Racial Equality Strategy: Update

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 23rd November 2015.

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Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance 2:00 pm, 23rd November 2015

2. Mr Lyttle asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the racial equality strategy 2014-2024. (AQO 9129/11-16)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I thank Members for their kind personal comments.

Our 16-week public consultation instigated much discussion and elicited many opinions from right across society. After the analysis of those contributions was completed, the strategy was revised to take account of the consultation responses, and the revised strategy has been considered and commented on by Executive Ministers. Once the strategy has been agreed by the Executive, we hope to publish it in a matter of weeks. The racial equality strategy establishes a framework for action by Departments and others to tackle racial inequalities and to open up opportunity for all, to eradicate racism and hate crime, and, along with the Together: Building a United Community policy, to promote good relations and social cohesion.

Full and effective implementation of the strategy will be achieved only by Departments working together, in partnership with the voluntary and community sector and other elements of civic society.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the First Minister for his response. Despite disagreeing with him fundamentally on many issues, I, too, extend sincere good wishes for his departure from the Assembly when he decides to do so.

In the light of recent serious racist attacks — including petrol bombings, cars being torched, homes being attacked and residents being assaulted in Ballykeel, Ballymena and in my constituency of East Belfast, as well as the desire of the majority in our community to see a united community — is the inordinate delay in delivering a racial equality strategy and a refugee integration strategy not an indictment of OFMDFM? Will he agree that urgent work still has to be done to ensure that our black and minority ethnic members of the community have the same safety, inclusion and opportunity as anyone else in our community?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I think that just leaves out several factors that the Member presumably does not want the House and beyond to be aware of, because, of course, we have a community safety strategy for Northern Ireland that sets out the Executive's commitment to tackle all forms of hate crime. The strategy has associated action plans, including a dedicated hate crime action plan that details the measures that a range of Departments and relevant agencies are taking forward, including officials in OFMDFM, who are represented on the Department of Justice hate crime delivery group, which was established to support the delivery of that strategy.

The Member also seems to think that somehow the delivery of a strategy is, in itself, the answer to these kinds of issues. I hope that the House will join me in absolutely condemning this kind of activity as completely unacceptable. If anybody puts themselves in the place of someone in our community who has come from foreign parts, they will know the degree of isolation that there is and the lack of backup networks that are available to them. I hope that everybody remembers that they should treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. However, let us not get tied down in the process of the strategy. The strategy has been out for public consultation for some considerable time. It has been a very wide consultation and a very considerable response has been received. That has now reached the stage where the revision is before Ministers. As the draft strategy itself talks about being a strategy for 2015 to 2025, I hope that it will be published within a very short period.

Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP

I thank the First Minister for his earlier answer. If I may, Mr Speaker, like many, I would like to pay tribute to the First Minister on what is likely to be his last Question Time and thank him for his years of selfless service to the people of Northern Ireland, and for his friendship and mentoring to me and my daughters.

Will the First Minister outline the role of the crisis fund in helping minority ethnic individuals to deal with emergency situations?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

First, I thank my good friend for her kind comments.

As I indicated in my first response, traditionally, people who come from ethnic minorities have fewer and weaker network supports and, from time to time, that means that they have to rely on the crisis fund for support. The crisis fund is, of course, there to give help to those who are destitute. Last year, I believe that the fund distributed about £36,600 and, this year, has £100,000 available to be used. Some have asked whether the crisis fund will be used for Syrian refugees. The answer is that, while technically it could, I think that the provision of the scheme under which they would be coming is such that they should not be destitute and, therefore, would not need to fall back on that fund.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answers and, of course, like everyone else in the House, wish him all the best for the future, particularly in good health.

The Minister will agree with me that those involved in hate crimes are not really bothered about strategies or plans or all the other things that we get involved in, but they might well understand a change in the hate laws that would make it very clear that those who get involved in that kind of criminal activity will spend a long time behind bars, while the wider community, particularly the minority communities, are safe. What is the Minister's view on changing the hate laws?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 2:15 pm, 23rd November 2015

I agree with the Member that those involved in such activity would probably have difficulty even reading a strategy. The strategy is for Departments and others to coordinate their efforts to ensure that we, as a community, unite and speak out against such activity. In that context, a strategy is valuable.

In terms of toughening the laws, there is a wide range of areas in our society where there is a requirement for severe deterrents. I would be happy for a review of the lengths of sentences and punishments and sanctions on race-hate and other types of hate crime.