In light of the recent increase in racially motivated hate crimes and the controversial comments of Pastor James McConnell, MLAs were keen to find out what the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister have planned in terms of ensuring racial equality in Northern Ireland. Thousands of members of the public showed their feelings during an anti-racism rally held in Belfast over the weekend.
Daithi McKay asked the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, what his department would be doing to tackle prejudicial views aimed at the Muslim community. Mr McGuinness said that the department “is committed to racial, ethnic and religious equality” and he is hopeful that the new racial equality strategy, ‘A sense of belonging’, will be published for consultation in the coming days. The anti-racism rally held in Belfast “sends a very clear message to the wider international community that we are a society moving forward and are not prepared to capitulate to those within our society who wish to portray us in any way racist, sectarian or bigoted”.
Kieran McCarthy was critical that the racial equality strategy has been so long in the making (seven years) and sought assurances that the funding would be available for its implementation. Junior Minister McCann agreed that the delay of the strategy was “unacceptable”, citing the need for political agreement on certain issues which have now hopefully been resolved. In terms of funding, the Junior Minister assured that “we believe that the strategy will be adequately resourced”. It is expected that there will be an additional £1.1m available through the ethnic minority fund.
The deputy First Minister also answered questions on the Delivering Social Change signature projects, the disability strategy and the impact of the economic pact. During the topical question period Mr McGuinness also answered questions on internet safety, flash flooding and restrictions on teaching in certain schools without a certificate for religious education.