Belfast Telegraph

Equality a right for all in Northern Ireland society

By Steven Agnew

If you look up the PSNI statistics for hate crimes in 2013-14, you'll find that there were 1,285 recorded sectarian incidents in the period. Go on to add up the PSNI stats for homophobic, trans-phobic and racist incidents for the same period and you get 1,284.

One lesson from these shocking statistics - there are three or four incidents a day for each of these broad categories - is that we have a long way to go to be able to describe ourselves as a post-conflict society.

Another lesson could be that broadly homophobic and race-related incidents are now as big a problem as sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

And there's at least one major issue we have not yet mentioned: incidents of violence, or aggression, against women. In fact, it's hard to get exact statistics for this kind of incident, partly because it does not seem to be recognised as a category.

Putting the figures together from a range of sources, we could be talking about tens of thousands of instances of gender-based violence a year.

Of course, there is a very real problem of violence, domestic and otherwise, against men. But what links sectarian, racist, homophobic and gender-based incidents is that someone is attacked on the basis of their perceived identity, their perceived belonging to a certain group, usually regarded as threatening or inferior.

There can be no justification for such violence. There can be no justification, either, for subtler forms of discrimination, nor excuses for treating those who belong to marginalised groups in any way unequally.

But this means we have work to do to dismantle the barriers, attitudes and structures that have for too long kept some of us on the margins.

That's why, this month, we're 'On the March' for a new civil rights agenda, demanding equality as of right for all members of society, not just those our civil and political leaders deign to treat as equals.

The basic message of civil rights is that we all have the right to social and civil equality. The Green Party in Northern Ireland will keep repeating that claim until we all get it.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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