The several thousand people who gathered at Belfast City Hall this afternoon to say ‘No to Racism’ are representative of many thousands more throughout Northern Ireland.
While it would be wrong to underestimate the support which people like Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson have, it would also be wrong to believe that there is not a large and growing body of people who reject racism in any form and who are prepared to publicly declare that opposition.
The physical attacks, the intimidation and the de-humanisation of ethnic minorities are on the increase.
80% of hate crimes are thought to go unreported but last year police in Northern Ireland dealt with more than 980 racist incidents: almost three every day. The majority of incidents occurred in the greater Belfast area and represented an increase of 50% on the previous year’s figures. One-third of all racist incidents in 2013 /14 were acts of violence against the person.
This cannot continue and the mind-set which leads the First Minister of the Assembly to say he would trust Muslim’s to go to the shops has to be challenged and overturned.
This is clearly far too important an issue for the Assembly. This is a matter for everyone in Northern Ireland to become involved in. There must be a robust public discussion about the type of society we want and the values its holds. But in the end the principles are very clear and very simple. Racism is wrong. It will always be wrong.
Photographs from today’s Rally