Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here today. It is most fitting that people from across the spectrum of our society are here today to pledge their support for a non-racist society in Northern Ireland.
Is this not a microcosm, here in this room, of how we want Northern Ireland society to be — at ease with itself and celebrating its diversity?
Now I would like to talk about the Alliance Party’s strategy on racism, through our pledge to the Charter we have signed today.
Alliance has welcomed the publication of draft legislation for hate crime laws in Northern Ireland. In fact, Alliance first tabled proposals to the Labour Government in July 2000.
It’s scandalous that similar laws have been in place in England and Wales since 1998, and in Scotland since last year.
Now, having good legislation in the books is enough. We’ll need proper enforcement.
Despite the fact that racial attacks have been going on for years now, there have been very few prosecutions under existing laws.
The wider criminal justice review must take into account the impact of the criminal justice system on ethnic minorities — its victims as well as perpetrators. Alliance calls for the setting up of an independent expert working group in this regard.
Alliance is also calling upon Government and public authorities to tackle racist crime more seriously and thoroughly. If we are to have a genuinely shared and pluralist society in Northern Ireland, it is crucial that it has the confidence from our ethnic minorities.
In police recruitment, for example, Alliance wants proactive programmes to attract persons from ethnic minorities. We argue that the current Catholic/non-Catholic quota system actually makes this more, not less, difficult.
For our own part, I would like to think that people don’t associate Alliance — the cross-community party — with racial or religious prejudice. In fact, we see racism and sectarianism as two sides of the same coin.
Racism, sectarianism and other forms of prejudice are about institutionalising difference and putting people into boxes.
Indeed, prejudice is just that — pre-judging people. You look at the colour of someone’s skin and make immediate assertions about that individual.
Sectarianism is where religion or other criteria are used instead of race. And you know how people will ask particular questions — like say the letter ‘H’ — to find out what foot you kick with.
Sectarianism and racism is present not only in working-class communities, but also in the leafy suburbs and down at the golf club.
Sectarian and racist attitudes are persistent throughout Northern Ireland society. And speaking as an immigrant myself, it is remarkable some of the sexist and racist language still in place here, now in the 21st century.
While it would be easy for me to condemn the bigotry of those who don’t vote Alliance, and disassociate myself from what I would see as prejudicial parties, it is a greater challenge to tackle the insipid racism and sectarianism wherever it appears — ignorant remarks and so-called jokes made by your friends, your unreformed relatives, and harder yet, in negative media coverage and inadequate public policies.
In fact, public policies can be worse than inadequate — they can be downright counter-productive.
For example, when hostility is provoked at interface points, who do you see get the attention? Those who have been working hard for cross-community peace? No, you’re more likely to see the local ringleaders.
We hear the news stories of racially motivated attacks. What about the convictions?
Alliance endorses the actions taken by police in North Down, in arresting and securing convictions of four individuals who erected paramilitary flags in a public housing estate — a mixed housing estate.
We want at least the same level of action taken against racism.
Alliance Party representatives all work together against prejudice and hatred.
Stephen Farry, our Justice Spokesperson, is the author of our strategy in dealing with the scourges of racism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
Our Local Councillors and MLAs — like Tom Ekin and Geraldine Rice, and Eileen Bell, Naomi Long, and Sean Neeson — have spoken out against racism in its numerous malevolent forms: the erection of racist flags, local campaigns by the White Nationalist Party, physical attacks against members of ethnic minorities.
And our Party Leader, David Ford, delivers the message of progress at home and abroad.
Alliance is not interested in managing differences, whether they are ethnic or racial. We don’t want no ‘benign Apartheid’.
Instead, Alliance is working for a united community, where we celebrate diversity, while recognising what we hold in common.
To quote South African Liberal, Alan Paton: “To give up the task of reforming society is to give up one’s responsibility as a free man.”
Alliance accepts this responsibility, and you will see us continue to campaign against racism and sectarianism wherever it occurs.
Thank you very much.