Category Archives: NI analysis

Racism, xenophobia and integration in Northern Ireland

Prior to the 2016 EU referendum, there was an observable increase in racist and anti-immigrant sentiment in many media outlets, and expressed publicly by politicians and community leaders across the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey has asked questions on attitudes to minority ethnic communities since 2005, examining self-reported prejudice, perceptions of prejudice, acceptance of minority ethnic groups in intimate relationships and levels of interaction. The data therefore provides a valuable indicator of the vulnerability of Northern Ireland to xenophobic discourses which understate the value of diversity and migration, and emphasises self-segregation and exclusion.

I’m pleased to have just completed a report for ARK on the 2015 ILT survey data on attitudes to ethnic minorities, and look forward to its release soon! I’ll be posting a link to it here, along with additional commentary on the data.

You can see previous reports on the NILT webpage on attitudes to ethnic minorities.



Race Equality Works for Northern Ireland

This morning we launch a new report on race equality in Northern Ireland’s workplaces, based on in-depth research conducted with rewni20 top employers in the region.

The research has been conducted in collaboration with Business in the Community and CRAIC NI, with support from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

The research finds that:

  • Employers in sectors which employ high numbers of migrant workers (mostly white European) have engaged extensively with equality measures, but have focused on language and cultural integration. Low numbers of Northern Irish ethnic minorities in other sectors has invited some complacency about the need to address race equality issues beyond migrant workers.
  • Employers in other sectors have been highly influenced by the focus of government and equality bodies on migrant workers, and largely view the race equality agenda through this perspective. But migrant workers working in low skill sectors initially due to lack of English fluency are not viewed as potential future recruits to other sectors, despite the high skills levels which they often bring to Northern Ireland.
  • Employers assume that racial prejudice is decreasing in Northern Ireland, particularly amongst young people, contrary to evidence from recent surveys. Half of employers interviewed do not want to take responsibility for educating employees about racial bias, and view racial bias training as a burden. Alternatives including unconscious bias training or emphasis on non-prejudiced teamwork have been adopted with varying success. Employers who did not provide racial bias training to employees felt poorly equipped to challenge racist views and behaviours in the workplace which harmed employee relations, particularly where these were couched in humour.
  • Employers who implemented a zero tolerance approach to discrimination and harassment reported its success in strengthening employee efficacy and producing a strong team environment and respectful work culture, even where there is not significant training on racial or other biases
  • Employers are experienced and knowledgeable about a wide range of equality measures which can be implemented, but do not feel that they have been convinced of the case for prioritising race equality to date. This is the most significant obstacle identified in the research. There is support for affirmative action for community background and gender, but private sector employers largely are not convinced that affirmative action is appropriate to address race equality in Northern Ireland.
  • Employers which shared an understanding between management and employees of the benefit of an equality perspective in all aspects of their business experienced fewer problems between employees and were able to incorporate new equality measures more easily. Most employers were able to identify at least one action which they could implement immediately to improve race equality in their workplace. Capacity to undertake this action is influenced by the extent to which equality issues were seen as part of the wider culture of the business. Access to information about local demographics and actions taken by other Northern Ireland employers increased positive responses to the case for expanding race equality measures.


The research suggests a range of measures which employers can adopt:

  • Clearly communicate the value of diversity for your organisation
    • Make statements about diversity visible and meaningful to staff at all levels – this helps to address attrition, since staff are more likely to commit to a workplace when they perceive the organisation as a whole as being a place they can thrive, and are more likely to opt for informal resolution of conflicts. It also helps to support diverse recruitment. Think about external messages – advertising of positions, products and statements in the media are all read by wider audiences – as well as your existing staff.
  • Commit to raising awareness of racial bias
    • Communications about the importance of equality in the organisation underpins staff positivity about training. Management who take training with their team produce more commitment as education is seen as a joint venture. Training is also investment in the wider society of Northern Ireland, since people tend to mix in more diverse groups at work than outside. Staff employ that knowledge and experience more widely in their family and community life, creating positive interactions beyond your business, and widening their experience and perceptions.
  • Be aware of the wider context
    • Racism is high in Northern Ireland, and is not the preserve of any particular group. Regular experience of suspicion or harassment affects ethnic minorities and migrants, but also the neighbourhoods we live in and schools our children attend. Ensuring that the workplace is a psychologically safe space for all staff increases productivity and commitment.
  • Know the numbers
    • Make sense of the wider picture of race equality in Northern Ireland. Employers familiar with local demographics are better equipped to address emerging issues and also to address the local population as service users, customers or potential staff.
  • Opt for open, transparent communication
    • Consultation and feedback are key to understanding how well established the message about diversity is within the workplace culture. Staff surveys, feedback sessions, staff networks and anonymous reporting channels are all ways of ensuring that you have the widest range of information available, and all can be integrated with other forms of consultation and feedback.
  • Get comfortable talking about racial bias
    • Workplaces where there is confident and knowledgeable communication about racial bias are better equipped to deal with harassment, unconscious discrimination and structural  inequalities. Introducing the vocabulary of fair treatment and respect for people of all backgrounds helps to focus on positive efforts to address existing inequalities and prevent further inequalities arising in your business.
  • Showcase success
    • Work with ethnic minority and migrant staff to find ways to create visibility for diverse role models. Be creative in ways of  managing visibility, using internal communications and external showcasing opportunities effectively to maximise benefit without creating unnecessary additional burdens for ethnic minority and migrant staff which might harm their progression.
  • Keep equality on the table
    • Consider how the value of diversity is reflected in your business activities. Performance evaluation and team goals can be adapted to reflect the core message you create about diversity in your organisation. Setting goals on equality which are objectively measurable are key to ensuring that the organisation stays up to date. Creating a policy review schedule or audit process can prevent slippage on goals, and prompts staff to check for updated materials and consider the changing context for the business and its employees.

You can read the full report here race-equality-works-for-northern-ireland-2016

Anti-immigration sentiment and racist violence

lucymarkusA discussion at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival @NIHRF next week.

Dr Markus Ketola and I will be hosting a discussion on racism and populism in Northern Ireland and Europe. The event will explore how racist violence and denial of access to public services is connected to racist attitudes.

We will briefly present evidence from international research on how rights are affected by prevailing climate of racist attitudes, and h ow the human rights agenda is undermined by particular types of social justice arguments.

We will open up the discussion to address the following questions:

Why have arguments about welfare made racist attitudes towards migrants acceptable?

How do individuals reconcile an interest in social justice at home with closing of borders and limiting of access to welfare for others?

What role do political loyalties play in facilitating or discouraging racist sentiment?

How are these connected to patterns of racist violence?

The event takes place on Wednesday 9 December, 1.15pm – 2.15pm, at the Conor Theatre, Ulster University, York Street, Belfast, BT15 [MAP]

This event is FREE and open to the public. 

Belfast Telegraph stoke anti-migrant feeling with skewed statistics ignoring economic benefits of migration to NI

Belfast Telegraph stoke anti-migrant feeling with skewed statistics ignoring economic benefits of migration to NI

@BelTel claims “Migrants have added more than £156m to Northern Ireland’s growing benefits bill in the last three years”, ignoring £1.2bn in economic benefits of migration to the region.

Thanks to Migrant Centre NI for sharing this. 


£156m in benefits paid to migrants on Northern Ireland over last three years –



FLYING THE FLAG FOR RACISM, or just global mimicry?

While writing the forthcoming report Afrophobia in Ireland for ENAR Ireland, I was struck by the level of mimicry evident in the kinds of racist attacks, verbal and physical, which were reported to throwing of bananas, making of monkey sounds and references to black bodies are long standing shortcuts for those who want to make their racism loud and clear. But in the reports, there are also accounts of cars and vans slowing in the street to shout ‘Go Home’ – directly after the introduction in the UK by the Home Office of vans which were to ‘encourage’ irregular migrants to return home.

When we saw the Confederate flag raised over East Belfast, and, two days later, a Nazi flag and Confederate flag raised with an Israeli flag, in Carrickfergus, it raised the question, does this tell us something about racism in Northern Ireland, or is this just a kind of global mimicry?

As the first Confederate flag was pulled down in East Belfast, there was something of a murmur in the press which lazily referred to previous racist attacks and graffiti in the area. The media has in recent years continued to refer to Belfast as “Europe’s race hate capital” – it started in 2006, and continues to be used (Belfast Telegraph 2014; Irish News 2015) despite an international expert saying in 2007 this didn’t reflect the sporadic nature of the violence compared to how prolific it is in other cities. Since 2007, however, racist violence has increased significantly across the city of Belfast, as well as in more rural areas (where there are significantly fewer ethnic minorities, but noted cases of violent robbery for example).

Flags have a considered importance in Northern Ireland, with significant attention to 2013 protests around the flying of flags. Academic studies of the protests concluded that there is a “growing sense of alienation” amongst loyalist communities in Belfast who feel that unionist/loyalist cultures and traditions will not be included within the new Northern Ireland.

In East Belfast, loyalist paramilitaries are blamed for the general increase in racism, and the involvement of young people in violent protest there gives fuel to a connection between the two. It would be no surprise to find racism in East Belfast, since it is one area of the city which has suffered significantly in economic terms in recent years, as well as experienced one of the highest rates of ethnic diversification. Local community groups have tried to stem the proliferation of attacks, supported victims of racist attacks, and undertaken restorative justice projects to try to reduce tensions and address young people’s behaviour. I worked this year with one such group, whose youth section were keen to learn about racism and address it in their neighbourhood.

But East Belfast is not the only area of the city in which racist violence occurs – just the best known. Across the city, north, south, east and west, ethnic minorities have experienced physical attacks, graffiti on their homes, initimidation, arson, broken windows, damaged cars and property damage against their businesses, as well as bullying and violence towards their children. In that, Belfast is no different than most cities in having persistent racist attacks on its minorities, but it draws particular attention because the rise of racism has been directly connected to the peace process.

The start of bonfire season in Northern Ireland is turning out to be this year, like last year, a space in which racism is expressed loudly and clearly. Last summer also saw a KKK flag raised over a house in East Belfast. Peter Robinson, the North’s First Minister, failed to condemn the perpetrators strongly enough for many of the North’s citizens. “It’s absolutely outrageous. How some local idiot puts up a flag and gets a reputation of the area” his condemnation of stupidity, rather than the racism that the flag represented, even following his own apology to Muslims the previous month after spontaneous antiracist protests in the city by 1000s against his defence of an Islamophobic preacher. This year he has come out more strongly, tweeting “Nazi flags have nothing to do with unionism. I commend the residents who removed them. Shameful that such flags were ever erected.”

Also appearing on bonfires at the same time last year, were the election posters of Anna Lo MLA, Northern Ireland’s only politician of Cantonese ethnicity, and the first elected in Europe. Lo is an Alliance party member who has been outspoken on her preference for a United Ireland. Her image appeared alongside those of Sinn Fein MLAs and the Pope, but with particularly racist slogans on banners about Lo. Internet memes that circulated afterwards referenced “white genocide” and Chinese one-party rule.

There are clear connections between racist acts of speech and violence (even if they are considered inappropriate by most) and loyalist practices around the celebration of the 12th. We cannot isolate the problem to loyalists however. Sinn Fein in the North of Ireland speak loudly about racism alongside Alliance and other parties, but racist attacks are also recorded in nationalist areas, and antiracist groups seek strategies to cross all communities, rather than single out areas like East Belfast.

Taking a whole island view, we must remember that racism in the Republic too spikes around nationalist celebrations such as St Patricks Day. Two vicious assaults in 2014 of a Brazilian in Dublin city centre, and earlier at 5am, in the brutal attempted murder of a Chechen man in South Dublin. These were linked in media discussions to the intensive nationalist discourse surrounding the day, and there is no doubt that they were brutal enough to gain publicity and spread fear amongst other ethnic minority residents and foreign visitors.

What is significant about racist violence, and the use of racist imagery, is the ways in which these spread fear far beyond the power of the individual act. ‘Message’ crimes are acts of hate that reach into the community to create fear. Using racist tropes as shortcuts to creating those pervasive nessages is, then, an easier means of spreading fear. Flags can, therefore, be read as a substitute for physical violence in terms of providing the ‘message’. However, flags are more powerful than individual acts of violence. They act as a marker to encourage acts of hatred, marking out spaces where such violence is encouraged. For minorities living in those spaces, it is clear that they will not be protected by those who tolerate the flying of racist flags. The flying of the Confederate flag, in the context of discussions in the US about its racist nature, is what prompted its adoption in Northern Ireland while last year, only the KKK flag was flown. This is clear mimicry of events abroad and an attempt to signify global alliances that have little reality in direct relationships. The power of the flag, however, lies in its reference to the global nature of white power, and its implications for migrants living in a society where politicians are not brave enough to really address the violence that underpins it.

This is why it is imperative that flags which are racist in the message that they send have no place in our society. Northern Ireland, of course, has a particularly difficult history in terms of managing cultural symbolism and flags, perhaps explaining why PSNI were slow to remove the Confederate flag when it appeared last week. Last year, the PSNI clarified its policy, saying that the removal of flags is not their responsibility. Today, they announced they would stick to that policy, but take a partnership approach to the removal of the KKK and Nazi flags in Carrickfergus. This is not Carrickfergus’ first foray into the use of flags as protest – in 2013, a march of 300 loyalist protestors in the area led to serious disorder there as well as in other areas.

The involvement of loyalists, or nationalists, in the flying of racist flags should not permit our elected representatives to hesitate when it comes to racism. The fact of global mimicry points to the superficial and changeable nature of racist positioning in the Northern Irish insecurity around identity, while fear spreads through its minority and migrant communities.


Race attacks: Political instability in Northern Ireland isn’t helping

By Patrick Yu – 06 October 2014

~ Patrick Yu, Executive Director of NICEM – the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities.