We cannot begin to tackle hate crime and bigotry without a shared vision
A young Lithuanian woman has been left to pick up the pieces of her business – a nail bar in east Belfast – following a racially-motivated arson attack, which left the small business burnt to the ground.
This sickening attack follows on the heels of incidents in north Belfast, where Polish residents were targeted because of their race.
A few days ago, the local media reported a 43% increase in hate-related crime incidents, following the attacks on members of the Polish community; it went almost unnoticed.
During his first historic visit to Northern Ireland the then US President Bill Clinton said: “Countries are just like people with their personalities, hopes and nightmares.”
So, using his analogy, I tried to imagine Northern Ireland as a person – an insecure teenager, rather aggressive on occasions, who finds it extremely difficult to take responsibility for his own actions and is constantly blaming others. He is spoiled rotten by the rich uncles in London and an older, not rich, aunt in Dublin. He is driven, fun-loving with a great sense of humour. He even shows major potential, yet he is still unsure about his own identity, worth and future.
The question I have now is this: as a society attempting to evolve from the dark days of the Troubles into a more multi-cultural country, how can we try to mature together? We cannot begin to address hate crime, bigotry and other social problems here without a vision or a shared sense of commonality. Differences are important, but common humanity matters more.
The problem is in Northern Ireland so much is fragmented. There is so much talk about “multi-agency approach” involving strategies and action plans, but it seems that very little progress is being made. I suppose it’s part of our fledgling society which is still trying to grow up.
Perhaps we all need to take a leaf out of President Clinton’s book. He did not talk about the old, bureaucratic and mediocre networks, but a new, creative approach to leadership.
We need a new approach if we want an inclusive society here. The world is changing – and so, too, is Northern Ireland.
Together, perhaps, we can turn the immature teenager into a tolerant and responsible grown-up.