Levels of racism in Northern Ireland revealed

By agency reporter
June 15, 2018

Amnesty International says Northern Ireland has a huge problem with racism, following the publication of new figures showing high levels of intolerance towards people from minority ethnic communities.

Amnesty is calling for a more robust government response to tackling racial prejudice in Northern Ireland, including an independent review of the region’s equality and hate crime laws.

Figures from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey show that more than half of people surveyed would not willingly accept a Muslim (52 per cent) or an Irish Traveller (56 per cent) as a relative by way of marrying a close member of their family. Other statistics reveal that:

  • 47 per cent of people would not willingly accept a Muslim as a close friend;
  • 25 per cent of people would not willingly accept someone from an ethnic minority as a colleague at work;
  • 47 per cent of people think there is more racial prejudice in Northern Ireland now than there was five years ago; only 13 per cent of people believe racial prejudice has decreased over the period.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director for Amnesty International, said: “These shocking figures show that Northern Ireland has a huge problem with racism. The levels of racial prejudice in our midst should serve as a wake-up call to politicians and officials charged with making Northern Ireland a better place to live for everyone.

“The fact that still in 2018 over half of the population would not willingly accept a Muslim or an Irish Traveller as a relative through marriage, or that a quarter of people would not willingly accept someone from an ethnic minority as a work colleague, should shock us to our core.

“These figures demonstrate that government in Northern Ireland is utterly failing to tackle the deep-rooted racial prejudice which affects too many people here.

“Politicians and officials need to wake up to this prejudice, which makes Northern Ireland a toxic place to live for too many people from minority ethnic and religious communities. We need a much more ambitious and joined-up strategy to tackle racial prejudice. That must include bringing our race equality laws into line with the rest of the UK, where Northern Ireland has fallen behind, and an improvement on prosecution and conviction rates for those responsible for race hate crimes.”

Despite these worrying findings, the survey did show strong levels of support amongst the Northern Ireland public for providing protection to refugees: 64 per cent of people think it is a duty to provide protection to refugees who are escaping persecution in their home country, while 57 per cent agree and only 17 per cent disagreed that people from Syria should be allowed to come to Northern Ireland.

Patrick Corrigan said: “It is clear that there is strong support among the Northern Ireland public for providing asylum to those feeling war and persecution, whether in Syria or elsewhere. That is a very welcome recognition of our international human rights responsibilities and an indication that most people here have empathy and compassion for refugees. The government must build on this sentiment to create a truly welcoming Northern Ireland for all.”

Amnesty is calling for the following steps in Northern Ireland:

  • Race equality legislation should be strengthened to bring it into line with the UK Government’s international obligations relating to the promotion of human rights for racial minorities and other groups, and with the recommendations of international human rights monitoring bodies.
  • The Department of Justice should initiate an independent review of hate crime legislation to consider the scope for improvement of current laws.
  • Detailed data on hate crime and public perceptions regarding hate crime, comparable with other parts of the UK, should be collected and published.


* The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey  was set up by Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University and has run every year since1998. It aims to put on record the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people in Northern Ireland on a wide range of social policy issues.

* The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2017 is here

* Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org.uk/


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