Intolerance must be challenged without fear or compromise
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Martin McAuley, has said that civic leaders in Belfast and across Northern Ireland must challenge intolerance and commit themselves to creating a society at peace with itself.
Speaking after news that South Belfast Assembly member Anna Lo will not seek reelection as a result of ongoing racist abuse, the Chairperson of the NI Youth forum said:
“On behalf of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, and the thousands of young people we represent, I first want to extend my support and solidarity to Anna Lo. It is with deep regret that we have watched an upsurge in racist attacks in Belfast in recent months. As a society trying to heal following the scars of a bitter conflict it has been worrying to see violent intolerance continue to cast its shadow over the city.
“It is important that civic leaders, from every political hue, are forthright and uncompromising in their condemnation of bigotry and intolerance. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Indeed the recent comments of First Minister Peter Robinson have further alienated our Muslim friends and neighbours. Rather than engaging in political spin, he must now offer a fulsome apology for the deep hurt his words have caused.
“I have been contacted by Muslim young people who are deeply distressed by the current climate of prejudice that they feel is growing. No young person should have to live in fear that they, their friends or their family could be the victim of attack based on their faith. We should all stand in solidarity with those who continue to be marginalised and mistreated.
“Over the last few days we have heard much about the right to freedom of expression. It is a fundamental building block of our democracy. However, there is no right to free expression without a responsibility for what we say. Those in power should reflect on that responsibility in the coming days. They should decide whether they want to continue to engage in the narrow politics of exclusion and division or if they want to embrace the rich diversity of our society and our young people and recommit themselves to building a united community together.”