Racial Equality Strategy

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 14th December 2020.

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Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 2:15 pm, 14th December 2020

3. Mr Blair asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the co-production and co-design with external stakeholders of a racial equality strategy. (AQO 1334/17-22)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

With your permission, Mr Speaker, junior Minister Lyons will answer this question.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

We are midway through the current 10-year strategy, which was launched in 2015, and we are continuing to progress with full implementation.

Whilst we acknowledge the reference to the strategy in the 'New Decade, New Approach' document, that was in the context of the Programme for Government and a number of strategies that could underpin it. It was not explicit nor, in our view, intended that a new racial equality strategy would be published. Our focus is very much on fully delivering the commitments that are set out in the current strategy, which remain critical to achieving equality and good race relations here.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the junior Minister for that answer. Does he not agree that time has been wasted in the successful implementation of a racial equality strategy, because, even long before COVID, there was too much lag in ensuring that we move forward with working alongside those in our communities and their representative stakeholder organisations?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

It was very much the case that if you were here during the debate in September on race relations you would have felt that frustration from Members from right across the House who reflected the concerns of people in that sector who are very concerned about the length of time that it has taken to make progress on this. Obviously, COVID has been an issue that has further complicated the process.

We all want to get there with the strategy, and an awful lot of work has been going on in recent months. In particular, progress has been made on the appointment of a racial equality subgroup, along with racial equality champions, in each Department. A review of the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and relevant aspects of other legislation is under way, and we are moving from the review stage to the development of options and associated consultation. A review of the delivery of the minority ethnic development fund is now complete, and we are considering the implementation of that as well as ways that we can tackle racist bullying in schools. Much work has been done. It has been slower than we would have liked, but we are now starting to see real progress, and I hope that that can continue.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

Minister, given the number of anti-racist organisations, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and human rights organisations that have recently written to the Policing Board to express their outrage at how the police responded to them during the Black Lives Matter protests on 6 June, does the Minister agree with me that, if we are to have any semblance of racial equality, fines and threats of prosecution must be dropped and an apology made to all those who attended safe, socially-distanced protests in Belfast and Derry on 6 June?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

It is important that everybody is equal under the law and is equally subject to the law. If people or organisations do not believe that that has been the case, they can go down various routes, including the Police Ombudsman, and I think that that route has been taken. On behalf of the Executive, let me make it very clear that there is no tolerance whatsoever for people being treated differently on the basis of their race.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

Minister, can you give an update on the key actions under the racial equality strategy, please?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I hope that I have already done that in my opening remarks. We are moving forwards with the racial equality subgroup, the review of the Race Relations Order, and the minority ethnic development fund.

One issue that I have not raised yet is the research on ethnic monitoring. The Member will be aware that that issue was discussed during the debate. The final report has been received and contains extensive recommendations for ethnic monitoring that include amending the Race Relations Order, the design phase of Encompass — the IT project being overseen by the Health and Social Care Board — and the establishment of a data hub and equality monitoring unit. The Member will be aware that that is all a little bit more difficult to progress than the other issues that we have taken on board so far, but I hope that progress can be made on it very soon.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

One of the key themes is participation, representation and belonging. However, there is no great sign of that round this Chamber. Can the Minister detail the plans to promote elected representation?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I hope that all political parties make sure that they are not in any way a cold house for those from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. We should be trying to encourage people from all backgrounds to get involved in politics and in political life in Northern Ireland. It sends a very strong message to ethnic-minority communities here to see people from their background in this place. I certainly encourage parties and individuals to get involved.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

How much has the Executive Office liaised with schools and the Department of Education to ensure that anti-racism in the school curriculum is enshrined in the racial equality strategy?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Work is ongoing with the Department of Education in particular on how we tackle racist bullying in schools. I do not have any further information on that for the Member, other than to say that it is taking place. I am happy to furnish her with that information.