Minister must do more

The Chair of the Workers Party’s South Belfast branch has expressed his disappointment in the response he has received from Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey regarding the recent hate crime and arson attack on the premises of the Belfast Multi Cultural Association.

Paddy Lynn had written to the minister in the aftermath of the attack urging her to build on the public outrage generated by the arson attack by helping to secure a re-build of the premises and also to fund temporary accommodation, in the immediate south Belfast area, to allow the Association to continue with its community support work.

“I am particularly disappointed at what appears to be the Minister’s lack of urgency in this matter”, Paddy said.

“Her proposal to submit a paper addressing the longer-term issues of racism and community relations to the First and Deputy First Minister’s office fails to understand or appreciate the sense of urgency required.”, Paddy added.

“Our collective response to racism and hate crime has to be to demonstrated publicly and in real terms”, he said.

“A publicly funded commitment to rebuilding the Association’s premises, while ensuring that their work can continue, would be an extremely strong signal that the community does not, and will not, tolerate racism and hate crime in any form”

“I am calling on the Minister to re-think her approach and underpin her opposition to racism and hate crime with a tangible demonstration of the community’s’ support and of the government’s resolve”. concluded Paddy

Home grown racism is also a problem

Racism needs to be exposed, confronted and eradicated – at home as well as abroad.

The death of George Floyd, while in the custody of the Minneapolis police department, has re-ignited the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and rightly sparked global outrage and indignation.

While racism in the United States has become the focus of international scrutiny, it should not be allowed to prevent examinations closer to home.

Honourable record

18th century Ireland had an honourable record of opposition to racism, prejudice and slavery. The Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League was established by Mary Ann McCracken and Martha McTier in the 1780’s. The moral case against slavery, racism and exploitation was set out in articles by Saintfield born philosopher Francis Hutcheson several decades earlier.

The strength of opposition to slavery and racism in those days can be found in an editorial in the Belfast Newsletter of 1796 which read, using the language of the time:

That the Africans are an inferior link in the grand chain of nature is a prejudice, which has been indulged in and propagated by Europeans, especially in modern times, from considerations peculiarly sordid and contemptible; the fact is that the mental faculties of the negroes are by no means of a subordinate description to those of any other men.’

However, sections of Belfast’s commercial and industrial base made vast fortunes out of the exploitation of slaves during the same period, at one stage even planning to set up a slave company in the city.

Less progressive and more racist

Modern day Northern Ireland is arguably less progressive and more racist than it was three hundred years ago.

A Life and Times survey conducted in 2017 found that 36% of people here wouldn’t accept an Eastern European as a close friend, 52% wouldn’t accept an Irish Traveller as a close friend and 47% wouldn’t accept a Muslim as a close friend.  The overall figures were significantly higher in the 18 -24 year age group

A third of 18 – 24 year olds in the same survey said they wouldn’t even accept a Muslim as a neighbour in their local area.

At the time, Patrick Corrigan, the Northern Ireland Programme Director for Amnesty International, said “This scale of racial prejudice… should shock us to our core”.

Inadequate legislation

The outworking of those levels of prejudice can be seen in the verbal abuse and racist attacks on ethnic minorities across the community. Cultural change, education and awareness are all necessary elements in overcoming racism, but so too is a strong legal framework.

Racist hate crime in Northern Ireland is not adequately or appropriately framed by legislation and we still don’t have a single Equality Act. Nor have we adopted the recommendations of reports like the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.

In 2017, of the 1,062 racist incidents reported to the PSNI, 83% did not result in prosecution or even a warning. Every day that year, a citizen from an ethnic minority had their house attacked or they themselves were assaulted. 

Three hundred years on from the founding of the Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League and the campaigning of progressive forces at the time, this is the reality of racism in Northern Ireland today: a reality that has been reinforced by the European Union’s ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality and a social system based on exploitation which places profit before equality.

Racism needs to be exposed, confronted and eradicated – at home as well as abroad, and that struggle is inseparable from the struggle for a united working class.

‘Unite to face down racism’

York Road

The Rahman family leaving their York Road  home

“Hate crimes and racist attacks are not what defines north Belfast and we must ensure that they never do”, Workers Party representative Gemma Weir said in response to last night’s attack on a family in the York Road area.

“There must be no room for racism in our community and  no ‘if’s and buts’ about just how abhorrent and vile these type of attacks are”,she said.

“The only response worthy of the entire north Belfast community is an unequivocal and public condemnation of all forms of racism and hate crimes, full and unqualified support for those affected and a united resolve to face down racists and racism”, Gemma said.

“Anyone with any information, no matter how small, about this or other attacks, should contact the PSNI or use the Crime Stoppers number to pass  that information on “,she concluded.

Photo Credit: Matt Mackey