Examination of Witnesses (Questions 543
MONDAY 25 OCTOBER 2004
Q543 Chairman: Ladies and gentlemen,
thank you very much indeed for coming to help us with our inquiry
into `hate crime' in Northern Ireland. As you know, we are trying
to explore the reasons for the reported increase in crimes which
is motivated by hatred within and between the communities, to
examine the effectiveness of the measures which the Government
are taking, and to see how effective our witnesses think the present
laws are and what more might need to be done. The media in Northern
Ireland recently reported several high profile racist attacks.
What is your view about this? Is the problem becoming more serious
or is it that more people are aware of the problem and are reporting
racist attacks more? I say to you what I said to the previous
group, we want to hear from all of you what you have to say, but
please do not all feel you have to answer every question or we
will be here until tomorrow. If you agree with what the previous
speaker has said then just say so, do not repeat it. Who would
like to start?
Mr Iweida: I would like to thank
you for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of my community,
the Muslim Community in Northern Ireland. I have been living in
Belfast for a number of years now and in the last seven to eight
years there has been an increase in the number of racist attacks
against people from ethnic minorities. We have not seen enough
effort put in to dealing with this problem. The attacks which
have happened in the last two years were definitely more aggressive
than the attacks which happened before and that is very alarming
and people are suffering because of that.
Q544 Chairman: Would you describe
briefly what you mean by more aggressive?
Mr Iweida: Yes. Last year about
10 Muslim families were forced out of their homes and that had
never happened before.
Q545 Chairman: Where?
Mr Iweida: In Portadown and Craigavon
and in some parts of Belfast as well. They were intimidated and
they had to leave their houses. Members of our community received
serious injuries, broken limbs, some of them were admitted to
hospital and were in a coma and others had very serious medical
conditions. I am afraid we have been having fatal incidents of
this kind for a while.
Q546 Chairman: Who do you think were
largely responsible for these? How would you describe the groups
who are carrying out these attacks?
Mr Iweida: There are some groups
from across the water coming here, like Combat 18 and some other
right wing groups and they are probably partially responsible.
Q547 Chairman: So they came from
Mr Iweida: As far as I know they
did not exist here before. They started establishing new branches
here and recruiting people.
Q548 Chairman: Would anybody else
like to talk about this?
Ms Tandon: I also believe that
teenagers are carrying out attacks in the workplace. The young
need to be taught about other cultures because some of them are
carrying out the attacks on members of ethnic minority groups.
Ms Lo: We think the local paramilitaries
might have been involved with sympathisers of Combat 18 and the
British National Party. There was talk about fielding candidates
for elections representing the British National Party here in
Northern Ireland. We believe the local paramilitaries are involved
in this, which is something new. Racism has always been here in
Northern Ireland. I came here in the Seventies and I was kicked
on the street by a group of youths after they called me all sorts
of names. The troubles in Northern Ireland have always overshadowed
the problem of racism and for a long time people here have denied
that there is racism in Northern Ireland, saying there are so
few ethnic minority people here, therefore there is no racism.
The division between the two major communities has been pushed
down the agenda. The media's reporting would always have been
about sectarian issues and so racism has not been on the agenda
or part of the media's coverage. I agree with Jamal that there
has been an increase in the number of racist attacks on ethnic
minority people here, but it has always been here. It has increased
in conjunction with the increased number of ethnic minority people
coming into the province after the ceasefire.
Dr Radford: I would like to enforce
what all three speakers have said about the increase in `hate
crime'. There is a continuum between sectarianism and what is
unacceptable within a sectarian context and unacceptable within
a race or ethnicity and religious context. If we accept people
abusing each other verbally because of their sectarianism or where
they come from the same thing will be applied here. There is very
clearly an increase in verbal abuse as communities become more
visible. As they are given the capacity and their capacity develops
to become representatives in public life so too does the increase
in racism, Islamophobia and Judaiophobia.
Q549 Chairman: Has anybody got any
thoughts on why the total number of racist incidents is falling
in England and Wales and rising in Northern Ireland? Is there
a particular reason for that that you could identify?
Ms Tandon: I feel that the education
system here needs to change a little bit. The whole environment
has to be taught that there are different people living in this
society. It is the role of cultural diversity which is important
and let us welcome it and let us work together. I think it comes
from the education side from day one.
Ms Harvey: I think the Traveller
community have experienced racism forever in Northern Ireland
and it is education that is the key to changing that.
Dr Radford: And training.
Q550 Chairman: Do you think that
in the Traveller community it is racist or do you think it is
about their lifestyle and the effect they have on their temporary
Ms Harvey: The Traveller community
was designated a racial group in 1997 and that was the turning
point for work amongst Travellers and Travellers' development.
It is important we recognise that Travellers have a separate and
distinct culture, which includes being nomadic.
Q551 Chairman: Perhaps it was the
nuisance factor of having Travellers near people rather than the
fact that they were a group on their own.
Ms Harvey: Travellers have experienced
complete exclusion in Northern Ireland. There is not one piece
of Northern Ireland legislation before 1997 that positively addresses
the needs of Travellers. So communities, like statutory agencies,
perceive the Traveller community as a problem. You were allowed
to say that Travellers were a nuisance or that Travellers could
only park where they are allowed to park. They have no access
to permanent sites to improve their community. They are always
being perceived in a very negative sense. To be designated a racial
group is the turning point and we can begin to look at the needs
of people who live and work and economically survive in Northern
Q552 Mr McGrady: The Commission for
Racial Equality in England and Wales in their report indicated
two problems which they have. One is getting people to report
on racist crime and, secondly, an underreporting because of the
way the complaint is handled, either a misunderstanding at the
source that it is racist or a lack of evidential procedures that
do not indicate that it is racist and such things as that. Are
these problems the same in Northern Ireland? If they are, have
you any suggestions as to how that might be addressed?
Ms Lo: Certainly we know there
is very much underreporting to the police of racist incidents
for various reasons. Yes, communication is a problem for the Chinese
community, but there is a general lack of confidence in the police
within the Chinese community. They feel there is no point reporting
to the police because the police do not respond fast enough. After
they have called the police, the police may take two hours to
come down and then the incident is over. A lot of them do not
bother reporting incidents. We feel there is a sense within the
Chinese community that they are second-class citizens and they
will always be second-class citizens here and that the police
will never take them seriously. There have been a couple of incidents
whereby Chinese people reported attacks by local people and the
Chinese community ended up being prosecuted or being questioned
seriously and were kind of blamed for retaliating. So there was
a sense within the Chinese community for a while that the police
would always be on the side of the local people rather than on
the side of the Chinese people who were under attack. There is
this general sense in the community for Chinese people that there
is really no point in reporting crimes. I think the police need
to double their effort in terms of creating better relationships
with the Chinese community, in terms of responding quicker and
in terms of meeting the Chinese community more frequently. We
had a public meeting one time with the police and the people at
the public meeting were giving out their grievances and two of
the four police officers were very dismissive. That is not the
way to deal with a community who already feel under threat. I
think the police need to put in a lot of effort to improve communications
with the Chinese community and show the Chinese community how
they can lobby Parliament and make complaints about the things
they are not happy about. We could create a mechanism whereby
the Chinese community can report to a third party like ourselves
if they do not want to report directly to the police.
Mr Iweida: There is no doubt about
it, there is under-reporting. I agree that there is a lack of
confidence. Our Muslim community feels the same way towards the
police and because of that many people would not report incidents.
Also, it is the bureaucracy, you have to go to the police station
and report it even if it is verbal abuse; there is no easy way
to report these things. For example, when I walk down a street
sometimes I get abused verbally three times on the same day here
in Belfast. I cannot go to the police and report these three times,
there is no way, I have things to do. The number of abuses is
increasing towards our Muslim community. After September 11 there
was a clear increase. That makes it difficult for us to keep reporting.
When we have reported these incidents in the past we did not feel
it made any difference because nothing was done. We always try
to convince people to report them to the police, but they say
"What's the point?" Unless we build this confidence
in the police and the problem is going to be tackled or the issue
is solved I do not see any point in trying to convince the people.
England and Wales are ahead of us because they had this problem
before and they had more legislation and the education system
was developed better there than here. What we need is to learn
from them, not to start from the zero point here.
Dr Radford: We have had a different
experience within the Jewish community of the PSNI. We have received
a lot of support from them for initiatives that we have undertaken
in Northern Ireland to try and be in a position to report incidents.
Our incidents have been very different from those experienced
by the Chinese community and the Muslim community and I think
that should be acknowledged, but we have had a very different
level of support too from this organisation. There is certainly
still an unwillingness within our organisation to record some
incidents and there are a variety of reasons for this, some of
which are very much based on the fact that the community is a
very small community, a voluntary community, it does not have
the resources or the capacity within itself to do it, but it can
address minor issues. There are also issues of victim status and
survival status which have a very real and symbolic sense within
the Jewish communities both here and throughout the world. Jews
tend to see themselves as survivors rather than courting victim
status. Small incidents tend not to be something which is recorded.
Ms Harvey: Traditionally the Traveller
community's only contact with the police would have been with
the police in an enforcement role, not in a support role. It would
be very difficult for Travellers to access the services that are
available to record crimes against them. I think this is a huge
learning curve ahead for us. Now that things are changing, as
support groups we have a role to play in that. Ethnic monitoring
needs to be put in place and an understanding of other people's
cultures needs to be recognised by statutory agencies and the
police themselves need to step back from that enforcement role.
Ms Tandon: The Indian community
have been a very settled community for a long time in Northern
Ireland and it has got a very good reputation and has never suffered
racial abuse. The new people who are arriving here through employment,
through recruitment agencies and all that are suffering and they
have reported it to PSNI and they have been very helpful to them,
but again it depends on where they are living and in which area
they go and report to the PSNI. Certain areas are ruled by paramilitaries
and it is just not possible for the individuals to go and report
to the PSNI because they cannot go into those areas themselves.
Q553 Mr McGrady: I must declare some
interest in the response you are making vis-a"-vis the police
because I am a member of the Police Board as well, but I hear
all that you say. A couple of months ago one of the local newspapers
reported under a headline "Only eight prosecuted out of 453
incidents" and it was in fact an article by the police themselves
who went on to say: "It's very difficult for the police because
when a sinister attack happens we are relying on people in the
community to come forward. At the moment they are not coming forward
and that means there is nothing we can do unless there is forensic
evidence." Do you find that members of the community in the
vicinity of such incidents are not coming forward to assist you
in pursuing these investigations?
Mr Iweida: The communities are
afraid of the paramilitaries or the people who carry out these
attacks. There is a culture of fear here. People are afraid to
come forward because they will be victimised themselves. Even
people of ethnic minorities do not report to the police because
they are afraid of the consequences. When the police come to their
house people will know that they have reported something to the
police and they will be targeted more. The neighbours do not want
to help because they are afraid. We know they know who it is but
they cannot say because of the culture of fear they are living
Ms McKelvey: There are Filipinos
who have reported `hate crime', but they say the police are not
helping that much. Some of the Filipino community are being attacked,
they are throwing things at their windows, and it is mostly teenagers
who are doing that. The police will just say they cannot do anything
because they are still under age. It is useless them reporting
it because there is not a lot of work being done about it.
Q554 Mr McGrady: Dr Radford, as I
understand it the police have not recorded any single incident
of anti-Semitism or attacks on the Jewish community. Can you give
me some indication of why that is so? What is the nature of the
hostility and is it getting worse or is it static?
Dr Radford: There are two questions
there, one of which is that the Jewish community is not reporting
crimes to date for a variety of reasons, one of which is resourcing.
Up until the last two months there has been nobody who has taken
on the role within the community of getting engaged with community
development and that goes back to some of the comments earlier
in the previous session about the lack of resourcing and support
for minority communities. Also, there has been a difficulty with
incidents within north Belfast, where the synagogue is based for
example, because people are not always clear about whether a general
act of vandalism on symbolic architecture and places of worship
is in fact gauged at us because it is a Jewish community or just
because it is close to the hospice where they are going the next
Q555 Mr Clarke: I would like to concentrate
for a couple of moments on the nature of racist attacks which
can be very different from one community to another. A racist
attack can be political if there is somebody like the White Nationalist
Party or the BNP trying to spread its filth around a particular
area, or it can be fiscal if there is a group that is trying to
intimidate a particular community in order to extort money from
businesses. In the Chinese Welfare Association's submission it
argues that racial crime has become more violent and sinister
and there has been comment in the past about those crimes that
are based on extorting money from local businesses. Do you think
there is a paramilitary involvement? Can you separate out the
racist acts from those that are being perpetrated by the xenophobes
and those that are being perpetrated by the criminal fraternity
who are just picking on the community because they can extort
Ms Lo: I think the protection
money is really a general "trend". They are taking money
from restaurants of all kinds. I do not think you can attribute
that as being racist in a way because they take money from everybody
in the street. Chinese restaurants pay money like everybody else,
but then you have the other racist attacks which are meant to
drive out people from a certain street, like in Donegal Road where
the paramilitaries wanted to `ethnic cleanse', ie to get all ethnic
minority people out of the road, and that is racist.
Q556 Mr Clarke: Do you think there
are links between the two, between the political wings of the
far right party and the paramilitaries?
Ms Lo: Yes, we believe so.
Q557 Mr Clarke: When you talk about
the nature of racist incidents there can be a number of different
reasons. I would imagine Mr Iweida would say that the current
world situation has probably led to more attacks on Muslim people
in Northern Ireland and that would be the reason for race attacks.
I am trying to get an idea of how much of this current rise in
racial hatred and crimes connected to it is about circumstance
and how much of it is deep-rooted. If I went across the tableand
this is an awful thing to saywe could talk about the equality
of suffering in terms of who is suffering most and why are you
suffering as communities. Is it that some communities will always
suffer more or is it just about taking it in turns depending on
the world scene and what is happening within Northern Ireland?
Mr Iweida: I think the problem
is a general one. There is a fear of others in Northern Ireland
and this is a problem which leads to sectarianism, but there is
no work done to tackle it and to suppress it. In Northern Ireland
we need more active political leadership from the main political
parties, church leaders and so on to try to educate people and
make them more accepting of people from ethnic minorities. The
fear of others is there and it has been there for a long time
and sometimes it is because of circumstances, the media, certain
articles here and there and if you have not tackled it and major
political experts and churches and community leaders have not
spoken against it, they have not tried to tackle it, that will
increase and will get worse.
Ms Lo: A social attitude study
published in 2001 showed that racist attitudes here are more significant
than sectarian attitudes. In Northern Ireland we have gone through
almost 40 years of sectarian strife and there is that sense of
fear and worry about the other side. It seems to have transferred
from not trusting your Catholic or Protestant neighbour to not
trusting your ethnic minority neighbours. I certainly feel that
in Northern Ireland we have not tackled this issue head on for
the last two or three years. With all these incidents it is very
much left to the ethnic minority organisations to deal with it,
it has not been seen as a societal problem. We have not seen too
many politicians speaking out to condemn it. We have not seen
any concerted effort by OFMDFM with a coordinated campaign to
say we need to do all these different things. Promoting ethnic
minority people here adds so much diversity and richness to Northern
Dr Radford: I think there is a
huge amount of discrimination both within the education system
and the health system in various ways that with very basic training
and education, starting from the preschool level, will go some
way to addressing this. This may be a long-term issue, but there
are some short-term initiatives that that will hit on and I think
there needs to be concerted effort and support of government and
designated people to enable the minority communities to deliver
this and to disseminate the information that they already have.
Ms Lo: A report published by the
Equality Commission called "A wake-up call" shows that
very, very few organisations see the problem of racism as an issue.
We have been very lacking in Northern Ireland in the voluntary
sector in addressing anti-racism issues, in delivering anti-racist
and equality practice and policies.
Q558 Reverend Smyth: What is your
reaction to the recently introduced Criminal Justice (No.2) (Northern
Ireland Order) which came into operation in September? Is it dealing
with the issues that you are talking about?
Dr Radford: The law is a great
floor. I think we need escalators and ceilings to aim at.
Q559 Chairman: Are you pleased that
it has been introduced?
Dr Radford: I am pleased with
any forward move in legislation.
Ms Lo: While we obviously welcomed
this, when you look at the prosecution rate of the police in the
last few years, the law will not help us unless people report
it better and unless the police can use the law better. The law
would not be of any benefit to people on the ground unless other
mechanisms work to bring people into the court system.