The DUP has been forced to move to end the latest race row surrounding Peter Robinson.
The row blew up after his defence of a "Locals only" protest at a house about to be occupied by a Nigerian man in east Belfast.
Mr Robinson sparked fresh controversy after claiming he was not convinced the incident outside the man's home was racist.
The party has now tried to end the dispute by saying the First Minister accepts it is being treated as a race hate crime.
Yesterday the PSNI said the matter was being treated as a hate crime. The Housing Executive is also treating it as "racial intimidation".
However, in an interview the previous evening, Mr Robinson questioned whether there was a racist element to the protest.
The First Minister's response – a fortnight after he publicly apologised for remarks about the Islamic faith – was criticised by SDLP MLA Alex Attwood, who said it "beggars belief". Yesterday Mr Attwood said the remarks suggested Mr Robinson had learned nothing from the recent Muslim controversy.
Liam Kinney from the Housing Executive also disagreed with Mr Robinson's assessment.
"It would be determined as racial intimidation by the Housing Executive," he said.
"A gentleman of ethnic origin was unable to enter a house to which he was entitled, and that is wrong and shouldn't be happening."
The row prompted the DUP to issue a statement making clear Mr Robinson's position.
"The PSNI and Housing Executive have investigated these issues and Mr Robinson supports the conclusions of their swift investigation of the matter," it said.
"He was not and is not at variance with the conclusion that this incident is being treated by both agencies as a racist incident.
"Mr Robinson re-emphasises his condemnation of anything that suggests people are unwelcome in Northern Ireland because of their racial background or because of the colour of their skin."
The controversy unfolded when banners reading "Local Houses 4 Local People" were placed outside a property at Glenluce Drive where Michael Abiona, a 34-year-old Nigerian man, was due to move into. The protesters denied the banners were intended to be racist, saying it was part of a wider protest about bungalows not being allocated to local pensioners.
However, Mr Abiona, who has lived here since 2010, said he was too afraid to move in.
Politicians condemned the protest, including East Belfast MP Naomi Long, who said it was "blatantly racist".
In a subsequent interview, Mr Robinson said nobody should be judged on the colour of their skin, political and religious background, or their race.
However, he added: "I'm not sure this can be described as racism in terms of what the intention of the local people was. There is massive concern (about housing), and of course local in these terms means very local.
"You might have had exactly the same reaction if it was somebody from up-country moving into a local area where local people weren't able to get houses in the locality where they've been brought up in."
Mr Attwood said Mr Robinson needed to "think again".
He said the First Minister's previous remarks on Muslims had exacerbated the issue.
"The pattern, as well as the timing, as well as not having learned what the requirements of leadership are – put all that together and the grievous error of his previous comments have been compounded," Mr Attwood added.
"Peter Robinson once again needs to get back on the right side of these arguments – frankly, I don't think he will."
Asked if Mr Robinson had learnt anything from the Muslim controversy, Mr Attwood said: "Whatever he has learned he seems to have forgotten."
The DUP statement said Mr Robinson had never ruled out a racist element to the protest.
"Mr Robinson said that he was not sure that the intent of those concerned was racist," it added.
"Mr Robinson also indicated during his interviews on Wednesday that it would be a matter for the police and Public Prosecution Service to consider the incident."
A spokesperson for a local community group, the Knocknagoney Area Forum, said: "We feel that this incident goes against our objectives and is detrimental to all the positive improvements we have all seen and benefited from over the past few years."
One of the people involved in the protest denied there was any racist element to their complaints.
"We have no issue with race or colour – but that's the way it looks. It is a misunderstanding and it has been misrepresented," she said.
Only 41% of ethnic minorities feel a sense of belonging in Northern Ireland
Less than half of people from ethnic minority groups feel a sense of belonging in Northern Ireland, a new report has said.
The findings come at a time when community relations have never been under greater scrutiny following a series of high-profile attacks.
Today’s report, entitled Belonging and Alienation in the New Northern Ireland, is based on the 2013 Life and Times and Young Life and Times surveys, which involved 1,210 adults and 1,367 16-year-olds respectively.
The surveys aim to capture attitudes across a range of social issues, which include a sense of belonging and say and involvement at both neighbourhood and Northern Ireland level.
Among the key findings are:
- A weak sense of belonging among respondents from minority ethnic groups, with just 41% saying they probably or definitely felt a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood and 39% saying they probably or definitely felt a sense of belonging to Northern Ireland;
- Adults from Catholic backgrounds were more likely than those from Protestant backgrounds to say they definitely felt a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood — 64% compared with 54%;
- The reverse was true for a sense of belonging to Northern Ireland with 53% of Protestants, but only 43% of Catholics saying they definitely felt a sense of belonging;
Dr Katy Hayward, from Queen’s University, and lead author of the report, said the younger generation had the greatest sense of alienation.