Legislation and Public Policy

Racist acts are outlawed under criminal law, equality legislation exists in order to stop discrimination, and there are structures in place to protect groups and individuals.

Under the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 it was unlawful to discriminate either directly or indirectly on racial grounds, in terms of employment and training; education; provision of goods and services; and the disposal and management of premises and advertisements.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 refers to equality and parity of esteem for people from different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 obliges public bodies to promote equality of opportunity between different groups of people, including ‘racial groups’. They are also obliged to promote good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. Public bodies are obliged to have Equality Schemes and to submit their policies to Equality Impact Assessments that are open to public scrutiny.

The Human Rights Act 1998 gave people rights to protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission have been set up in Northern Ireland to ensure that existing legislation and practice protect and uphold human rights and equality. They also have an advisory role on these issues.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM – now The Executive Office – TEO) published A Racial Equality Strategy in July 2005, setting out “a framework for government and all sections of civil society in Northern Ireland for the creation of a community where racism, in any of its forms, is not tolerated and where all people enjoy equality of opportunity and equal protection”.

TEO published a further strategy in 2015 – The Racial Equality Strategy 2015 – 2025, which ” establishes a framework for government departments (and others) to tackle racial inequalities, to eradicate racism and hate crime and along with Together: Building a United Community, to promote good race relations and social cohesion.”

To find out more, click here: https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/racial-equality-strategy-2015-2025

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has trained Hate Incident and Minority Liaison Officers in each district. From 2004 judges have been given greater powers in sentencing where hostility is based on a number of categories including race.

The Unite against Hate campaign was initiated by, among others, OFMDFM, NIO (Northern Ireland Office), ECNI, and CRC (Community Relations Council), and was launched in September 2009, in order to challenge the prejudices that result in hate crimes. This provides opportunities for ordinary people to demonstrate their opposition to the minority who carry out all forms of hate crime, including racism. To find out more or sign a petition of support, go to www.uniteagainsthate.org.uk