RACIAL hatred and xenophobia pose a greater threat to long-term peace in Northern Ireland than sectarianism, according to a former Belfast pastor.
John McCreedy - a journalist and author - hit the headlines in 2014 after quitting his role as assistant pastor at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in response to anti-Islamic remarks by the former church leader James McConnell.
McCreedy, from Holywood, Co Down, has now claimed growing tensions between communities and immigrants are at risk of "spiralling out of all control and sparking generations of bloody unrest".
The 54-year-old, who has written a new book Left to Die, But Loved by God, said he also believes support for an anti-Muslim movement is growing.
"Make no mistake that Northern Ireland generally, and Belfast in particular, is in the midst of what could easily become a long and bitter conflict," he said.
"Sadly, racism seems to be the new sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
"Immigrants are subjected to and must suffer racism, intimidation and discrimination on a daily basis, apparently for no other reason than their background and heritage.
"Just as there was a deep-seated level of distrust between Catholics and Protestants during the dark days of the Troubles, now there is a fear of newcomers to our society, be they economic migrants from elsewhere in the EU or refugees simply seeking a new home and security."
Mr McCreedy called for people to "stand up to racism in all its forms and show compassion for our neighbours, whatever their creed and colour".
"If we are to avoid another long, bitter and bloody conflict, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with minorities," he said.
"Such courage and solidarity will send a clear message to those intent on causing hurt, pain and segregation."
According to a PSNI hate crime report the level of racist incidents and crimes has increased each year from 2011 to 2015.
In the12 months to December 31 last year there were 1,298 racism-linked incidents. Of that number almost 900 were recorded as crime.
Mr McCreedy's book Left to Die, But Loved by God, highlights some of the major issues facing the world today – including racism and xenophobia. It is published by Malcolm Down Publishing Ltd.