1st July, 2016.
Working towards an Inclusive Northern Ireland
Following the very negative content of much of the debate surrounding the EU Referendum, there has been an alarming 57% increase in reported racist abuse directed at people who have migrated to the UK both from EU countries and other parts of the world. It appears that the extreme fear-mongering of some politicians has made it seem more acceptable to express this prejudice crudely and aggressively in forms ranging from graffiti on walls of targeted houses to vitriolic verbal abuse on the streets.
What is happening in Northern Ireland? According to PSNI Northern Ireland statistics for the calendar year up to December 2015, there were 497 reported racist incidents where no crime was recorded; and 801 racist incidents where one or more crimes were recorded. This reflected a small decline compared with the previous year. In contrast, the level of sectarian incidents and crimes for this same period was among the highest since 2009,revealing 1,415 incidents and 1,024 crimes of a sectarian nature. Sadly, since 23rd June, there have been anecdotal reports of verbal racist abuse, particularly in Belfast, and daubing of walls and doors with neo-fascist symbols and slogans in Armagh.
56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, including three of the four Belfast areas, and most of the other constituencies. While there were many factors which influenced people’s decisions either way, it is our belief that these Remain votes reflected a genuine desire to live in a society which is inclusive and an appreciation that embracing a diversity of cultures is essential to our well-being and that of our children and future generations. This is borne out by the Good Relations findings of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) (September 2015) that 63% of young people confirmed they regularly socialized or played sport with people from a different community background. In Northern Ireland, we have extensive evidence of the benefits that incoming residents from the EU and beyond bring, be it the nurses and doctors in our hospitals, the world-class researchers working on crucial social, economic and scientific issues, or the energetic and imaginative entrepreneurs who set up businesses which create local employment and bring a wide range of important services to our community.
For instance, one of our Executive Directors, Maciek Bator, originally from Poland, has resided in Northern Ireland as a tax-payer for twelve years, involved in a number of significant charity and voluntary projects. Maciek believes that, in addressing racist intolerance such as abusive “go home” rants, we need to explain to people how misplaced this is, as most newcomers in time regard Northern Ireland fondly as their home. Our other Executive Director, Eileen Chan-Hu, was born and grew up in Belfast as a second generation Chinese Northern Irish citizen. She has extensive experience working in the field of race relations. She believes that a lot of positive initiatives helping citizens to embrace diversity and inclusion contributed to the decrease in racially motivated hate crimes last year. However the reactions after BREXIT have demonstrated that racial hatred is not a sudden new phenomenon – its elements are always simmering, waiting for an opportunity to boil. Hence she urges that everyone unites against hate, with the emphasis on prevention rather than intervention. Eileen and Maciek work together with their team to deliver training sessions in the belief that, using their own authentic experiences, they can achieve a positive social impact by enabling people to learn about each other, to have a dialogue about “otherness” and “differences” often for the first time.
We ask the Northern Ireland Assembly to do everything in its power to promote good relations between our indigenous peoples and the minority ethnic groups who contribute so much to our quality of life in Northern Ireland. And our plea to everyone in our great country is best summed up in our own CRAICNI acronym:
Please “Cultivate Respect, Appreciate Inclusion in Communities in Northern Ireland.”
Dr. Brian Caul: Chairperson
Eileen Chan-Hu: Executive Director
Maciek Bator: Executive Director.