Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Focus on ethnicity is dangerous

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International

Can you hear the whistle? If not, maybe it wasn't meant for you.

"Dog-whistle politics" is a phrase coined in 1990s Australia to describe a style of political campaigning designed to appeal to anxious and perhaps racist voters.

Politicians, targeting a particular voter demographic, started to use codewords such as "un-Australian" and "illegals".

It was seen as a way of appeasing working-class white voters facing uncertain times, at the expense of scapegoating newly arrived, non-European Aussies.

Recent weeks have seen similar nasty tactics deployed in the run-up to today's local and European elections.

Posters have been plastered on lampposts in Belfast, complaining jobs are being given to "hundreds of overseas workers", rather than "local people". Ukip was quick to back publicly the message on the anonymous posters.

Now it has followed up with an eve-of-poll call for foreign nationals to be taught English, rather than be provided with interpreter services when visiting their local GP.

Should a similar rule apply to the millions of Britons living abroad who do not speak the local language?

Ukip's local party leader, David McNarry, relates (anonymous) complaints that migrants block-book doctors' appointments, making it difficult for others to see their GP.

Given the extent to which the health service in Northern Ireland utterly relies on the talent and dedication of "hundreds of overseas workers", Ukip's attitude is churlish in the extreme.

Meanwhile, an Ulster Unionist Party council candidate in South Belfast has been distributing election leaflets with the message: "Supporting local homes for local people".

At a time when homes of ethnic minority families are being attacked in Belfast and grafitti like "locals only" is daubed on their walls, it seems an unwise – not to say downright dangerous – type of electioneering.

The election campaign is now over. It's time for politicians to put away the dog whistle and start representing all our people.

  • Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International

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