MLAs unite to condemn racial attacks

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The Alliance MLA, Chris Lyttle called on the first minister to make "a clear, unambiguous public retraction" of his comments regarding opinions aired by the north Belfast pastor, James McConnell, about Islam, on 3 June 2014.

Mr Lyttle called on the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to "get serious about sectarianism and racism" by publishing the Racial Equality Strategy.

Referring to Pastor McConnell's comments, the Alliance MLA said he believed that "the assertion that all members of a group of people are untrustworthy is a prejudicial and dangerous generalisation that I believe he should retract".

Proposing her party's motion, Sinn Fein's Bronwyn McGahan said that "no-one should think that they are the chosen religion" and that there was "no justification for Pastor McConnell's comments".

She, too, called for the publication of the strategy, and noted that racial incidents had increased by a third in the past year.

The DUP's Stephen Moutray said racism should have no place in society and he wanted to "utterly condemn racial attacks".

Mr Moutray said he rejected an Alliance claim that there had been a seven-year delay in bringing forward the Race Equality Strategy.

"A strategy has been in place from 2005 to 2010," he said, outlining a number of other anti-racist initiatives undertaken by the Executive.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP wanted to know why the first minister was not in the house.

"It is deeply regrettable that he is not here," he said.

"It is the duty of all of us to give leadership regarding this evil," he added.

He quoted a victim of a recent racial attack in Belfast saying that the first minister's comments had "set a fire in the jungle".

Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said there was a need for the Racial Equality Strategy "so we actually can get on with making Northern Ireland a better place".

"Let's all work together to calm it all down," he said.

OFMDFM Junior Minister Jennifer McCann said the deputy first minister had signed-off on a draft consultation strategy on racial equality entitled "A Sense of Belonging".

"The consultative document is only the start, not the finish," she said, adding that a package of measures would be introduced to address the current wave of racist attacks in Belfast.

Anna Lo of Alliance said she had been subject to another racial slur on social media the day before and "a man was arrested yesterday afternoon".

Ms Lo said she was "sick and tired "of condemning racist attacks and that "all of us need to stand together to fight racism".

The Sinn Fein motion was passed with the Alliance amendment.

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