some cases, crimes do not attract a strong enough sentence to act as a deterrent.

Let us all join together and encourage anyone who has any evidence of racial abuse or, for that matter, any crime directed towards victims to report that to our Police Service in Northern Ireland.  Ironically, Northern Ireland has a reputation for the warmth of the welcome that people choosing to live here receive no matter what country they come from.  I stress again my total opposition to racist or hate crimes and ask the media to examine the extensive coverage that they give to these stories and whether it is contributing to the problem.  I urge anyone who knows the perpetrators of such crimes to ensure that they are taken off our streets.

In conclusion, it is worthy of note that, in April, OFMDFM stated in an answer to my colleague Mr David McIlveen:

"The mainstreaming and promotion of racial equality remains a strong commitment of our Department".

Leadership is being given, and all Members here should support that leadership.  I also urge support for the "A Sense of Belonging" initiative, which is aimed at uniting communities and increasing tolerance for those of different ethnic backgrounds.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle.  Maya Angelou died last week, and the world mourned the loss of a wonderfully strong feminist African-American writer and poet who lived a very full life.  Part of that life included daily political activism against racism in all its forms.  She said, amongst other things:

"The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams."

The past few weeks and, indeed, months have been difficult for many in our communities, those who have come to live in the North to make a better life for themselves and their families.  Those people deserve a future in our country in the same way as Irish people who have travelled and worked abroad in every continent also deserved a future.  Sinn Féin brings this motion to the Assembly because we understand the importance of sending out a clear, unambiguous, strong message that there is zero tolerance of racism in all its forms in our society.  Where it surfaces, it needs to be challenged and action taken, whether it is on social media, on our streets, in the workplace or in our communities.

I join Bronwyn McGahan in supporting all the work that is being done to deal with racial prejudice in our society.  On behalf of Sinn Féin, I say to our ethnic minority communities directly that we value you and we want you to feel safe here.  We thank you for all the hard work that you have done in workplaces, in businesses, in communities and in your families.  We want to say to you that your children are beautiful, that we want them to get a good education and that they enrich our classrooms.  We want you to have access to housing, jobs, welfare and entitlements throughout your life.  We also value and celebrate the diversity that you bring to us:  your beautiful languages, your music, your dances, your food, your creativity, and your differing religious beliefs, and none.  It is that diversity that enriches us.  Whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian or atheist, we celebrate your humanity.

This morning, I left my little grandson off at his crèche here in Belfast.  He is growing carrots with his granda, and he has watched them grow every single week when he comes to visit us, watching the little green tops coming.  He went out and picked them last night.  They were very small, because he picked them far too soon.  He arrived into his crèche this morning to show a carrot to the rest of the children.  He is three.  I looked at the lovely faces of the children in that crèche examining that tiny little carrot — African, Asian and European faces looking at it — and I felt very, very sad at some of the public commentary that has been made in the past few weeks.  I join Bronwyn in condemning Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson's comments.  I hope that Mr George Robinson did not try to shift the blame on to the media — let us put blame clearly where it belongs.

I also very publicly say to Anna Lo that the Assembly is a far better place because you are here.  I know that the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland believe that, too.  There are some who are going on the airwaves and, in a very insulting way, are accusing Anna of making things up or exaggerating.  That behaviour is indefensible, and I put on record that I have lodged a formal complaint to the Policing Board about a racist attack on Anna Lo at an International Women's Day event way back in March, which was long before any of the more recent statements were made.  That attack was by some of the flag protesters from a person who witnessed it. 

I welcome Martin McGuinness's leadership on this matter —

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

The Member's time is almost up.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

— and I am going to give the last word to Maya Angelou:

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP

I welcome the opportunity to have an input into the debate on what is a very serious issue and one that I know that all Members in the House condemn at all levels.  From the outset, I make it clear that I and, indeed, my party firmly oppose racism, discrimination and intolerance whenever and wherever it occurs, and I put on record my personal condemnation of the recent racist attacks. 

The unprecedented growth of inward migration in recent years presents us with challenges and opportunities.  We either show a strong, united voice on the issue or we create a vacuum in which people draw their own conclusions, which can often end in the most damaging consequences.  We must ensure that the primary concern of community safety is addressed, but we also need to recognise the complexities of ensuring that, to build a united community on the issue, everyone must feel safe and secure and not feel threatened by intolerance or prejudice. 

Collectively, as political representatives, we must show leadership on these issues.  The media must also show leadership by ensuring that sensitivities and protections are not sacrificed just for a big story.  Community representatives and organisations also have an active role to ensure that they support everyone while helping to lead on integration-based projects and programmes.  Most notably, as individuals, we all have an important leadership role to play in ensuring that we do all in our power to break down barriers and challenge actions that lead to racism and intolerance.  Fundamentally, we all have important leadership roles to play in showcasing the positives that come from tolerance and diversity.

My colleague Mr Moutray spoke of the £2·2 million invested through the minority ethnic development fund.  In the past number of months, I have met a group called the Horn of Africa, a local charity with the aim of supporting and integrating people from countries such as Somalia who have come to set up home in Northern Ireland.  Namely, I met Suleiman Abdulahi, who raised a number of issues with me and suggested solutions to help to meet the needs of asylum seekers and immigrants coming to Northern Ireland. 

The group's projects include a youth football team and a ladies' basketball team, in which young people from south Belfast and the Horn of Africa come together to share and to educate each other through the medium of sport.  It also provides English classes and special homework sessions for children, supported by our local teachers who volunteer their time to help.  The House needs to do more to showcase and support the excellent work of organisations such as the Horn of Africa in providing the synergy and foresight needed to bring our diverse communities together, and to recognise the work that they do in breaking down cultural and religious barriers. 

I hope to host an event later this year to showcase the positive impact that people coming from this region of Africa have in Northern Ireland.  I will look to how we can do more to embrace and support the growing diversity in our society, and I hope to see many MLAs at the event.  It is my view that we cannot be the champions of tolerance, acceptance and forbearance today and become the aerators of intolerance, narrowness and bigotry tomorrow, whether that applies to Orangemen, ethnic minorities, people attending their place of religious worship or those with a particular disability.  We cannot afford to send out mixed messages because we are happy to be tolerant of some but not others. 

As I stated at the start, and I reiterate, individually and collectively, we all have a responsibility to challenge intolerant attitudes and behaviours, and we all have a responsibility to show leadership on these destructive issues.  We have a responsibility to create a Northern Ireland free from racism or sectarianism.

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:45 pm, 3rd June 2014

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, although I am saddened that we have to debate the issue at all.  I will take a moment to apologise for the departure of my colleague Alban Maginness, who has to attend a meeting on human trafficking. 

If there is one thing that Ireland, North and South, knows about intimately, it is emigration.  Over 150 years ago, a million fled our shores in the famine.  Part of our shared history is finding ourselves as displaced Irish people.  As a result, those from both traditions found themselves, not too long ago and on foreign soil, subject to the same discrimination as we speak of today.  Even today, many of our people are forced — through economic circumstances — to leave our shores.  Family members are emigrating in their thousands, and we naturally wish them to receive the warmest welcome wherever they are.

It is, therefore, extremely unsettling that the same conditions that many of us fear for our loved ones are being inflicted on others who come here.  There was only one place that I wanted to be last week when I heard of the pastor's highly inflammatory comments and the First Minister's distasteful commendation of them, and that was at the Islamic Centre in south Belfast to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who felt victimised.  Their welcome to me and SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell, was in stark contrast to the comments of the DUP.  When we get it wrong, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, we must say that we got it wrong. 

We were accepted warmly, with grace and dignity, and we were left in no doubt that those belonging to the Islamic Centre in Belfast were angry and hurt, but, importantly, they were dignified.  One was a highly respected health service consultant who had given a lifetime of consultancy to our people here — a life of service that was far from going to the shops.  It is not exactly going to the shops, given the investment that the Islamic community has made in ours. 

I was interested to see just how subdued our Enterprise Minister was earlier when asked about the impact of the First Minister's comments on her good efforts to bring tourism, investment and overseas sales here. Interestingly, as a result of this furore, the one thing that we are not talking about is the 4% drop by the DUP in the polls.  On top of over 900 racist attacks in the past year, we have just heard of the horrific and deplorable attacks on two Pakistani men in north Belfast.  It is also worth noting that racist attacks are most definitely under-reported.

I would accept the emotion that the junior Minister demonstrated on the radio this morning if mountains of work had been progressed by the DUP on racial discrimination and attacks.  We do not need emotion on our airwaves; we need leadership, vision and ambition for all living and visiting here.  However, the stagnation around the racial equality strategy not only highlights one of the fundamental problems of the two-party stranglehold but how a lack of appropriate Executive urgency around fundamental matters can act to the detriment of people here and those who visit.

The last strategy under direct rule had 260 actions.  It was reflected at the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister by members of the Department that many of those actions did not improve the lives of ethnic minorities here.  The Committee was united on the need to progress a new strategy.  Given recent events, I have no doubt that the strategy is needed now more than ever.  The unprecedented rise in racial attacks, the inflammatory comments of Pastor McConnell and the subsequent endorsement by Peter Robinson are clear evidence of that.

The First Minister has had an apology accepted and welcomed by Muslims.  He should now apologise to the rest of us.  I endorse the comments of my colleague Mr Alban Maginness that he should be here this afternoon to do so.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I apologise for missing the beginning of the debate; I was called off-campus by an urgent matter.

As Mr Kinahan made clear, last night, some of the Ulster Unionist Party visited the Belfast Islamic Centre as part of an ongoing engagement programme for us with our so-called ethnic minorities.  I am not going to pretend to the House that it was anything other than fast-tracked because of the events of recent days.  I made that clear, and it was not an issue for our hosts.  What was an issue was the building, the Islamic Centre.  It has passed its use-by date as a cultural centre and, as a mosque, it was never fit for purpose.

Given that we as Christians take such great pride in our network of chapels, churches and cathedrals that populate — some might even say dominate — our built environment, surely we do not need to be convinced of the importance of having an appropriate place in which to worship our God.  Yet between 4,000 and 8,000 Muslims in this country do not have an appropriate place to worship.  They do not have that facility.

Inside the centre, we met a group of people whom I can best describe as high achievers:  successful businesspeople and they doctors and consultants who are driving forward our health service.  They are ratepayers and, let us not deny it, high-end taxpayers, good, corporate citizens of this country who describe themselves as British Muslims or, in one case, as an Irish Muslim — but I assure the Members opposite that I am working on that.

With a variable population of students and the hospitals in south Belfast, that is a key geographic area for the Islamic community.  Why would we deny them a single appropriate place in which to worship, where they might give thanks for successful operations that saved the life of some of our loved ones or maybe even of a Member of this Chamber?  All they want is a level playing field in the support and resources given to ethnic minorities by the Assembly and our councils.  They just want to receive the same respect that they show to others.  Does that not sum up the values that make at least some of us describe ourselves as British, values of tolerance, openness and fairness?

Northern Ireland in particular was known around the world, even though we had our own internal difficulties, as a place that was very welcoming to strangers, as Mr Kinahan pointed out with his anecdote.  That some of our citizens seem incapable of accepting others is to their eternal shame, and it is our pressing challenge as politicians.

Never forget that Britain is a melting pot of nationalities.  The United Kingdom is basically made up of the English, the Scottish, the Welsh and the Irish.  Modern Britain was formed by the descendants of ancient Britons and Celts, who were joined by Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans, Huguenots and Jews, who came to Britain prior to the 20th century.  Since the war, Britain has seen further immigration from former empire and Commonwealth countries, from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent.  That has been in addition to the traditional migration from the island of Ireland, which led to the creation of large Irish communities in places such as London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.  That is something that we all celebrated recently with the state visit to Great Britain of President Michael D Higgins.  Although uncontrolled immigration can put strains on social cohesion, we have proved in the past that Britain can handle it.

It is part of the human condition to distrust difference and fear the other.  I am reminded of President Abraham Lincoln, who once said of a man:

"I don't like that man.  I must get to know him better."

It is our challenge as politicians to make it easy for our citizens to get to know better our ethnic minorities, and that begins with a new racial equality strategy and the action plans that will ensure that the strategy makes a difference on the ground.

We support the motion, the amendment and the idea of supporting a new Islamic cultural centre in Belfast.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I was in Belfast for the rally and the flash mob afterwards at Tesco, and I was struck by the sheer diversity of the people who were there.  One of the problems was that the size of the crowd exceeded the strength of the PA system, and there was quite a lot of huddling around to see whether we could hear what was going on.  It is important to recognise the spontaneity that was involved.  People chose to be there because they were outraged — I was going to use the word "disappointed", but "outraged" is perhaps more appropriate — about the shame that has been brought upon our part of the world.

From listening to the debate around the Chamber, you would almost think that there was no problem, because everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet.  We are all condemning racist attacks and any form of xenophobia, yet clearly we do have a problem.

A week previous to the rally, I was in a Filipino shop on the Lisburn Road that is a wonderful example of self-help and working together.  I was surrounded by approximately 100 — perhaps 150 by the time that the evening had finished — happy, friendly folk who just wanted to get on with their lives and be part of our society.  There was a discussion about what is was to be Northern Irish.  My view was that it was not about birth, culture or any of those things but that it was about wanting to be Northern Irish.  It is a self-declaration, where someone says, "I believe in being Northern Irish".  They were quite taken by that.

I move on to some of the issues raised in the Chamber that we have not managed to deal with, in particular a racial equality strategy.  It is worth pointing out — I know that other Members have mentioned this — that the last one that we had covered the period 2005 to 2010.  For four years, we have failed to update our racial equality strategy.  That is something that we need to look at, and not just for it to be done with a tick-box mentality or a section 75 approach; rather, we need something that will make a difference.  We are looking for something other than fine words.

I note also the PSNI's most recent crime statistics, which show an increase in racist incidents of almost 31% and an increase in homophobic incidents of 14%.  There is something going wrong in our society that we have to deal with.

So, when it comes to where politics itself is actually making a difference, one cannot help but look at the election results across Europe, where there has been a dramatic swing to the right.  A lot of people are talking about being anti-Europe, anti-immigration and anti-freedom of movement, yet those are some of the most basic tenets of our democracy.

Look then at the response that has come from our political leaders and the furore of the past few days about what Mr Robinson did or did not say about what the pastor said.  What you are really looking for is an unequivocal stance on this, not dancing on the head of a pin or saying, "If you really understand what I am saying, you will understand that I am saying the right thing", but some clear leadership that we can all believe in and say, "This is what our country stands for".  An unfortunate message has gone out throughout the rest of the world.  That message is that Muslims and ethnic minorities are not welcome here.  That is not a good message to put out.  It does not do us justice.  It is not the Northern Ireland that I know and believe in.  Collectively, we have to do something about that.  If we do not do something about it, the racists and xenophobes will take comfort from the language that has been put out.  I do not think that that is something we want. 

The Northern Ireland identity must be flexible and broad enough to encompass, acknowledge and celebrate the different communities that have joined us from across the European Union and the wider world, people who are proud to call Northern Ireland home.  We should welcome them all, because they strengthen our society and make our communities better.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin 5:00 pm, 3rd June 2014

I thank my colleagues and fellow Assembly Members for their contribution to the debate.  I want to take the opportunity, at the outset, to totally condemn the appalling attacks that we have seen take place over recent weeks and months.  I want to send our support to our colleague Anna Lo from the Alliance Party, who herself has been a victim of racist abuse and threats.  We are very proud of the way that you have handled that, Anna.  I am pleased to be able to respond positively to the original motion and the amendment.  It has been good to hear so many Members speak out about their sense of outrage at attacks, without equivocation or any attempt at justification, and about some of the inflammatory comments that have been voiced in our community over recent weeks. 

On the racial equality strategy, it is clear that we need to act and take a united stand against the attacks and in how we deal with them.  All of us, particularly those in leadership roles, whether they are political leaders, community leaders, church leaders or any other type of leader, need to take a united stand and show our support for our ethnic minority communities, many of whom are vulnerable at the moment.  People mentioned the rise in racist attacks over the past year.  We should be very mindful that there are real people behind those statistics, real people who have families and who, every day, have to leave their home.  I have spoken to many of them over the past months, including a young woman with three young children who is now living in a hostel far away from the schools that her children go to.  There is a human cost to this type of abuse and those attacks.  We also need to ensure that support is given to the PSNI to make sure that those responsible are brought before the courts.  We all need to do more in supporting victims of racist violence and in reducing the number of racial attacks. 

I turn then to the amendment proposed by Alliance Party Members, which calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister:

"to ensure that the racial equality strategy is robust and is brought forward as a matter of urgency".

I am pleased to be able to say today that the deputy First Minister has already agreed and signed off on a draft strategy to go out to consultation.  We are asking that that be put out as soon as possible, preferably over the next few days.  The strategy's provisional title is "A Sense of Belonging" because we want everyone, especially people from minority ethnic backgrounds, to have that sense of belonging to this place.  We want that sense of belonging to be acknowledged and valued by people from all backgrounds.

Someone mentioned earlier that many Irish people down throughout the centuries have emigrated to other countries.  We would be outraged to see people from our families and communities being treated in the way that these people are being treated in our country today.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Speaking of outrage and hate crimes, does the Minister have any reflection on the hate crime towards foreigner Thomas Niedermayer in his kidnapping or the hate crime of the murder of Jeffrey Agate in Londonderry?  What about her own hate crime of shooting a police officer?  Does that rank as a hate crime?

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I expect nothing more from you than to try to degenerate this very important debate into what you have just said.  I am not even going to comment on it at this stage.

The consultation document was drawn up jointly by OFMDFM and its racial equality panel, which includes the main service delivery Departments, the Equality Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Community Relations Council and the minority ethnic representatives.  We will use the same partnership process when it comes to drafting the strategy itself and the ensuing programme of work.  The consultation will last for the normal period, and officials will work hard over the next few months to ensure that the views and opinions of everyone who has an interest are taken on board.  As well as staging open consultation events, we intend to commission a few minority ethnic representative organisations to undertake their own consultations in their respective language communities, and they will then make those results available to officials.

With the events of recent weeks and months, the focus has been on bringing forward the new strategy.  We are pleased, as I said, to be taking that first step with the launch of the consultation document.  However, we should make no mistake about this: the consultation is only the start, not the finish.  Making a reality of the vision we have proposed in the consultation document will require sustained effort by all sections of society over many years. We have heard the voices that have said to us that we must take action now.  Because of that, we are also finalising details of a package of measures that we hope to bring forward in the next week or so to tackle the spike in attacks, particularly in and around Belfast.  A bid has been submitted in the June 2014 monitoring round to tackle these issues that will be over and above the £1·1 million per annum that we are already distributing through the minority ethnic development fund.

I will conclude by saying that this strategy and the package of measures will not solve the issues of racism and sectarianism in our society, both of which breed on intolerance, bigotry and a lack of respect for anyone who is different, whether they are of a different colour, race, religion, culture, gender or sexual orientation.  We need to change people's attitudes in our society, because we must be sure that we do not inflame the situation by insulting or degenerating a whole community with careless words.  Everybody in the community has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and we have to send a very clear, united message from this Chamber that hatred, bitterness and intolerance will not be accepted by any of us.  It is very clear from the debate so far that we are all going to send that clear message, and I am very glad to hear that.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

I want to thank all the Members who supported our amendment, and I welcome the Minister's announcement that the consultation document will be published shortly. I would like to let those who do not believe that I have received racist comments know that last night, yet again, I was visited by a police officer, who told me that there was another racist slur against me on social media.  Luckily, this time, it was easily traceable, and a man was arrested yesterday afternoon.

I would like to say to Members that I am probably the only politician in the House to have been involved in the drafting of the first racial equality strategy before it was published in 2005.  Right enough, it was a strategy for five years.  However, in 2007, it was effectively shelved at the same time as the shared future document.  It was seen as a sister document of 'A Shared Future'.  Ethnic minorities, who had great hope about a new strategy that might improve their lives, saw only an action plan for one year.  It is correct to say that from 2007 until now, seven years on, we have not seen the work of a racial equality strategy.

I remember that, at that time, in 2007, I tried to explain this to ethnic minority people.  I said that it was fair enough because the Assembly was now in action and it wanted to put a stamp on its own document and have ownership of a revised document.  However, a delay of seven years is just unacceptable.  Clearly, in those seven years, there has been lack of emphasis and focus on revising the document.  How on earth was the Department, with so many staff, unable to revise that document?  There is a document already; we are talking about simply updating it to call it a Northern Ireland Assembly document.  It has taken seven years.  I certainly question the emphasis in the Executive, particularly in OFMDFM, on tackling racism.

Clearly, when there is no document, there is a vacuum, as my colleague said.  There is a vacuum in the lack of leadership and direction from OFMDFM to provide actions and resources to tackle racism.  When there is no action, when there is inertia, there is a vacuum in which racism can flourish and re-emerge, as we have seen in the past six or seven months. 

Muhammad Khattak was right.  He talked to me yesterday.  He was really upset.  He was right to say when he was interviewed that the pastor and Mr Robinson's remarks had:

"lit the fire in the forest and it is not going to stop".

We need to stop it.  We must stop it.  We must stop the tide of racism in Northern Ireland.  We need political leadership from the House.  All of us need to unite and stand together.  Local councils also need to do so because the  Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 places a duty on them to promote good relations.  All of us need to stand together to fight racism; otherwise, ethnic minorities will continue to feel unsafe in their homes and on our streets.

The racial equality strategy must be properly resourced.  Work is needed on the ground in communities where racist incidents are rife.  I am sick and tired of condemning racism in Northern Ireland.  Every time a journalist phones me and I condemn it, I see no action from anywhere.  It is time that we had the proper resources to ensure that the work is done, particularly in the areas where the attacks happen.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 5:15 pm, 3rd June 2014

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle.  I support the motion in the names of my party colleagues, and I support and endorse their comments earlier in the debate.  On behalf of Sinn Féin, I very much welcome the amendment tabled by the Alliance Party.  So, we call on all Members to support the amended motion.

First, I welcome the assurance from Jennifer McCann that the Department will publish a racial equality strategy fairly soon.  Of course, it is really important that we have such a strategy, which seeks to identify the problem and all the issues; to educate people on the issues of diversity, respect and equality; and, of course, to attach the relevant resources to the solutions that we have identified as needing to be brought into being.  However, I do not accept the notion that we need a racial equality strategy before we can do anything else.  I just do not accept that we need such a strategy to do that. 

In my view, nobody in the Chamber needs a racial equality strategy, although I think that it is important that we have such a strategy, and I welcome the announcement that we will have one fairly soon.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that there is an opportunity arising next week with refugee week and community relations week, in that perhaps the strategy could be launched at one of those very significant events.  That is just an idea.  So, I very much want to see a racial equality strategy promoted very quickly and given the attendant resources following the consultation. 

Pleasingly, every Member here this afternoon supported the amendment and the motion.  Every Member in the House and all the parties rejected racism, embraced the need to work with and support all our communities, ethnic or otherwise, and condemned all attacks on people from communities that are perhaps different from ours.  I think that it is very important to recognise that. 

We all know that, in all our communities and constituencies, there are many brilliant examples of schools, community organisations, ethnic minority representatives and many others taking the lead without a racial equality strategy to give them guidance.  So I simply make the point that, although we need a strategy, we also need to understand that it is about having good manners and respect, that there is legislation in place and that there is a way of doing our business.  So I do not accept that Members in the Chamber and in this Building who have been vested with political leadership can be paralysed without having such a strategy at their disposal. 

I shamelessly refer to a project in my constituency — I know that all Members can refer to others — that is about creating a cohesive community.  The project is organised jointly by the South Belfast Roundtable on Racism and LORAG, the Lower Ormeau Residents' Action Group, which is a local community organisation on the Ormeau Road funded by OFMDFM.  It is a brilliant project that, like many others, struggles for funding.  We need to redress that, because the people at the coalface are tackling problems and are making sure that, when new communities come into often hard-pressed communities, that is managed in a way that respects the culture and rights of the existing communities and the new communities coming in.  I think that those examples are tremendous; they are beacons.  I have no doubt that many Members in the Chamber are involved in such projects.  So, again, I stress the point that — I hear this far too often — nobody in the Chamber needs to have a racial equality strategy to know how to behave themselves. 

I do not believe that we can in any way justify, under the guise of free speech, the type of language that we have heard in recent weeks.  I do not think that freedom of speech affords pastors or politicians the right to utter the type of disgraceful, insulting, offensive and racist remarks that we have heard.  I think that those who refuse to withdraw and take themselves back from that type of remark or commentary continue to further seriously and dramatically diminish themselves in the eyes of the vast majority of people in our community.  I call on all those people, whether pastors or politicians, to consider the remarks that they have made in recent times and to withdraw them in whichever way they think is best.  Those who continue to refuse to see the writing on the wall need to understand that they have been and will continue to be diminished in the eyes of the vast majority of the people we collectively represent, unless they redress that glaring problem, which they have created and which they and only they, personally and individually, can correct. 

I simply say to all Members of the House that I am delighted that every Member from each of the parties has been forthright in their rejection of racism, their condemnation of all attacks and their commitment to work with all the communities in our society.  I also say that, yes, we do need a strategy.  I want to see a racial equality strategy published very soon, and I want to see the necessary funding to deliver that strategy and its wishes.  I want to see respect given to people, and, on the basis of that respect, I want to see solidarity and support given to all the communities that we represent.  The legislation that we have in place is woefully inadequate or is not being enforced. 

It would be very foolish for us to ignore the reality.  It is worth my while reminding the House that the motion was tabled long before the events of the past week.  It was not intended as a response to Pastor McConnell or Peter Robinson's remarks or to the fallout from any of that.  It was tabled well in advance of the past week or two, because we know that we have a problem.  Why would we not have a racism problem when we have had a sectarianism problem for, as far as I can remember, all my life and, I presume, throughout the lives of every Member?  We have had sectarianism, so why would we not have racism?  They are both a scourge and are the two sides of the one coin.  It is not that long ago that we heard remarks against the Catholic faith from pulpits and all the rest of it.  I do not care whether it is against the Catholic faith, Protestant faith or any other faith:  there should be no insulting remarks against any faith under the guise of freedom of speech.  I am approached on a day-to-day basis by people who say to me, "I have not heard such and such commenting about this".  I am talking also about mainstream Churches.  I want to hear from the pulpits, and I want to hear from every politician about their rejection of racism, their tolerance of all religious faiths and their refusal to challenge or to bad-mouth, as we say locally, people of other faiths under the guise of some theological or doctrinal difference.  I do not accept that any of that is valid.  Certainly, religions will have theological and doctrinal differences.  That is all very well, and I totally and utterly respect that.  I do not respect those who use that as a guise to mask their bigotry or small-mindedness. 

All of us in this society need to step up to the mark.  We have legislation, but, as far as I can see, it is not being enforced.  As a former member of the Policing Board, I know, as other Members can confirm, that we have a situation here where a lot of the attacks, whether they are sectarian, homophobic or racist, are not reported in the numbers that they are happening.  We all know that.  Maybe part of the reason is because people are still afraid that, if they report something, they will highlight the problem.  In the past, they have often been advised, "Don't report it.  Keep your head down.  It will go away".  We know that it does not go away.  Intolerance has to be driven out.  We can no longer say that we will have zero tolerance of this type of bigotry; we have to do something about it.  I am very clear in my mind that, sometimes, we cannot change people's mindset, but we can change their behaviour.  So, legislation has to be enforced.  The police have to do their job, the PPS has to do its job and the courts have to do their job.

So, I call for a racial equality strategy and a reaffirmation from all the political parties, particularly those in leadership positions.  We need to make it very clear that we all not only reject racism but are seen to be rejecting it.  We should not all simply condemn attacks but show solidarity with the victims of attacks.  We should visit their homes, share with them, see them and be seen shoulder to shoulder with them.  I suggest that, if a racist attack happens in any constituency tomorrow night, an MLA from each party should join those victims.  That might be a little act of solidarity, but it would show that we are all singing from the one hymn sheet, to use that analogy. 

There is a responsibility on all of us to show political responsibility, and there is a responsibility on all others in civic leadership to show that leadership in a way that is inclusive and respectful.  So, I call for religious tolerance that is based on respect for other faiths. 

Finally, I thank all the Members for the manner in which the debate has been conducted this afternoon.  It has not been so much a debate as an affirmation from all of us that we are against racism and want to do something about it.  So, I commend all the Members for the mature way in which we have managed to deal with this.  I again call for, as I said, a strategy with the necessary funding to support it.  We want to make sure that we all demonstrate in practical ways our support for and solidarity with people who are victims of attacks such as those that we referred to and that, if the legislation that is in place is inadequate, we improve it as a matter of urgency —

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

The Member's time is almost up.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

— and make sure that we enforce it.

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

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this Assembly condemns the recent racial attacks and firmly opposes racism, discrimination and intolerance of any kind, wherever it occurs; embraces the growing diversity within our society; emphasises that there is no room for racism or stigmatisation; notes with concern the delay in the delivery of the racial equality strategy; affirms the urgency of addressing racial inequality; calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that the racial equality strategy is robust and is brought forward as a matter of urgency; and calls on all political parties to provide leadership on this issue.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker.]