ALLIANCE Community Relations spokesperson Eileen Bell MLA (North Down) has said Community Relations Week is no longer just about tackling sectarianism.
Speaking at the start of Community Relations Week, Mrs Bell urged the public to take part in the many events that have been organised throughout Northern Ireland. Mrs Bell said that dealing with racism in NI was becoming an increasing focus for those trying to improve relationships between different groups and opposing prejudice.
Mrs Bell, who is also Alliance Party Deputy Leader, said:
“Sectarianism and racism are two sides of the same coin. Both are about preconceptions and attitudes we have towards people from different backgrounds to ourselves, and challenging prejudice is essential if Northern Ireland is ever to move forward as a united and prosperous community.”
Mrs Bell said that bigotry was costing us billions of pounds to maintain a system similar to Apartheid in Northern Ireland.
“There are obvious costs to sectarianism, in terms of the amount the Government spends on security, for example, but there are other ways in which we pay for our tolerance of NI-style ‘apartheid’.
“Building separate schools while placing obstacles in the way of those working towards integrated status, and drops in tourist numbers after violence surrounding parades are just two of the costs we bear financially.
“Creating a shared future means making difficult choices, but the social and financial benefits can be great. Would it really have been more practical or financially viable to build separate rugby, GAA and football stadiums, rather than a single, integrated one?
“Of course not, but the mentality of maintaining division at almost any cost is a big part of the problem. It could easily top £1 billion per year. Just think what we could do with that – it could pay for new hospitals, keep libraries open or fund improvements to the water infrastructure.
“There are also the social costs we bear because of segregation. When children don’t get a chance to meet with others from different backgrounds, myths quickly build up and take root in young minds. Yet when kids from different communities have a chance to talk and form relationships, often the barriers come down quite quickly.
“The political process may be in limbo, but the peace process goes on. No matter what happens politically, one thing is certain; if different communities are going to live side by side in Northern Ireland, we need to take community relations much more seriously.”