Northern Ireland

NI minority communities ‘overlooked’ by policy makers, report finds

Representation and engagement with minority ethnic and migrant communities needs to be increased, the report found000
Representation and engagement with minority ethnic and migrant communities needs to be increased, the report found000

MINORITY communities "feel overlooked" amid the desire to balance the demands of "green/orange discourse" in Northern Ireland, a new report has found.

Representation and engagement with minority ethnic and migrant communities needs to be increased, according to the cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

In its report, published today, it examined the experiences of minority ethnic and migrant people in the north and found that a lack of representation means their views and contributions are not being heard, leading to them being overlooked by policy makers.

None of the 90 MLAs in the current Assembly are from a minority ethnic background.

The committee also heard a perception that priority was given to the two main communities in handling local funding opportunities such as good relations initiatives.

MPs on the committee also criticised the "very low" level of ethnic monitoring with some witnesses to the inquiry revealing they are still relying on 2011 census data.

Geraldine McGahey, Northern Ireland’s equality commissioner, told the committee that "all policy development to date has been flawed" as a result.

The report also highlights the challenges faced by refugees following resettlement and that their care had been "patchy", according to some witnesses to the inquiry.

Over 1,800 Syrians have been resettled in Northern Ireland under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme since 2015.

MPs on the committee heard that cultural concerns and scarce language services made it difficult for refugees especially outside Belfast, particularly those trying to access healthcare.

The committee stressed the importance of learning the lessons from the Syrian refugee scheme and that experiences and lessons should be addressed given the imminent arrival of people from Afghanistan and potentially Ukraine.

Speaking following the report's publication, committee chairman Simon Hoare said: "Northern Ireland politics and public life has been understandably dominated by Green/Orange discourse.

"However, Northern Ireland is increasingly becoming more than green and orange and people from a range of other communities feel overlooked in politics and policy making.

"We urge NI civil society to encourage greater representation of minority ethnic people in their own organisations, so that politics can be done ‘with’ and not ‘to’ them.

"Collection of accurate ethnic monitoring data bespoke to Northern Ireland is vital for tackling social inequalities and making effective policy.

"Its absence is lamentable; making it difficult for organisations to identify service needs of communities and reliant on decade-old census data, leaving little insight on the scale of demand or whether equality initiatives are succeeding.

"With families fleeing the conflict in Ukraine and the Afghan resettlement scheme set to begin we need to collectively prepare to welcome people traumatised by having to leave their homelands."

Mr Hoare said a final Refugee Integration Strategy for Northern Ireland "needs to be delivered at pace" and "greater use of expertise from other parts of the UK" would be beneficial.

"I cannot overstress that my committee wanted to look into these issues in order to hear direct experience and to feed that into Stormont such that the Executive can reflect upon our findings," he said.

"I hope the Executive finds that approach helpful as politicians shape post May 2022 policies."