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Race discrimination laws in Northern Ireland 'lag behind rest of the UK'

Published 04/10/2016

There are fewer legal protections against racial discrimination in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK, experts say
There are fewer legal protections against racial discrimination in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK, experts say

People in Northern Ireland have less protection against racial discrimination than other parts of the UK, European experts say.

Employers and public bodies are only allowed to take a limited range of special measures to combat disadvantage, according to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

The expert body called for a single comprehensive equality law and action to end "two-tier" levels of security from discrimination.

"ECRI is concerned, therefore, that, i n a number of key areas, indivi duals in Northern Ireland have a lower level of protection against racial discrimination than people in other parts of the United Kingdom," it said.

The UK government committed a decade ago to work towards a single equality law, the report pointed out.

Individual acts including t he Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 , prohibits discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, colour, nationa lity or ethnic or national origin s and t he Fair Employment and Treatmen t (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 prohibits discrimination and harassment on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion.

But the report said: "T here are significant gaps between equality law in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland .

"For example, the current race equality legislation in N orthern I reland provides for a 'two-tier' level of protection, with less protection against discrimination on grounds of colour and nationality than on grounds of race, ethnic or national origins."

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has called on the Stormont Executive to do more to improve life for people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The Community Relations Council (CRC) has said an 87% rise in crime with hate motivation in the past four years was deeply troubling and warned the Brexit vote had further sharpened concerns and fears.

In 2009, 100 Romanians fled their Belfast homes following attacks. There have been sporadic crimes against minorities since then.

The 47-nation Council of Europe's expert body on racism and intolerance noted discrimination was not prohibited on grounds of gender identity and same sex couples could not marry.

It made a range of recommendations covering the UK.

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said: "This expert body has highlighted at an international level what we already know locally - that Northern Ireland has a racism problem and that the Government needs to do more to better protect people against racial discrimination.

"We won't crack the racism problem by chance, only by concerted Government action. That's why Amnesty is calling for the Northern Ireland executive to commit to a Single Equality Bill in the new programme for Government."

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