Editor's Viewpoint: Racist hate crimes a blight on our society
Twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and even longer after terror gangs promised to eschew violence, the spectre of paramilitary lawlessness continues to shame the province.
The fact that a gang of masked loyalist thugs could enter a property occupied by five young Romanians in the Monkstown estate in north Belfast, beat them mercilessly with baseball bats and force them to flee their home, which they then systematically wrecked, is an affront to a province which has suffered too much already.
The gang, like so many before them, rely on neighbours who are rightly horrified by this attack maintaining a wall of silence - for fear that they could be the next targets. The paramilitaries rely on violence or the threat of it to maintain a stranglehold on the communities in which they operate and - as has often been pointed out - they are not the defenders of communities but leeches who suck the lifeblood of them, denying them investment and opportunity and poisoning minds and bodies through their various activities, including widespread drug dealing.
Police say they are treating the attack on the Romanian nationals as a hate crime. That is a fairly wide definition - but a very obvious one - which includes sectarian attacks. When figures on hate crimes began to be recorded in 2004/5 sectarianism was the main motivation, but in 2017/18 racism topped the statistics for the first time, with 609 racist crimes identified.
It shows that the paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican, have continued to engage in violence motivated by hate; it is just that the targets have changed proportionally from the opposite community to those of a different nationality.
The only glimmer of hope is that the number of racially motivated crimes has shown a downward trend in recent years since reaching a high of 916 in 2014/15; but a figure of more than 600 in the latest year is unacceptably high. Indeed, there should be no acceptable level of racism.
It is ironic that a part of this island which has seen emigration throughout the centuries and seen its former citizens and their descendants make their mark in many countries around the world should be guilty of launching attacks on people coming here to make a contribution to our economy.
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The clear-up rate of one in five at best on racist crimes remains unacceptably low and police need greater public help to put the thugs behind bars.