Embracing new and old cultures will help Northern Ireland to prosper in the future, the Canadian High Commissioner told students at the University of Ulster yesterday.
Dr Jim Wright was speaking during his lecture on ‘Canada’s Experience of Multiculturalism’ at Ulster’s Social and Policy Research Institute (SPRI) in the Jordanstown campus.
“Northern Ireland is changing and changing for the better. But while old problems are disappearing, new challenges may be surfacing,” said Dr Wright.
“Last year we all read news coverage of the treatment of a small Roma community in Belfast. There is a worry on the part of some in Northern Ireland that racism could become the new sectarianism.
“Perhaps in a sense this circumstance should not be completely unexpected. Northern Ireland is a community with little recent history of and connection with new immigrants – the Troubles largely put them off.
“But as Northern Ireland embraces peace and seeks prosperity, it will become more attractive to people from around the world who may wish to make it their home. While people in Northern Ireland have made a clear stand against racism, there may still be some who feel uncertain about newcomers.
“Creating a cohesive, tolerant multicultural society is not going to happen overnight but I believe that the Canadian experience may offer Northern Ireland some useful insights.
“Over six million of our population – or almost one in five - were born outside Canada and every year we welcome over 250,000 new immigrants. We are in every respect a nation of immigrants.
“But Canada does not pretend to be perfect. We are open in acknowledging our continuing challenges and have learned many lessons, some difficult, along the way. And those are lessons that we are happy to share with others.
“In this global village in which we live today, there is an increasing movement of people around the world. People are looking for opportunities for themselves and their families to grow. And countries and societies that are open to new ideas and new talents, will have the opportunity to prosper and be competitive.”
An honorary graduate of Ulster University Jim Wright, whose family originated in Warrenpoint, has had a close interest in Northern Ireland since the 1980s. For many years he worked with the Marie Wilson Voyage of Hope Programme through Canada’s role in the International Fund for Ireland.
Dr. Susan Hodgett, Director of Canadian Studies at the Social and Policy Research Institute said: “Canada’s multicultural democracy is a major topic of study for several researchers at this university.
“Dr Wright talked about the many and demanding challenges that Canada has had to deal with over the years. As Canada welcomes some 250,000 new immigrants every year, we were curious to know how they have successfully managed this achievement.”
Professor Bob Osborne, Director of SPRI, added: “As the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland take on a more settled look the issue of how we can break down the barriers between the two ethno-religious communities as well as ensuring that recent immigrants become fully integrated into society here will become major issues.
“Looking to how other societies have tackled similar issues should enable policy makers to have the broadest context in which to develop their ideas and policy options. The SPRI is glad to play the role of facilitating the exchange of ideas between policy makers and academics.'