The spate of hate crimes which has taken place across Belfast is shameful and it brings terrible publicity to our capital city.
The people who perpetrate racist attacks should realise that they don’t own the communities they live in and they certainly don’t represent the people of Northern Ireland.
When most of us see homes or cars belonging to immigrants from Polish, Chinese, African or any other background attacked, it makes us profoundly ashamed. When we hear about faeces being thrown at a cyclist from the Roma community, we’re rightly disgusted.
Many young people have left these shores over the years, looking for work elsewhere. In fact, during the difficult economic period from which we’re beginning to recover, the outflow to Australia or Canada, for instance, increased substantially.
In Northern Ireland we should have no problem empathising with people who look for a better life by moving overseas. It’s a big step to take and the vast majority of immigrants are here to work very hard and contribute positively to our society.
A core strength of the UK is its sense of inclusivity. We have a diverse population right across these islands, and Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly diverse too. That should be considered a strength rather than a threat. The people who have arrived here will, for the most part, benefit our economy, as well as making our society more interesting to live in.
Unfortunately there are some groups within our community who want to scare-monger and stir up ill feeling against people from different backgrounds. It’s up to the rest of us to challenge attitudes which lead to hate crime and to bring any information to the police, whenever we’ve witnessed something sinister.
Society in Northern Ireland has already been disfigured by home-grown hatreds. It would be crazy to allow new ones to flourish, as our communities become more diverse. Let’s show the world that we really are a welcoming place, and open for business.