BELFAST, May 29 (RIA Novosti), Mark Hirst – An elected member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who was born in China but who has lived in the province for 40 years, has told RIA Novosti she feels angry and afraid and is contemplating leaving the country following a sharp rise in racist attacks.
Alliance representative Anna Lo’s comments came after the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, defended a Northern Irish church Pastor, James McConnell, who publicly described Islam as “satanic” and said Muslims had been “spawned in hell.”
Responding to the comments, Lo told RIA Novosti, “We have a Pastor making such outrageous comments about a whole community, about the Muslim faith and then we have one after another, representatives of the biggest party [The Democratic Unionist Party] and the First Minister of this country coming out in support of what this Pastor has said.”
“Peter Robinson’s comments will not do anything to alleviate the racial tension that is present in Northern Ireland at present,” Lo, who represents South Belfast added. “I am very angry because there has been such an increase in racist attacks and incidents in the past few months.”
Last month, a senior police officer warned of a rise in racist attacks against minority groups, up 43 percent over the past 12 months, amounted to “ethnic cleansing.” The Police Service of Northern Ireland have said the pro-British unionist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, was orchestrating many of the attacks.
Lo said that not enough was being done to tackle the problem of racism in North Irish society and said the Government needed to do more to help tackle the issue.
“Groups on the ground are telling me there is no money, no resources to allow them to do any work to combat racism,” Lo added. “We’ve been waiting for seven years for a racial equality strategy to be published.”
Sinn Fein, the political party formerly affiliated with the now-disbanded IRA, called on all political leaders to promote equality and show mutual respect.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was a former IRA commander, said, “I value the diversity and multicultural nature of our society the significant and valuable contribution the Muslim community makes to this society day and daily.
“There is a real need for all of us those in positions of responsibility to step out of our own political constituencies and religious groupings and show genuine political leadership for all,” McGuinness added.
First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who is now facing a police investigation following his comments backing Pastor McConnell, responded to Deputy First Minister McGuinness’ statement, saying, “I won’t take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation on equality, tolerance and mutual respect for all.”
Anna Lo told RIA Novosti, “That is just outrageous and it makes ethnic minority people feel very vulnerable and afraid here, including myself."
“If we don’t stop this trend we could become the hate capital of Europe,” Lo added.
The Northern Ireland Assembly is due to debate the issue of racism and hate crime in the next two weeks.