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Government Policies Not Tackling Racism

30 June 2011

Racism in Northern Ireland is a considerable and growing problem despite the existence of policy and legislation designed to tackle it, according to research carried out by a University of Ulster PhD student.

Fiona Haughey (nee Dunnion), who graduates at the Waterfront Hall today, explored how racism in Northern Ireland was being tackled from a policy perspective, focusing on the implementation of the Racial Equality Strategy.

“Based on my research, I would argue that moves towards tackling racism in Northern Ireland have been largely impeded by a lack of policy and legislative implementation. Ultimately this has contributed to a lack of co-ordination in relation to how racism is tackled across local government, resulting in the employment of weak measures to address racism in the majority of councils,” she said.

In her findings, Fiona, who is originally from Strabane, identified a number of obstacles that have stymied efforts to successfully challenge racism. These have included:

-     An absence of strategic policy direction and leadership from central government in relation to tackling racism.·

-     A lack of capacity and confidence within local government to address ongoing racism and put into action strategic policy to tackle the problem.·

-    Continued poor engagement between local government and minority ethnic people, especially via elected representatives.·

-    Under-funding and poor management of resources by central government for minority ethnic groups, inhibiting the sector from building capacity - a central aim of the Racial Equality Strategy.

-    A narrow conceptualisation of racism has, and continues to, limit how racism is tackled, in effect addressing racism on a superficial basis through good relations rather than a strong-anti-racist approach.

-    The continuing legacy of sectarianism is also shaping how racism is dealt with. Moreover, the main political parties have sectarianised the debate on racism as divisive, contributing to stalling efforts to address racism.

However, Fiona also found that a small proportion of councils were starting to make some progress towards addressing racism.

She added: “Overall, I concluded that government anti-racist policy in Northern Ireland has not been implemented. In addition, my research fundamentally calls into question the effectiveness of strategies in place to tackle racism in Northern Ireland, as well as reflecting on a number of policy suggestions.

“Finally, the theoretical, policy and empirical analysis from my research suggests that in order for racism to be fully tackled in Northern Ireland, the policy debate needs to reframe how racism is defined and understood, and ultimately addressed. In particular the roots of racism in Northern Ireland need to be fully explored and tackled.”