Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

We have to combat the racists

Racist attacks, which have been on the rise in Belfast lately, must come to an end
Racist attacks, which have been on the rise in Belfast lately, must come to an end

Expect to see more 'local homes for local people' protests in Belfast. Why would there not be, when the last one was so successful? Let's face the uncomfortable truth. Nigerian-born Michael Abiona was successfully intimidated from his allocated home. Those who carried out the intimidation are unlikely to face any legal consequences.

And First Minister Peter Robinson even helpfully explained that he was not convinced there was a racist motive, while also expressing his opposition to such protests.

What's not to like if you're a racist determined to take the law into your own hands to keep people of a different nationality out of your neighbourhood?

Sadly, the protest against Mr Abiona is part of a growing trend. Overall, reported racist attacks have jumped a shocking 43% in the past year.

A senior police officer has said the upsurge leaves "the unpleasant taste of a bit of ethnic cleansing".

Indeed, the Housing Executive has confirmed that there are currently 10 cases where people have been prevented from moving into properties to which they were entitled.

The "local homes for local people" banners outside Mr Abiona's house were eventually removed by the PSNI, but those who erected them seem to have little to fear from the not-very-long arm of the law.

Hate crime legislation is used less often in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK.

In spite of the law allowing for an enhanced sentence where a crime is proven to have been motivated by hate, only 12 such sentences – out of almost 14,000 complaints – have been passed over the last five years.

Thousands of people have gathered in Belfast over recent weeks in large anti-racism rallies. Yet, not everyone agrees with our message of "united against racism".

Until politicians, police and people can stand as one, with equal determination and clarity, then members of Northern Ireland's minority ethnic communities can expect further intimidation.

Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International

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