ALLIANCE’S Sean Neeson has said that recent racist attacks throughout Northern Ireland – the most recent in Donegall Pass at the weekend – illustrate why Hate Crimes legislation should be introduced as soon as possible.
Mr Neeson, who began lobbying for such legislation when he was Alliance leader, said the party would be raising the matter with the Justice Minister, John Spellar, on Thursday.
Mr Neeson said: “There have been too few convictions for attacks on members of ethnic communities, and often the charges are relatively minor, such as disorderly behaviour or criminal damage.
“Tougher sentences for crimes motivated by racism would send out a powerful signal that society will not turn a blind eye to these attacks, and that there will be serious consequences for those behind them.
“Despite the fact that sectarianism and racism are bigger problems in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK, we are years behind in terms of dealing with them.
“In Great Britain, legislation dealing with racist crime has existed since 1998 and was extended to cover sectarian crime in 2001. Scotland has also made recent strides towards tackling its sectarian problems.
“Only here, where race-related crime has exploded and sectarian attacks are part of everyday life, has the least been done. Frankly that is not good enough, and Alliance will be pressing the Minister to ensure that adequate legislation is passed later this year.”