Today marks exactly one year since the draft Racial Equality Strategy was published for public consultation. The first and deputy first minister officially launched the public consultation on the 19th of June 2014.Since then OFMDFM equality unit officials held several consultation meetings with people of minority ethnic backgrounds, statutory agencies, civil society and people with interest on race relations across Northern Ireland. This process also instigated the formation of the “Common Platform”; – a collection of organisations working for and with ethnic minorities with common agreed themes; whose secretariat is provided by the community relations council (CRC) of Northern Ireland. Several statutory agencies, trade unions, equality commission and ethnic minority groups/ individuals and stakeholders also held consultation meetings.
Context; One year on
Since the Draft Racial Equality strategy was published for consultation the following have happened;
- The department received 80 written responses from different minority ethnic groups, statutory and non-statutory agencies, individuals with an interest on racial equality, trade unions and all sections of civil society in Northern Ireland including the equality commission and amnesty international.
- There are still ongoing racial attacks and racism in Northern Ireland. Recently in Londonderry (March 2015) and in Belfast (March 2015).
- People of minority ethnic backgrounds are still arriving in Northern Ireland which means there is an increase in numbers. Although we do not have statistics of exactly how many have arrived in Northern Ireland since June 2014, we can talk of a few we know in the North west of whom do not even reflect a fraction of those we do not know.
- There has been many more consultations held well after the deadline for written submission which was the 10th October 2014. (Submissions were accepted into November 2014). Example of a more recent consultation meeting was organised by CRC on the 14th of April 2015. Discussion based on the common platform response paper.
- On the 14th of April 2015 during the Racial Equality Implementation event, we received an update from OFMDFM senior official, Linsey Farrell,( Director of Good Relations and Governance Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM)on the consultation responses to the draft and the department’s analysis of the findings.
- On the 18th of March 2015, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister received evidence of various groups on racial inequalities in Northern Ireland. Groups represented were the common platform, Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), Belfast Islamic Centre, Indian Community Centre and South Tyrone Empowerment Partnership
- On the 28th of May 2015 the North West Migrants Forum was among 2 groups that met the OFMDFM committee to present further evidence on experiences of racial inequalities and barriers to Racial Equality in Northern Ireland.
- On the 12th of June 2015 among other groups, we met the junior minister Michelle McIlveen who specifically requested a meeting with BME individuals to discuss issues of concern on the Racial Equality Strategy and Racial Equality in NI.
As an organisation led by ethnic minorities and whose members are the intended beneficiaries of The racial Equality Strategy, we are pleased to see a growing interest from Statutory and non-statutory organisations, Trade unions, individuals and in particular from people of minority ethnic backgrounds. There is no doubt that the draft Racial Equality Strategy was weak and unfit for purpose however that is why a consultation process is important and we commend the department for ensuring that the voices of the true beneficiaries are heard.
Some would argue that the consultation period has taken too long. We can even go further and say that in the last 15 years people from minority ethnic communities have been ignored and this is a fact. We do not have to spell out how but we can mention a few issues that make us feel ignored, for example since the last Racial Equality Strategy expired in 2005, it took 9 years for another draft to be released. The draft was released due to amounting pressures from civil society on the increase in racial attacks in Belfast and inappropriate racial comments made by the first minister Peter Robinson in regards to a particular community, as well as racial abuses directed to MLA Anna Lo last year, so it is believed.
It was very clear that the draft Racial Equality Strategy “A Sense of Belonging” was rushed, it lacked an action plan, it had no specific time frames, neither was it clear where resources to implement the Racial Equality Strategy will come from or who will be responsible or accountable. The draft did not clearly show the need to reform race legislations and its 6 aims did not even include Inclusion. We can go on and on to raise more gaps that we spotted on the draft but there are 80 written responses on this particular issue.
Our main concern at the moment is that; in the last 4 months the discussions surrounding the Draft Race equality strategy has been based on the common platform written response. We seem to forget that the 80 written responses did not only come from the Common Platform membership and that the Common Platform written response does not necessarily highlight all the specific issues raised by members who signed up to form the Common Platform.
Having read the Common Platform response and whilst we fully support the concerned raised on this paper, we feel that the pressure amounting to release the Racial Equality Strategy may lead to a document that will not work for the true beneficiaries of this Racial Equality Strategy. We are aware of the challenges faced by the department, for instance staffing challenges, and we need to acknowledge this. We are very quick in pointing fingers and having engaged with the department officials we can see the commitment and willingness to act to ensure that the racial equality strategy is finally published. We would therefore urge the minister to ensure that the final document tackles the real issues raised by ethnic minority people and to ensure that individual responses send to the department by small organisations/groups are also considered. We need action and commitment however we do not want a rushed strategy which does not work. We are happy to wait a little bit longer to ensure that the final document meets the needs of the true beneficiaries of the Racial Equality strategy.
We would also like to take this opportunity to request the minister look at the challenges faced by the department. We the true beneficiaries of this Strategy acknowledge the hard work and dedication shown by the department thus far, whilst we appreciate all the efforts we are also aware of the limitations and this requires action from a senior level, who better to solve the problem faced by the department than the minister in charge?
On a daily basis we receive clients who have been racially attacked, discriminated in work places, clients who still can’t access services because they are migrants or cannot speak English and many other racial inequalities that exist in NI. Whilst we believe the Racial Equality Strategy will ensure ultimate protection for ethnic minorities in NI it takes education and raising awareness to tackle racial inequalities in Northern Ireland. This doesn’t have to wait until the Racial Equality Strategy is published for it to happen. There are practical actions that can be put in place to continue tackling racial inequalities in NI. Best practice models such as the ones implemented by the Derry and Strabane District council community relations department could be mainstreamed to all statutory agencies.
For more on Racial Strategy,please have a read below: