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Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission: Calls for more action to stop racist attacks

Press release: 21 March 2005

Human Rights Commission calls for more action to stop racist attacks

Government and civil society must re-double their efforts in order to combat racism in Northern Ireland. This was the message from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission as it marked International Day against Racism today (21 March).

The Commission is calling for greater action to stamp out racist attacks and for the urgent release of the Government’s much delayed Race Equality Strategy.

Responding to the escalating rate of attacks on people from ethnic minority backgrounds, Chief Executive, Ms Paddy Sloan said:

‘We believe more could be done by Government and civil society in addressing the rise in racist attitudes and attacks. Although we welcome the Government's work in the area of race relations, there is a need for a comprehensive strategy against racism. We are calling on politicians, church leaders, public bodies and voluntary organisations to make even greater efforts to stamp out racist attacks..’

The Commission is recommending that Government urgently publishes its long awaited strategy on race equality and implements a 5-year programme to combat racism in Northern Ireland. According to Ms Paddy Sloan, the needs of Travellers should receive particular attention. She added

‘Recent media coverage has tended to demonise all members of the Traveller community and, in some quarters, it is still considered acceptable to make blatantly prejudiced remarks about this disadvantaged community. Government has a duty to accord human rights protections in facilitating the nomadic way of life.’

Travellers face discrimination in education, health, and accommodation. Some 92 per cent of Travellers leave school with no qualifications and only 11 per cent are in paid employment. The infant mortality rate is ten times the national average with life expectancy for Travellers 12 years less for women and 10 years shorter for men, compared to the population as a whole.

According to the Commission, little progress has been made in alleviating this situation and the level of human rights protections accorded to Travellers has to date been wholly unsatisfactory. The Commission believes that urgent action by Government and the Housing Executive is especially needed to address the accommodation needs of Travellers alongside those of the settled community.

The Commission is concerned that recent legislation on encampments may infringe the rights of Travellers to a nomadic lifestyle and calls on Government and key agencies to improve the education, employment, and health of Travellers, as well as their treatment by police and the courts.

Further information

1. For further information, please contact Paddy Sloan, Chief Executive on 028 9024 3987 (office) or Peter O’Neill, Head of Information, Education and Development 028 9024 3987 (office) 07835 381040 (mobile).

2. OFMDFM issued a consultation paper on establishing a race equality strategy on 25 February 2003 when it was intimated that proposals would be published in the autumn of 2003. A comprehensive research review in this field was carried out by Paul Connolly from the University of Ulster for the study ‘Race and Racism in Northern Ireland: A review of the research evidence’, published by OFMDFM in 2002. In December 2004, the Commission issued a report on the Draft Unauthorised Encampments (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 (available from our office).

3. The Commission has called for the following measures to be implemented as part of the Government’s anti-racist strategy:

· Directing more resources to support the work of organisations assisting ethnic minorities and anti-racist activities.
· Encouraging all public authorities to play their part in promoting good race relations.
· Developing a broad educational campaign to promote racial awareness and understanding such as the Know Racism campaign developed in the Republic of Ireland.
· Encouraging the Housing Executive to set up local community relations programmes in the public and private housing sectors.
· Commissioning more research on how to effectively support the victims of racist attacks.
· Encouraging the Department of Education to re-invigorate efforts to stamp out bullying, particularly racist harassment in schools.
· Exploring with schools how to teach children about other cultures and traditions and increase their awareness and understanding of the problems of racism in society.
· Improving interpretation facilities in police stations, and,
· Developing greater confidence building measures to encourage the reporting of hate crimes to the police by members of ethnic minority groups.

Peter O'Neill, Head of Information, Education and Development

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Temple Court
39, North Street
Belfast BT1 1NA

T: +44 (0)28 9024 3987
F: +44 (0)28 9024 7844

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