Intolerance growing in NI


Northern Ireland's population is becoming more prejudiced against people of different races and sexual orientations, and while religious divisions are less prevalent they remain a problem, according to a new survey.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland which published the survey joined political leaders last week in condemning what it called racist attacks that persuaded 100 Romanians to flee the province.

Just over half of those questioned in the survey said they would mind having a traveller as a neighbour, ten percentage points more than in the previous poll in 2005.

Many members of the traveller minority live in caravans around the island of Ireland and face problems of integration at schools and workplaces.

Most of the Romanian citizens attacked last week were members of the Roma or Gypsy ethnic group, whose members face similar discrimination across the European continent, especially in the east.

Politicians in Northern Ireland, which was scarred by decades of violence between Protestants and Catholics until the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, have expressed alarm at rising crime against immigrants from Eastern Europe.

The survey also showed rising prejudice against gays, lesbians and bisexuals and widespread resentment of migrant workers, as well as the mentally ill.

"We are very conscious that negative views covering a range of ... grounds including race, disability, and sexual orientation are on the rise," chief commissioner Bob Collins said in a statement.

Prejudice on religious grounds stayed at a level similar to three years ago and attitudes were not as negative as in other areas, the commission said.

Only six percent of respondents said they would mind living next door to an adherent of a different religion.

"While it is a consolation that so few people expressed such attitudes we cannot assume that the question of sectarianism is no longer an issue," Collins said.

"We know that the contrary is true. We know, too, that patterns of behaviour from one context can be transferred to another."

Social and Market Research, which conducted the survey, interviewed 1,071 people aged 16 and over, in September 2008.