Courts and Stormont must clamp down on racism
Many of the hate crimes that happen in Northern Ireland are unseen by the general public and go unreported. But that certainly was not the case with the attack on 45-year-old stallholder, Musa Gulusen, who was savagely beaten and punched to the ground, sustaining a broken wrist and having £120 stolen. The racially-motivated assault happened in broad daylight on Royal Avenue, Belfast's main shopping thoroughfare. Thankfully for the reputation of the city, some passers-by went to his aid and he has received many messages of support.
Mr Gulusen has lived here for more than 20 years, works hard, pays his taxes and is typical of so many people who have chosen to settle here. Like them he makes a positive contribution to society and Northern Ireland is richer for their presence.
Yet it is clear that racism is rife here, particularly in Belfast, where more than 70% of race hate crimes take place. In the year ended in March, there were 691 hate crimes recorded by police throughout the province and 982 cases of racial abuse and intimidation. Those are shocking statistics and it seems that racism is now taking over from sectarianism as the main evil on our streets. People are being attacked and intimidated purely because of the colour of their skin or because of their country of origin.
It is heartening that recent rallies against racism have attracted significant numbers of people. It is also important that politicians speak out clearly and unambiguously against those who espouse or practise racism. But, as was seen for so many years during the Troubles, it is not enough just to speak out against violent men. Strategies have to be devised which will isolate those who carry out racist attacks and also support those who are victims.
The Executive has drafted a racial equality blueprint, but this has been so long in the gestation that racism has been allowed to fester and gain a foothold in society here. The new strategy must be brought into force as soon as possible and backed by all right-thinking people. As well, those found guilty of racist attacks should face a lengthy jail sentence. That would show we are serious about tackling this pernicious crime.