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Call for Northern Ireland politicians to tackle racism

Northern Ireland politicians should focus on tackling racism rather than just condemning it, a group representing ethnic minorities said today.

The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (Nicem) said a recent Stormont debate on the issue had only stirred sectarian tensions between rival parties.

The group called for concrete measures from government to tackle hate crime and warned against giving racists a platform for their views by overstating the actions of a violent minority.

"The focus of Monday's Assembly debate on recent racist and sectarian attacks was condemnation rather than concrete strategy and practical action," Nicem said today.

"Treating the attacks as sporadic incidents fails to recognise wider more ingrained societal problems.

"MLAs who play the blame game serve to further inflame the sectarian divisions in our Assembly.

"There is a need for the Northern Ireland Executive to take responsibility and implement the promised programme for government to tackle sectarianism and racism, rather than laying blame along sectarian lines as to who is the more racist portion of the community."

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said a draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy (CSI Strategy), a central part of a plan to tackle issues such as racism and sectarianism, is close to completion.

Trade unionists, meanwhile, have announced plans for a rally at 1pm at Belfast city hall tomorrow to protest at attacks on migrant workers.

Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU) Assistant General Secretary Peter Bunting said: "We are prepared to invest to prevent the spread of Swine Flu, and Measles, Mumps and Rubella. We must invest in the prevention of other social illnesses.

"Racism is a contagious disease. But racism is a preventable disease.

"We can and we must invest in prevention because the cure can be too expensive."

Alliance Party representative Anna Lo, who is the only Assembly Member drawn from an ethnic minority background, has been warned by police that she is under threat.

Threats were also made this week against Polish and Islamic centres in Belfast.

More than 100 Romanians were forced from their homes in the city earlier this month in an incident that attracted widespread condemnation.

Polish families in Co Tyrone were attacked, as was an Indian centre in Belfast.

Police have said the spate of attacks is not co-ordinated, but the increased attention on the issue sparked an Assembly debate on racism at which the violence against minorities was widely condemned.

But Ms Lo warned a small number of Assembly Members who condemned racism, but who also made references to crime coming from migrant communities, that they risked sending out a dangerous message.

"I am saddened really by some of the comments which to me were defensive and also stereotyping our ethnic minority communities," she said during the debate.

Today Nicem Executive Director Patrick Yu called for action to tackle racism.

And commenting on the wider public debate on the attacks, he warned that they should not give a platform to racist views.

"Giving a small group of perpetrators a platform to sound off their hate against any individual, organisation or community is not only unwise, but potentially dangerous," he said.

He indicated that small gangs could be adopting the names of larger violent organisations in threatening letters to heighten tensions.

He added: "We must be vigilant that using the name 'Combat 18' boosts the perpetrators' image of violence and intimidation whilst giving their cause a sensationalist slant."

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