Stormont to launch new strategy on racial equality in Northern Ireland
Stormont is set to launch a revised strategy on racial equality – almost seven years after it was first announced.
Junior ministers Jennifer McCann and Jonathan Bell revealed the long-awaited document will be unveiled for consultation in the next few days.
On the eve of an Assembly debate sparked by the recent spate of racist attacks, Ms McCann branded the time delay "unacceptable".
Although the aim of tackling race equality dates back more than a decade, it is understood the DUP and Sinn Fein have differed on how the issue should be tackled and have proved unable to agree on how 'equality' should be defined.
As the ratio of race attacks declined – until the past year or so, when they have again soared – the issue also became less than a top priority for the Executive.
Research published as far back as 2000, however, identified that racism was a significant problem here and there was a need for a "concerted strategy".
In response to a proposed race equality strategy in 2003, the Community Relations Council warned that in areas where sectarian attitudes were ingrained, "racist attitudes also tend to be high".
Under direct rule – when the Assembly was suspended – a racial equality strategy was published covering the period 2005- 2010, and was finally endorsed in an Assembly debate in July, 2007.
Since then officials in Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness' office have been working on a revised strategy designed to meet the "actual and real needs of our ethnic minority population".
The First Minister and Deputy First Minister are also planning to build an anti-racism plan into their blueprint for a more shared future in Northern Ireland.
They are considering how a Unite Against Hate campaign could be incorporated into their proposals, called Together: Building A United Community – published almost a year ago.
The two ministers, whose working relationship is under significant strain following several public spats and fallouts, have made clear their condemnation of racist attacks.
In a written Assembly answer, they said: "We condemn all racist attacks and deplore the attempts by anyone to exclude ethnic minorities from full participation in local society.
"An inclusive and diverse community is a richer one."
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said their Together: Building A United Community is the Executive's "good relations" strategy and, along with the new Racial Equality Strategy, "will provide a robust and effective framework to tackle hate crimes".
They were responding to a question from Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, deputy chair of the committee which monitors their office, who asked when they planned to initiate the Unite Against Hate campaign.
A statement from OFMDFM yesterday added: "(We are) currently reviewing the operation and direction of an initiative similar to the Unite Against Hate campaign which was launched in 2009, and is considering what role it might play in combating the sort of racist hate crime that we have seen across Belfast over the past few weeks."
The First and Deputy First Ministers also said: "Building a united, shared and reconciled community is a clear commitment within the Programme for Government.
"Consideration is currently being given to how Unite Against Hate or a variant thereof can best be developed within the context of Together: Building a United Community to broaden and deepen its reach and build on its achievements to date."
Meanwhile, a Sinn Fein motion on the upswing in incidents due to be debated by MLAs today "condemns the recent racial attacks and firmly opposes racism, discrimination and intolerance of any kind, wherever it occurs".
It also calls on all parties to "embrace the growing diversity within our society" and emphasises "that there is no room for racism or stigmatisation... all political parties (must) provide leadership on this issue".