I have never been more ashamed of being from Belfast as I listened to their story of the nightly stoning of their accommodation in Belfast, and how they feared for their lives as they were chased on their way home from the centre of town.
I know that this experience will remain with them, even though they were warmly welcomed by cricket teams throughout Northern Ireland.
These shameful incidents along with many other racist attacks over recent months have highlighted the need for Northern Ireland to re-examine its attitudes and act immediately to stamp out this horrific behaviour.
The Alliance Party campaigned tirelessly to ensure that severe penalties for hate crimes were introduced in Northern Ireland. We now need to see proper monitoring of hate crime laws, to ensure that they operate effectively and act as a deterrent against these types of offences.
Recently a pilot scheme – Project RIOH (Recording of Incidents of Hate) – was launched covering South Belfast. I welcome this announcement and would ask anyone who experiences or sees a hate or prejudice-motivated incident, to report it to Project RIOH (details below). I am confident that this scheme will play an important role reducing racially-motivated crime and helping victims.
Despite the fact that racial attacks have been going on for years now, there have been very few prosecutions under existing laws. Alliance believes that the judiciary should sentence Hate Crime offenders severely, in order to send out the message that racism and other forms of prejudice will not be tolerated.
Sectarianism and racism is present not only in working-class communities, but also in the leafy suburbs and down at the golf club, no social class is immune from criticism.
In order to tackle racism we must combat the insecurities which lead to prejudice. Many of Northern Ireland’s problems stem from people having a hatred of anyone who is different to themselves. This emanates from years of sectarianism and I believe we must tackle sectarianism head-on, to help battle racism.
We are not interested in managing differences, whether they are ethnic or racial. We don’t want any ‘benign Apartheid’. Alliance is working for a united community, where we celebrate diversity, while recognising what we hold in common.
The lobbying efforts of the Alliance Party were instrumental in getting the already existing Race Relations Act of Great Britain applied to Northern Ireland. Alliance has worked tirelessly to try to eradicate the problem of racism in Belfast and recently held an anti-racism session bringing together many of Northern Ireland’s racial minorities to help combat the problem.
It is easy for people when asked whether they are racist, to say no, but the true test is in behaviour and action. Respect is not something that should be reserved until people know each other; respect for all should be shown at all times.
Imagine what society would be like if people did not respect each other until they got to know each other well.
Northern Ireland, and the island of Ireland, has a proud tradition of migration to all parts of the world. One would have trouble thinking of any US President whose ancestors did not come from these very shores.
From migration during the Famine to those leaving during the height of the Troubles, migration has been a common thread running through the history of this island. Many of us have ancestors, relatives or people close to us that have been migrants. Think about how they would wish to have been treated as they arrived in an unfamiliar country, perhaps knowing no-one.
If Northern Ireland welcomes everyone that comes here it will benefit us greatly, not only in our economy but also culturally, with a richer tapestry of traditions providing us with a more vibrant society.
Government cannot however eradicate racism alone, the general public has to play their part to too. Next time someone makes a racist comment, report it to Project RIOH, because if enough people stand up and be counted against this blight on our society, we can stop the racists. Don’t ignore racism, help end it. You can make a difference.
Project RIOH website: www.reportinghate.org
Tel: 028 9082 8568