Racism in Northern Ireland

647 words | 3 page(s)

Northern Ireland is believed to be affected by the three major evils today: racism, sectarianism, and partitionism. Among these three, racism has attracted the greatest attention in the local and international media, and has earned the country the title of ‘race hate capital of Europe.’ Two biggest conflicts of late have been the racist attacks against residents of the Polish origin and hate crime targeted against the Roma community. The article examines the Government’s response in tackling increasing racism, assesses the effectiveness of this approach, and explores the factors which influence the racist attitudes found among people across the country.

Overview of literature on the subject shows that racism has persisted in the welfare spheres in Northern Ireland. People here had lived ethnically segregated lives until interventions aimed at increasing social interaction and integration were launched in the mid-2000s. However, institutional racism still happens. Specifically, minority ethnic populations in Northern Ireland face the problems of accessing various services due to language and cultural barriers as well as racist harassment. Further, it has been found that the ratio of racist incidents in the overall crime rate was high and today there is an upsurge of race-based violence. Here racism converges with sectarianism. These tensions are exacerbated by competition for the scarce resources. In particular, they become stronger at the times of recession.

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Discussion of the government policy effectiveness in tackling racism is placed in the context of the minor ethnic population context. It is highlighted that the number of migrants has risen over the years, so that by 2008, migrant laborers made up 5% of workforce in the country (to compare, in 2001, the number of migrant workers was only 0.8%). All in all, the statistics show that the number of settled communities of ethnic minorities has increased over the years as has the influx of migrant labourers. The key government policy document aimed at eradicating racism as well as hate crime in Northern Ireland is A Racial Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland 2005-10. Other legislative documents that underpin the strategy are Race Relations Order 1997 and the Northern Ireland Act of 1998.

With numerous ethnic minorities residing in Northern Ireland, racial equality strategy launched by the government to tackle racism has proved ineffective. Two major causes have been found accountable for this. First, the biggest political parties failed to come to agreement on a future policy despite the fact that they promised to. This became the reason for the government agencies to evade responsibilities within the vacuum of public policy. This lack of political agreement serves as an impediment to addressing the issue of racism. Second, the messages by the politicians are mixed and unclear. While some politicians express rather inclusive and pro-diversity attitudes, others accuse immigrants of taking jobs from local people, which leads to mass hysteria.

The findings from a binary logistic regression allowed predicting the factors influencing the racist attitudes. The strongest predictor was the respondent’s attitude to migrant labour in Northern Ireland, i.e. those who believed it was good were less likely to hold racist views. Next, people who held sectarian views were more likely to express racist views. Further, Protestants were found to be more likely to express racist views than Catholics. Those who had lived outside Northern Ireland for half a year or longer were less likely to express racist views. In addition, older people were more likely to express racist views and show racist attitudes.

Policy implications include devising of a combined approach to tackling racism and sectarianism issues. This includes improving the work of numerous agencies and bodies which are responsible for this. Also, the government should resolve the problem of locating migrant workforce in the areas with working class loyalist population. This will prevent sectarian gangs from engagement into sectarian crime.

  • Knox, Colin. Tackling Racism in Northern Ireland: ‘The Race Hate Capital of Europe.’ Journal of Social Policy, 40.2 (2011): 387-412.

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