Last month I addressed the Alliance Party conference on the issues with Poverty in our City, what we have been doing and what still needs to be done to tackle it.
Weekly Update – 14/03/21
There are three things I’ve been thinking about almost constantly this week – violence against women, how violence against women is reported and how we bring much needed conversations out of our echo chambers.
The tragic and chilling case of Sarah Everard is the stuff of nightmares. How one human being can inflict such pain on another is incomprehensible. And as many have pointed out, there’s an added element of fear in that Sarah did everything right. Every woman knows what it feels like to be walking home alone, the scenarios that play out in your head and the tactics you hope you’ll use if the worst situation arises. We know what it’s like to have lewd things said to us, to be groped in bars, to feel watched and to feel powerless. And we’re tired of being told to alter our behaviour in order to prevent this.
I’ve started to see stories shared of other victims – particularly in relation to women of colour – ones that I’d never read before. Class and race undeniably impact how gender based violence is reported, and we need to acknowledge this, and we need to address it. But it’s not just the conversations that play out in the media – I’ve been reflecting on the conversations we have among ourselves. How most of these are had with other women, and how most of the ones had with men are spent agreeing that of course it’s not all men, but arguing that it’s enough men. And then I started thinking about Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in schools and how much better equipped we would all be if we had honest, scientifically accurate, age-appropriate discussions from a young age. My party leader Naomi Long met with the Minister of Education on this, as did the Children’s Commissioner. Youth groups, women’s groups, concerned parents (just to name a few) have all raised how damaging the lack of standardised RSE is, and yet there has been no progress. We need proper RSE to keep young people safe – not just now, but in the future. There is the demand, the evidence, and the legal obligation for change – so why is nothing happening? We need to ramp up the public pressure if we’re ever going to see change.
But that’s not the only area where change is needed. Men who recognise that gender based violence is real and a problem need to stand with us, to talk to other men about attitudes and behaviour, and to call it out when they see it. We need better and consistent reporting on these issues – where your skin colour does not determine how many newspaper inches you get – and we need to start talking about these issues early.
I’m sending so much love to everyone hurting at the moment, especially those who have lost someone. I can’t imagine the pain they must feel. The world can be a very dark place and this week has been a heavy one. The outpouring of outrage, compassion and solidarity reminds me of the good which exists, and it gives me hope. I hope so much that this is a turning point.
WHAT I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THIS WEEK
Alliance celebrated Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) with a beginners Irish class where I learnt my first Irish phrases. I attended a meeting with Senior Belfast Council officers over governance issues and had an Alliance strategy meeting regarding our group’s 100 goal manifesto for this term. Lots of casework (mainly planning queries!) this week -remember if any if Council’s services are not working for you, or there’s an issue in your area, please get in touch.
FAVOURITE THING ON THE INTERNET THIS WEEK
I’ve genuinely watched this about 200 times.
As ever if you’re having any issues you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep looking after yourself & each other.
Friday Update – 26/02/21
It’s Friday and the sun is shining, both very welcome after this week in politics.
I started my week by listening to the Today In Focus miniseries podcast on the Freshwater Five. In 2010 five Fishermen from the Isle of Wight who were found guilty of conspiracy to import £52 million worth of cocaine and given lengthy jail terms. Ahead of a hearing in the court of appeal this week where new evidence will be presented that could exonerate the men – the five episodes look in detail at the case and the impact this has had on the men and their families. It’s one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to in a long time – which you can listen to here.
Meanwhile – Alliance has been lobbying on EU residents right to remain – we’re very worried that people for whom NI is home face becoming undocumented in 4 months – and we are pushing for the June deadline to be scrapped and for automatic status to be granted. More detail here.
My party colleagues on Mid and East Antrim Council (where the most bizarre things – even for NI politics – happen) called a special meeting to request an independent investigation into the recent removal of staff from Larne Port. The DUP, UUP and TUV voted against this. A depressing day for those who value openness and transparency, but proud of my colleagues for standing up for what is right. You can read more here.
The Department of Health has been dragging their feet in not implementing abortion services in Northern Ireland and on Tuesday we learnt the Human Rights Commission has been granted leave by the High Court to take a judicial review against the Secretary of State for NI and the Dept of Health for NI. It is anticipated that the case will be heard in May/June 2021. The fact that this has to happen – when the law is settled – is shameful.
Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MP has been highlighting that the way to ease tensions around the Protocol lies with the UK Government, and how they align or otherwise with EU on SPS rules via a Veterinary Agreement. He wrote a great piece on it here.
Arlene Foster and some DUP colleagues met the Loyalist Communities Council this week – a legal body which incorporates illegal paramilitary groups. Appropriately there was uproar around this. As someone who has been working with people who have been forced out of their homes and had their lives ruined by paramilitaries, it’s outrageous that any politician – let alone the First Minister legitimises them by seeking their opinion.
Sammy Wilson likened the Health Minister to a poodle. But Sammy Wilson being attention seeking isn’t really news.
I went on Talkback on Friday to discuss regulating graphic abortion images with Peter Tatchell – you can listen to the interview about 30mins in here.
WHAT I’VE BEEN WORKING ON
This week I had an assignment due in (I forgot how much I hated being a student) but still managed to keep on top of my casework and progress some of the issues I’m working on. I had a very productive meeting on building community infrastructure in South Belfast, as well as discussions around social prescribing and what more we can do to support people experiencing loneliness and isolation. Usual casework issues – bins, planning and Covid regulations queries. And as ever, if you have any issues please get in touch: email@example.com
FAVOURITE THING ON THE INTERNET
Pádraig Belton’s letter to his son on his second birthday. So filled with love.
Hope everyone has a lovely weekend,
Friday Update- 19/02/21
This week started with Boris Johnson suggesting we build a tunnel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Connectivity is important, but as my colleague Cllr Stephen Donnelly pointed out if we’re talking about new infrastructure we could do with some better roads in Northern Ireland first please. Plus it’s getting very tiring that every time there’s an issue with Brexit Boris Johnson (to borrow a particularly graphic phrase from Naomi Long) “dangles this umbilical chord”.
On Tuesday Paul Givan tabled a Private Members Bill in the Assembly to amend abortion law with the intention to prevent abortions in cases of non-fatal disabilities. As it was the first stage of the bill there was no debate. I’ve been campaigning on reproductive rights for a decade and I know that those on both sides of the argument hold sincere and deeply held views, but for me given every pregnancy – and every woman – is different, the ultimate decision has to be made by the woman and her doctor. BBC has a good timeline on abortion law in Northern Ireland, which you can read here.
If you didn’t get the chance to watch the Spotlight Documentary on Covid and Hardship, please do. Thirty minutes of difficult viewing – but so important we all keep talking about the reality of poverty, and what is being done to address it. The destitution, the stigma, the lack of hope – it’s heartbreaking, and it’s also completely unacceptable. I have so much admiration for the people who shared their story, and so angry they had to. You can watch it on i-player here.
There have been definite signs of hope this week too however: from the NASA rover landing on Mars to the slightly smaller scale Lagan Gateway Bridge going in today (see it here). But for me the most joyful news was that a constituent who hasn’t seen her father for 51 weeks will be visiting him in his Care Home today.
WHAT I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THIS WEEK
This week I had Licensing and Planning Committee meetings, several meetings with the Alliance Party Belfast Council Group over the report into how Council handled the Bobby Storey Funeral (you can read our press release here) and a great meeting with the Alliance Women’s Network. We set the Network up to address women’s policy issues and increase female representation, but it’s also become a wonderful support network. I also had a brilliant meeting on an issue I’m very passionate about, but can’t tell you about… yet! Otherwise been busy with the usual casework issues, and as ever any issues or services not working for you, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
FAVOURITE THING ON THE INTERNET
It was a tough call between all the GenZ Vs Millenial content… but in the end this one won (you can see the thread here -thank you to my friend Claire for sharing)
Hope you all have a lovely weekend & I’ll be back with another update next Friday,
So many people I know have just stopped watching the news. And who can blame them? The last 12 months have been hard on everyone and I think most of us just can’t deal with any more bad news. Saying that, as the vaccines roll out and the days get longer and brighter – hope is within reach.
In normal times (were there ever normal times?!) I would have been out knocking on doors to update residents on what I’ve been working on and getting feedback on local issues. Obviously with Covid that’s not possible, but I’m still working and still keen to hear your thoughts and concerns, so I’m starting a weekly update on this blog. In it I’ll update you on what I’ve been working on, my thoughts on what’s been happening in local politics and share something that’s brightened my week.
So where to start?
I was so excited to see the Black and Ethnic Minority Women’s Campaign for a bigger say in public life launch this week. I’ve been working with officers at Belfast City Council to look at how we tackle racism and while there are plans for training for young BAME leaders, it’s great to see these incredible women organising to make our political systems more representative. Watch their interview with Mark Simpson here and be inspired.
If Mid and East Antrim Council wasn’t already the most bizarre political body in Northern Ireland, the the latest developments must have secured its title. I genuinely feel so bad for my colleagues who are on that Council. Read about it here if you haven’t already.
Naomi Long’s legislation on stalking reached it’s second stage in the assembly – we’re so far behind the rest of the UK on this that it’s great to see it making progress. More about it here.
This week is Sexual Health Week, and an opportunity for me to raise (for the millionth time) how shocking it is that we don’t have standardised Relationship & Sex Education in Northern Ireland – here’s a piece I wrote on why we need it for Slugger O’Toole many many years ago.
WHAT I’VE BEEN WORKING ON
A few people have raised issues about Wedderburn Playing Fields (in Finaghy) and how to make them more user friendly: I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get them lit up and a path can be put in – work on this is ongoing. Lots of planning queries, issues with graffiti in Belfast, questions about Covid restrictions and chasing up support funding for businesses impacted by Covid. No Committee meetings for me this week, but I attended the NI Planning Conference which was very useful, I was particularly inspired by some of the work Scotland is doing in relation to youth engagement around the town planning process and keen to see what more we can be doing.
FAVOURITE THING ON THE INTERNET
Lawyer cat-man. I mean if this didn’t make your week I don’t know what will.
As ever, any issues please get in touch – my email address is email@example.com
Have a great weekend & take care,
Friday was my last official day of maternity leave. I had brought Cian with me on a site visit, and as he sat in his pram staring balefully at us all, I wondered how the last ten joyous, sleep-deprived months had passed so quickly. The week before he was born I went on leave from my day job, but Council work never stops (I actually recall responding to casework emails from the labour ward). Since Cian Luca came into this world he has been with me almost constantly. He attended his first committee meeting at 4 weeks old, I breastfed him in the Council Chamber at 7 weeks, at 8 weeks he had sat in the BBC Talkback studio (while we discussed the trolling I had received for taking him to the chamber the previous week). He attended site visits and constituency meetings, he came to briefings and events – he even came along to a meeting in Parliament Buildings when the Assembly was about to get back up and running (Naomi Long asked Cian what he thought about her becoming Justice Minister… he thought there was no one better for the job) – and as smug as this now sounds, it all felt so wonderfully easy. I was praised for going back to work so soon, I was lambasted for going back to work so soon – but to be honest none of it felt like work, it just felt like I had the very best of both worlds.
As he got older I started to pump – I knew it was better for Cian to stay at home with his dad in a cosier (and politician-free) environment; and so off I went to my late night committee meetings, where I started to wonder if I really did have the best of both worlds. I tried not to dwell on the guilty sadness I felt each time I left him – as an elected representative I’m not entitled to maternity leave, besides I comforted myself with the belief that the sooner we got used to being apart, then the easier it would be in the long run.
And then came Covid. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you look at your life and whether it’s discovering how resilient you are, or that you love someone more or less than you realised, or even the profound revelation that you *can* bake edible banana bread – it seems through this fearful and uncertain time, we’re all learning something about ourselves. In gaining a maternity leave I never thought I would have, I reflected on the necessity to spend time well. I knew that if I was going to continue sacrificing being with my child in order to fulfill my duties as a politician, I could only justify it if I was doing it for the right reasons.
I got involved in politics because I had a genuine desire to see a progressive and inclusive Northern Ireland, and to be a part of that change. It could be easy to pin your self-worth on a title, to become consumed with keeping your seat or seduced by the perks of office (I’m not ashamed to admit I am very partial to the stamp with my name on it), and the only way I could keep my involvement meaningful, was if it didn’t mean everything. I wanted to expand my skill-set and develop other areas of expertise, and so I enrolled on a postgraduate course, I applied for a new day job – and here I am on the eve of a new beginning.
While I still feel guilty at the number of commitments I have, I’m told guilt goes with the territory. And while I’m just a bit devastated this glorious bubble is about to pop, I’m excited for the endless possibilities that lie ahead. But mainly I’m grateful – grateful I had much longer with my baby than most new parents do, and that the space with him has allowed me to really reflect not just on how I use my time, but on how I am, for the both of us.
The drive way was exactly as I remembered – albeit a little overgrown. There was a hut by the gate and a woman emerged, rubbing her eyes. It was the holidays but the now dilapidated buildings gave the impression the school had been closed for many years. The driver spoke to her in Shona, gesturing at me – she went to school here, she wants to take a look. She eyed me suspiciously, and then the gate was opened.
It felt like a dream. Seventeen years since I had left and so much had changed. My parents had moved here so their children would grow up free from the shadows of troubles, and they were inspired by the newly independent Zimbabwe. My mother (the daughter of anti-apartheid activists) was seduced partly by its proximity to South Africa, but mainly by the political hope the new country offered.
My boyfriend had planned this, he wanted to leave me back he joked. And here we were now – driving slowly through the school. So much I hadn’t realised had been tucked away in my mind, snippets of conversations, faces l thought forgotten, coming to the fore with force, almost winding me. That was the swimming pool I told him – the once white painted walls had sparkled in the sun, but not anymore.
There was the hockey field. I had been the captain, not due to skill (I never scored a goal in my life) but it was an elected role and I was chosen after I bought everyone on the team sweets. Destined for politics my mum would smile. Every single afternoon we would do sport, everyone hated athletics “A little bit of pain never killed anyone” our safari-suit wearing headmaster would bellow, as he chased us down the red dirt cross-country roads on his motorbike. Pain may not kill you, but we would learn other things could.
“Netsai’s mum died” my friend had said one afternoon, when we were sitting on the side of the hockey field. Bonded by our mothers’ willingness to write notes to get us out of sport.
“How?” I asked
Evil spirits that I didn’t really believe in – but wouldn’t say said out loud just in case they were listening. So I nodded.
I can’t remember when the new word “war veterans” entered our vocabulary, but it was round about the time N’s dad started carrying a gun. There were squatters on their farm and she was scared. And not long after that Mr Stevens, whose kids went to the school, was shot dead by a gang of men. They were retaliating after his workers had chased them off his farm.
We drove past the old sanatorium which now had weeds growing from the window. The san was the place you went for muti, to be made better. I remembered how when it rained the matrons made us do cross-country in our swimming costumes so our sports kit wouldn’t get mouldy. I would often come down with something very serious on days like that, and would escape to the san with a book hidden in my jumper. I discovered the true happiness of being tucked up with a book and a cup of cocoa in a high hospital bed, listening to the rain thunder down upon a metal roof – knowing your classmates were running. Outside. In their swimming costumes.
Opposite the san, the swings had gone but the old tree which had claimed countless bones stood strong – the only thing which had.
I wanted to show him the old school hall.
The doors were all closed but here the latch had worn and a sharp tug set it free. The red velvet curtains on the stage were stained and frayed, a hole in the ceiling directed a shaft of light on the floor – once gleaming and polished, it was now covered in dust. The very same portrait of President Robert Mugabe hung at the back of the room and I remembered how we sang the national anthem every morning in this hall.
I had lost the school spelling bee to Cara Stockil on that stage, because I couldn’t spell bicycle.
We used to have Christian Union every Tuesday night here. When I started boarding in Grade 7, I told the matron I couldn’t go to Christian Union because my family didn’t believe in God. So she called for the teacher in charge, who called for the deputy headmistress, who called for the headmaster. It was agreed I either go to bed at 7pm when everyone went to Christian Union, or I go with them. I boycotted it for one week. But the next morning heard my boyfriend (who I had never actually spoken to) had asked where I was. So I caved. The next week I got to play the leper, who touches Jesus’ robes and gets cured, and everyone applauded – from then on every Tuesday at 7pm I was a committed Christian.
Some evenings we would sneak out of prep to play tennis before the sun set. In Zimbabwe – where corporal punishment was very much still a thing – rules were not made to be broken; but mitching homework for sport was never frowned upon. The headmaster’s house overlooked the courts, and Mr Botha who was sitting on his veranda drinking a beer called out “How’s your mum Kate?” – he knew it was just the two of us now. “Good sir” I said, “she’s coming to visit tomorrow afternoon if she gets fuel” – “Don’t hold your breath” was his response. There had been shortages for months. On hearing reports of petrol Lorries arriving in Marondera, my mother drove to town on the last of her tank. She waited for two hours in a queue and when she got to the front was told there was none left. Returning home she learned there was a power cut, so in a dark empty house she reached for the phone – just to hear the voice of another human being – and she found the line was dead. Getting into bed with a bottle of gin she decided it was time for us to go.
“They’re waiting for us” He said to me and I came back into the moment. How strange, I thought, to be here in my old world, with him. And now it was time to go.
I had been excited to go – to see my new life. To have family. But as the years passed I would occasionally catch the sweet scent of the Jacaranda trees in bloom, or feel burning gravel under my feet. I would remember nights in the dormitory when we whispered about boys from under our counterpanes and snuck out into the courtyard to gaze at the stars. I would remember the morning haze of the Chimanimani Mountains, canoeing down the Zambezi. I would remember the other nights when our whispers turned to worry – fears of the future. The rumours and tension that had slowly eased their way into our integrated world unnoticed – and with their arrival taken the last moments of our childhood. Some days the sadness of the home I had lost would overcome me. And I would feel broken.
Riverdale House was a misleading name for the grey tower block located on the Seymour hill estate. I had imagined a cottage and fields with sheep. When we arrived I looked at my mum and she tried to smile reassuringly. But we both knew what the other was thinking. This wasn’t home. The red, white and blue painted curb stones were not in fact representative of a large French community living in Dunmurry. A boy with acne who got the school bus asked me if I wanted to go into the forest with him and his friends, I did not. I watched every Doris Day film that showed on channel 4 that summer, too afraid to venture beyond the balcony of the 12th floor. No adventures wanted here. When the 90 year old arsonist from the building opposite set fire to Riverdale for the second time my mum decided, once again, enough was enough. We moved to Sunnyside Street where a Georgian piano player lived next door and when she practiced we imagined ourselves through time and place, sitting on the veranda as dusk settled, listening to my sister play.
I had escaped to London with no intention of returning to Belfast. But each time I came back to visit my mum I felt relieved. It turns out that I missed her, that I wasn’t as cosmopolitan as I hoped and really, I just wasn’t very good with change. So I moved back, unsure of who I really was or where I really belonged. In that emptiness came the space I needed to make sense of my life, to find direction. I learnt to be grateful for my weird, magical, African childhood. I began to see that the trauma of leaving, was nothing like that of classmates – who didn’t have the socio-economic privilege I had – who were denied that opportunity; who had to stay. I had witnessed the brutality of inequality, as my grandparents had; I had seen the devastation that is borne from the ashes of democracy. I knew that no good comes from division in any part of the world and I wanted to do something that mattered. And so I went and found it, and along the way I also found a Fermanagh boy with blue eyes who made me laugh and feel safe. And I thought maybe change is not so bad after all.
That evening as we sat on a kopje, sun setting over the land where I was born I acknowledged the profound effect leaving here had had on my life, it had taken almost two decades, but piece by piece I had come back. So when he asked me… I said yes. And in that moment I knew, I was home.
The trouble with flags
When paramilitary organisations put up flags it is not about culture. It is a deliberate attempt to demarcate territory and to intimidate, and the law should protect against this. For the third year in a row UVF flags have gone up in Cantrell Close – appalling anywhere at the best of times, but all the more sinister because this is a *shared* housing development. Anyone who defends these flags is defending violent and threatening behaviour.
Whilst there is an obvious difference between paramilitary flags and ‘national flags’ – the latter is too frequently used for similar purposes. For the constituents I’ve been working with this summer, the key issue is not the flags themselves, it’s the anonymity. They know that in July flags will go up –but the fact that they’re erected late at night, by unknown groups of men – unsure for how long they’ll remain – is for many people deeply unsettling.
The police have told me they will only remove flags “if there are substantial risks to public safety” – how they establish this is a mystery to me. In the meantime nothing is done about the intimidation and authorities seemingly rely on those opposed just keeping quiet. If you feel unsafe or vulnerable you just have to deal with it.
Before the Assembly collapsed my colleague Paula Bradshaw was developing legislation – we need this, because until we have strict regulation and genuine leadership on the matter (which btw does not involve politicians knocking on doors and asking people if they mind the UVF flags outside their house…) then we’ll continue to revisit this every. single. year.
Everyone should be free to celebrate their culture, but ensuring this is done in a peaceful, transparent & time-bound way really shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Photo source: Irish News
Some thoughts on the Alliance surge
I got involved with Alliance in December 2012 as an act of solidarity. The Party was under attack, not over the removal of a flag from City Hall, but over an election in East Belfast – and I was angry. Naomi Long had the audacity to win her Westminster seat from Peter Robinson in 2010, the retribution for which would last the best part of a decade. Most people would have crumbled, but Naomi Long is not most people.
In my seven years as an Alliance activist I have become accustomed to election campaigns, and to losing them.
The first election defeat I was involved in was the 2013 Mid Ulster by-election. I remember an SDLP activist (kindly) saying to me that he liked how we walked into that count like we stood a chance. We tallied furiously and cheered the loudest for our much respected candidate Eric Bullick when he increased our vote by 0.3%.
In 2014 my then boss Anna Lo was our EU candidate. Her personal views on the constitutional question had dominated headlines and many said that would be the end for Alliance, but in truth I think it served as a reminder that Alliance is genuinely a cross-community party. In the end Anna achieved our highest vote and we were elated, though at 7.1% of the vote we knew we still had a way to go to break the desired 10% barrier.
The next year – the 2015 Westminster election – was the one that really stung. After a particularly nasty campaign, Naomi lost her seat to the DUP’s Gavin Robinson (though she increased her vote by 4,000). His bitter and aggressive “5 Long years” speech stood out in stark contrast to the dignity and grace with which Naomi has become known for. And it didn’t go unnoticed.
In the 2016 Assembly election we kept our 8 MLAs, as was the case in the 2017 election (despite the Assembly having been reduced from 108 to 90 MLAs) – only this time Alliance seats in North Belfast and South Down were now within reach. It was then I realised that maybe things were changing.
With no functioning Assembly since 2017 and the cliff edge of Brexit looming; people are tired of scandal, self-interest, and political point scoring. For too long divisive, negative politics has dominated – and there doesn’t seem to be much to lose. So when a person like Naomi comes along – someone who is genuine, who speaks sense, and most importantly will work with anyone for the greater good (and is just that bit scrappy); it’s not difficult to see the appeal.
While Brexit and the absence of an Assembly undeniably contributed to our recent triumphs, the Alliance surge is not something that happened overnight. While Naomi is extremely likable and engaging (even her most dedicated trolls wished her well when she signed off social media to receive medical treatment), behind her is a pretty impressive team. Deputy Leader Stephen Farry – who is an actual genius (I have seen him engage in a conversation, analyse a policy document and play tetras all at the same time) – has been a reliable and trusted voice on Brexit. And because evidence-based policy is very much our thing, it means even if you don’t agree with an Alliance position, there’s integrity behind the decision making. The MLAs, their staff, and the small central team are dedicated and hard working – which are key ingredients to any success.
Mostly I believe that our strength lies in the fact that at the core of Alliance is a sense of inclusivity – which carries more campaign miles than fear mongering ever can. And while these elections are ones that will take a while to come down to earth from, we know we cannot be complacent. We face many serious challenges as a society, but for the first time in a long time it seems that those working towards the greater good were rewarded.
And there is endless hope in that.
Northern Ireland’s problem with racism
Northern Ireland has a problem with racism. I witnessed enough of it when I worked for Northern Ireland’s only ever ethnic minority MLA. The amount of abuse Anna Lo endured was staggering and we regularly dealt with constituents who had suffered similar treatment. This isn’t just anecdotal – there are figures to back it up: the results from the 2017 Life and Times Survey show high levels of intolerance towards people from minority ethnic communities.
More than half of people surveyed would not willingly accept a Muslim (52%) or an Irish Traveller (56%) if they became a relative through marriage. Almost half (47%) of people asked would not willingly accept a Muslim as a close friend; and a quarter (25%) of people would not willingly accept someone from an ethnic minority as a colleague at work.
Anna always used to say racism and sectarianism are two sides of the same coin. In a society which has in part been molded by segregation and suspicion, the continued distrust of outsiders is not just symptomatic of that which remains unresolved – it is also part of a worrying narrative in global politics.
In a city where PSNI figures show that racially-motivated crimes now exceed those connected to sectarianism, where seeing Confederate flags is not unusual (not to mention the previous Swastikas and KKK banner), where a functioning government is not in place to make much needed legislative changes, we know more needs to be done. It’s why any elected representative who puts out a leaflet which advocates “local homes for local people” is not just deeply disappointing, it’s actually dangerous. Politicians need to wake up to the racial prejudice that exists, not fuel or exploit it for political gain.
The Belfast Agenda states that “We are ambitious and inclusive. We have come together to set stretching goals that will create a better quality of life for all. We want sustainable success for the city and we want to make sure this success reaches everyone who lives here.” Electing local Councillors who are committed to this agenda, to making the city better for *everyone* who lives here, really shouldn’t be too much to ask.