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Racist attacks blighting country

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 15/04/2015

Shutters shield the damage to a beauty salon owned by a Polish woman that was set on fire in Belfast
Shutters shield the damage to a beauty salon owned by a Polish woman that was set on fire in Belfast

There are elements within Northern Ireland who have great difficulty in accommodating difference. During the years of the Troubles, that manifested itself in naked sectarianism. Now it finds expression in racism. And it is blighting the province's reputation across Europe.

The motivation for the racial attacks are difficult to understand. The vast majority occur in working-class loyalist areas and they are increasing in number - up to 476 last year from 307 during the previous 12 months. The arson attack on a beauty salon in east Belfast owned by a young Lithuanian woman is typically baffling. She came here as a teenager and has built up her own business, employing people and boosting the local economy. She is no immigrant scrounger, as some would like to portray those who come here from abroad.

It seems the fact she employed Polish staff was a possible motivation for this hate crime. It follows attacks on three Polish families in north Belfast recently, and last year 88 attacks on Polish people were recorded. These crimes have caused alarm with the Polish authorities and a letter outlining the government's concern will land on the desks of the First and Deputy First Minister very shortly.

The Polish government, like the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, will wonder why a proposed racial equality strategy for the region has been stalled since 2007. Perhaps the politicians will be prompted to act when the international spotlight falls on them.

Many people will also question the response of the PSNI to this latest spike in hate crimes. It is clear there is a pitifully low success rate in apprehending and bringing to justice those responsible. In their defence the police can argue that budget cuts mean the level of neighbourhood policing has been drastically curtailed. Essentially the force now reacts to such crimes rather than being able to put preventative measures in place.

Also the flow of information about who is responsible is also poor because there is a strong suspicion that paramilitaries are either behind many of the attacks or give their approval to them.

But it must also be stressed that the criminals involved are not representative of the vast majority of people here. The true spirit of Northern Ireland was shown by the money raised to help this latest victim of racism and by those who took part in a rally in support of her last night.

Belfast Telegraph

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