Stormont ministers lack action plan to tackle racism, Opposition claims
Stormont ministers are acting like doe-eyed puppies by condemning racism but failing to properly tackle it, an Opposition MLA has claimed.
Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie criticised the approach of the Executive in an Assembly debate on the administration's plans to stamp out hate crimes and challenge intolerance in Northern Ireland.
The UUP, supported by other opposition members, tried to amend a Sinn Fein motion on the issue, but were voted down by the republican party and its DUP partners in government.
The Sinn Fein motion expressed concern at a reported 87% rise in hate crimes in four years and called on ministers to prioritise the implementation of the Executive's racial equality strategy.
The failed UUP amendment attempted to attach firm targets to the strategy's implementation, such as a timetable and action plan.
Mr Beattie said without concrete goals progress would be limited.
"The motion is weak. It is a soft ball being bounced around the Executive," he said.
"It is not pushing the issue forward. It is the same argument that we had two and a half years ago.
"That is what our amendment is all about: setting an action plan, setting a timetable, which is important; and setting key priorities. It is absolutely no good sitting in the corner doe-eyed like a puppy, looking up and saying that we have an issue without driving that issue forward."
SDLP member Richie McPhillips echoed the remarks. He said the Executive's plan was devoid of "responsibility and accountability".
"If this Chamber and the Executive want to take racism seriously, they must properly develop and invest in a coherent action plan," he said.
"Otherwise, any advancements will be only tokenistic and will not end the plight of racism that many suffer on a daily basis."
Sinn Fein's Philip McGuigan defended the administration's approach.
"We must ensure that equality means equality for all," he said.
"The racial equality strategy is a vital cog in that wheel, and the motion calls for the strategy to be given the priority and financial support to see that it is implemented.
"The strategy demonstrates a commitment to eliminate discrimination, promote equal opportunities and develop good relations. It is key to identifying the real and varied needs of our ethnic minority population. It identifies barriers and how to overcome them, and it raises awareness and helps focus responsibilities."
Responding to the debate, DUP Junior Minister Alastair Ross said the strategy was "full of ambition and high expectation".
"It establishes a framework for Departments and others to tackle racial inequalities, to eradicate racism and hate crime and, along with the Together: Building a United Community strategy (another Stormont action plan), to promote good relations and social cohesion.
"We must be clear that it will take the work of society as a whole to achieve racial equality, and to ensure that we work towards that common goal, it is important that the opinions of everyone are taken on board."
He added: "We recognise that racial equality and good race relations are essential if we are to flourish, but I would counsel that there is no quick fix to this. There will be a sustained effort on the part of Departments, public and private sector organisations and businesses and individuals. I am proud of the work that this Department and the Executive have done to try to achieve those goals."