An assessment of racial violence in Northern Ireland

An assessment of racial violence in Northern Ireland


Written by: Gerard Stewart

An overview of racist attacks and convictions over the last six months in Northern Ireland.

According to the most recent statistics produced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), there are two racist incidents reported, and more than one incident recorded as a racist hate crime in the north of Ireland every day. In the last year, there were a total of 750 racist incidents and 470 hate crimes reported to the PSNI – an increase when compared to the 2011/12 period, as documented by the 2013 Northern Ireland Peace and Monitoring Report.

Despite the era of a ‘shared future’ and the dawn of a ‘new’ Northern Ireland since the peace agreement(s), the most high-profile attacks that have made the news in the last six months give us a glimpse into the everyday reality of abuse, harassment, and intimidation which BME communities in the north of Ireland experience.

The vast majority of the racist attacks which have become headline news have taken place in the middle of the night at the homes of foreign nationals, usually from Africa or Eastern Europe – where attackers daub racist graffiti onto the property, ahead of smashing doors and windows before fleeing. In one case, a number of Lithuanians in Dungannon experienced several attacks at their home, including the daubing of a Nazi symbol on their property accompanied by a written order to ‘get out’, in a prolonged campaign of harassment. In another incident, which bore striking resemblance to an attack months earlier in the same area, the home of a Zimbabwean family in East Belfast – who had already left another property in Belfast due to racism – was daubed with ‘No Blacks’ before they had even moved into the property.

In November 2013, Belfast City Council launched a billboard and online campaign, entitled ‘Don’t Turn Your Back On Hate Crime’, in response to recent PSNI statistics that hate crime incidents in Belfast had swelled almost 90 per cent compared with the previous year. With the exception of sectarian hate incidents, racism in Belfast has become the most prevalent hate crime – and the rise of 86.9 per cent between April and November 2013 in comparison with the same period in 2012 has surpassed the 36.3 per cent rise in sectarian incidents in the last 12 months. The number of race-hate incidents in the Belfast area alone is now higher than it was a decade ago for the entire province of Northern Ireland; with 215 reported incidents of race-hate between April and November 2013 in Belfast compared to 212 reported incidents of race-hate between April and December 2003 in all of Northern Ireland.

Could it be possible, as the PSNI argues, that the dramatic increase in racially aggravated crimes represents an increased willingness to report them? Certainly, the PSNI has been working with a range of public, community and voluntary organisations to encourage victims of hate crime to report their experience to police.

But whilst such moves by the PSNI are to be welcomed, a staggering amount (about 80 per cent) of racially aggravated crime continues to go unreported.  There are a number of reasons for this – ranging from a lack of confidence by victims in the policing and justice system (as was documented in a 2006 report published by the Institute of Conflict Research entitled Policing, Accountability, and the Black and Minority Ethnic Communities in Northern Ireland), a failure on the part of the criminal justice agencies to properly identify victims of racially aggravated crimes (as was documented in a 2013 report conducted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission entitled Racist Hate Crime: human rights and the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland), to a fear of reprisals.

As has been previously acknowledged, the fear of reprisals in the north of Ireland is often linked to paramilitary elements. While racism is not the exclusive expression of one section of the community, there is a high correlation between racist attacks and areas which are staunchly Loyalist and a traditional heartland for affiliation to prominent Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA). As Bill Rolston has stated, ‘It is not far-fetched to say that nothing happens in this small cluster of streets without these groups knowing, or even more, authorising it’. This sentiment has also been expressed by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), the PSNI, and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which has to date acknowledged the significant synergy that appears to exist between Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVF and the UDA, and racist violence which targets ethnic minorities.

A selection of these attacks and convictions are presented below:

  • 12 October 2013: The new home of a Zimbabwean family was daubed with racist graffiti in an overnight attack in Loyalist Bloomfield Drive in East Belfast. The family was due to move into the house, having moved from another part of Belfast due to racism. The PSNI confirmed they were treating the attack – in which ‘No Blacks’ was painted on the front of the property – as a racially-motivated hate crime. (Belfast Telegraph, 17 October 2013)
  • 25 September 2013: A hatchet was thrown through the window of a family home in  Loyalist Sandy Row area of south-central Belfast. Nigerian mother of two, Adenike Yisa, who had been resident in Northern Ireland for almost ten years but only lived in Sandy Row for a year, was on the sofa in the living room when a hatchet was smashed through the window. Speaking to the Guardian about the attack she said, ‘I was really, really upset,’ she said. ‘I have never been in that situation in my life. I only moved into that house about a year ago and never had any trouble. When I heard the noise I thought it was a shot, then I saw the axe or hatchet and the big hole in my window. I was screaming at the top of my voice and shaking like a leaf. Luckily my children were in their rooms. I didn’t see whoever did this, but think it was because of the colour of my skin.’ The PSNI confirmed they were treating the attack as a racially-motivated hate crime. (Guardian, 25 September 2013)
  • 18 September 2013: At the trial of Gary Smyth, Lithuanian residents in Dungannon, County Tyrone, expressed their terror stemming from repeated attacks on their homes. Smyth (30), faced charges of criminal damage, disorderly behaviour, attempted intimidation and threats to kill. Testifying at the High Court in Belfast, the Lithuanian residents told how paint was thrown over three of their cars, a brick was thrown through the front window of a home, and a swastika was daubed on the garage door alongside racist graffiti declaring ‘non-nationals must go’. A Lithuanian woman, claiming to have recognised Mr Smyth outside her property on 25 August 2013, alleged he ran across the street shouting ‘Fucking bastards, fucking foreigners, get out now.’ Refusing bail, found him guilty of ‘violent conduct, terrorising innocent people on the basis of their race.’ (Mid-Ulster Mail, 18 September 2013). Mr. Smyth was previously remanded in custody in 2004 following allegations that he was in possession of a petrol bomb and also throwing a petrol bomb with intent to damage the property of Dungannon District Council and cause personal injury to local people and non-nationals. The charges related to an alleged incident in Dungannon town centre when a device was thrown at a group of Portuguese people. No one was injured in the attack at Market Square as the device burnt itself out. (BBC News, 16 August 2004)
  • 19 August 2013: The home of a Nigerian man  in Loyalist East Belfast was vandalised and daubed in racist graffiti in an overnight attack. A window and a door pane were broken at the rented property, with ‘No Blacks’ painted several times on the front of the house. Although a resident of Belfast for eight years, the 27-year-old Nigerian national had only been living at the residence for a few days before the attack. Speaking to UTV News, the man expressed his desire to move out of the property in the aftermath, saying, ‘It feels horrible. I’ve been living in Belfast for eight years and I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s scary to be honest. Ever since I moved here, I have been working every day. To experience something like this it just makes you want to move out. They should be ashamed of themselves. Being a black human person living in Belfast, if that’s a crime, that’s the only crime I’ve committed.’ (UTV News, 19 August 2013)
  • 18 August 2013: A number of cars, a wall and a flat were daubed in racist graffiti in the Loyalist Coolcush Court and Lisnaclin Court areas of Dungannon. Inspector Jamieson of the  PSNI, treating the incident as a hate crime, condemned the attack and appealed for witnesses, saying, ‘This is a mindless and shameful attack on innocent members of the community and I would urge anyone with information to come forward.’ (Tyrone Times, 23 August 2013)
  • 17 August 2013: A male parking attendant in the Market Street area of Armagh was racially abused and  pushed by a man. The victim, who had worked in the city for several months, was offered support by the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) following the attack. (Ulster Gazette, 22 August 2013)
  • 10 June, 2013: Two men, including a footballer who had played for the Northern Ireland junior international team, were jailed for a racist attack on a Polish man, Damien Wesolowski, in East Belfast. On 13 July 2011, the two men – Ryan Newberry (23), a Glentoran footballer, and David Wilton (25) – vandalised the house of Mr Wesolowski, kicking in the front door of the property and smashing a window. They then chased the victim from his home into the street where they left him lying semi-conscious after assaulting him. Mr Wesolowski, who had been beaten about the head and face, sustained serious injuries – including lacerations to the nose and mouth, suspected fractures and  bruising. Sentencing the pair, the judge concluded the attack had ‘severe racist and sectarian overtones’. Newberry and Wilton were sentenced to 18 months and 21 months respectively. (BBC News, 10 June 2013)
  • 23 May, 2013: The day after the murder of Lee Rigby, the Belfast Islamic Centre was subject to a paint-bomb attack. According to witnesses, two teenage boys were seen running from the scene, in Wellington Park, at approximately 10pm. The PSNI treatied the incident as a hate crime. (Newsletter, 24 May 2013)

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

18 thoughts on “An assessment of racial violence in Northern Ireland

  1. Thanks for this. I have been researching racism in Northern Ireland but have found that there is a dearth of information relating to the scale and nature of racist attacks here, so this synthesis of reported incidents is very useful.

    The author seems to be suggesting that such attacks appear to be concentrated primarily in Loyalist areas. I was wondering if you could say a little about why you think this might be, and if you know of any efforts (by community groups or other organisations) to counter racism in Loyalist communities?

  2. Hi Claire,

    Thank you very much for your comment, and apologies for only responding now.

    Yes, in the main, reported racist incidents and attacks seem to be concentrated primarily in Loyalists areas of the north of Ireland. This has been the case historically and more recently, with over 90 per cent of racist attacks being linked to Loyalists in an Observer survey into every publicised incident between January 2005 and September 2006, for example. According to statistics obtained by The Detail the top four locations for racist incidents in the north of Ireland from 2004-12 have been South, North and East Belfast and Craigavon too. Certainly, based on the research I have conducted into reported racist incidents and attacks the last 6-12 months demonstrate a correlation between race hate crime and Loyalist heartlands with an affiliation to paramilitaries. However, I am interested to pursuing this further with a FOI request in the New Year to glean a firmly accurate picture.

    Why there appears to be a correlation between Loyalist areas and race hate crime, and why there appears to be a significant synergy between Loyalist paramilitaries and racist attacks is open to exploration. Unquestionably, the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s ethnic minorities appear to reside largely in traditional Loyalist areas, where many previously owner-occupied houses in areas such as The Village, for example, are now owned by private landlords and rented out to an array of those in dire need of housing – including migrants. Proximity, however, does not explain why race hate crime exists but does help to explain why they are concentrated primarily in Loyalist areas. A more precise point that could be made, I would argue, is that the impact of community segregation during The Troubles – combined with a political history of fascist intrusion (albeit episodically welcomed) in these areas – has, in many ways, aided the reinforcement of exclusion against ‘the Other’.

    That said, there have been a small number of anti-racist initiatives in the last number of years – such as the participation of Loyalists (some affiliated with paramilitaries) in localised anti-racist football tournaments – as well as the promise of funding to Loyalists to oppose racism in their own areas. In 2004, both the UDA/UPRG and the UVF/PUP launched an anti-racist leafleting campaign via the Loyalist Commission. It has been subsequently pointed out, however, that there appears to be a significant gap between these gestures (and the rhetoric) of anti-racism and the delivery (and sincerity) of such projects – with the spate of organised racist attacks that have followed in consecutive years and, for example, the local UDA newsletter ‘The Warrior’ calling for and celebrating the expulsion of over 100 Roma from South Belfast in 2009 while at the same time UDA leaders denied involvement in the attacks. Nevertheless, well known civil society organisations such as those mentioned in the original piece, continue to play their role in cultivating an anti-racist culture across the north of Ireland.

    I hope my response has been helpful so far.


  3. Hi Gerard

    Thanks for analysing those figures of racist attacks, nature and, particularly there areas where foreigners, migrants have been more vulnerable. I am a british born-indian who has been born and bred,but also affected in the light of racism in NI,Belfast (known as racist capital in the europe), despite the fact that I am a british citizen by birth, I do not understand why those communities are poor in understanding the multiculturalisms and their natives by birth, except that fact of being brown skin ? Can you advise me that what are those loyalists areas precisely , it would be better to know names of villages,cities, areas or suburb cities in Belfast,particularly as in South, north, East and West.

    We have set up a charity to help ethnic minorities who have been already affected and potentially will be affected (except the anti-racism efforts) ,especially migrants when they are finding temporary accommodation to live a family within Belfast.

  4. Hi Clair

    Its great to know about your research in racism in Belfast.
    Im just wondering whether if you have some important information for immigrants or foreigners that might be useful for advisisary purpose.


  5. Loyalists hate fellow Roman catholic Christians and have tortured and murdered them! Keep away from their areas as they behave like the KKK!

  6. what a comment to make about loyalists i cant stand people outside n.ireland giving their opinions. If loyalists hate roman Catholics was that to do with the fact they supported the ira who murdered civilians over the years and still do. As for immigrants just look at Sweden and you will see the problems. Bulk off all rapes in Sweden are committed by immigrants – Google it. They are not refugees but economic refugees who possess little skills. Allowing them to stay and they will create huge families, quietly genocide your area into a ghetto. Once their numbers are big enough they will riot against you and make demands for more benefits there are 1.5 million indigenous people in N.Ireland a small number there are to many blacks and colours in belfast. Ireland never colonized any country we owe them nothing. Would they go out of their way to integrate me into their country- dont think so. Africa is a basket case why cant they sort out their own county. In usa 14% of population create 50% of the crimes guess what colour they are, so i hope this helps as to why we dont want blacks or Muslims. we tolerate the Chinese simply because they work hard in their businesses their numbers dont increase and they dont pose a threat.AND NO WE HAVNT CHANGED WE ARE KEEPING OURSELVES TO OURSELVES WE WILL NOT INTEGRATE BUT WILL CREATE CIVIL UNREST TO DEFEND OUR HERITAGE BOTH IRISH AND LOYALISTS. IMMIGRANTS DONT BETTER YOUR COMMUNITY THEY MAKE IT LOOK LIKE SHIT.

  7. The previous imbecille has thankfully answered any questions as to why these attacks happen in Loyalist areas……If the native Nationalist community thought like this there would be no Immigrant Loyalists here in N.Ireland…..after all you were once immigrants yourselves to our land……..

  8. I am a 47 year old Belfast resident,I come from a nationalist background and in answer to the question, why loyalist areas are home to the overwhelming majority of racist attacks, allow me to share some insight.Loyalists have often in the past flirted with extreme right wing and fascist organisations in Britain.I think they took some comfort from the fact that these groups readily accepted their British identity and indeed held them up as “frontline heroes” defending Britain from the fenian hordes.In my youth it was quite normal to see National Front slogans in loyalist areas and indeed Johnny Adair and other loyalist murderers were well known for their obsession with British fascism and bands like Skrewdriver were popular with loyalist youth.The siege mentality of loyalism alluded to in Gerard’s answer to Claire also comes into play here.
    As to why nationalist/republican/catholic areas appear to suffer less ( I say less as every community has their share of morons) from this vile disease, a clue may also be found in their experience of the conflict.Often they had to seek help from abroad and indeed that community actively sought to “internationalise” their struggle which loyalists and the British government tried to relegate to the status of a squalid local dispute.In my youth the only foreigners in Belfast apart from British troops were journalists covering the republican struggle, these journalists were quite often threatened and indeed attacked by loyalists.
    Republican experience of foreigners was quite often acting as hosts to observers and reporters.Of course on the paramilitary front republicans were very successful in harnessing foreign support financial and military.Practical international support for loyalism was restricted to the pariah apartheid state colluding with Britain’s security forces to supply arms for the murder of catholics, the “terrorise the terrorists” strategy.
    So in closing loyalists seem to have learned to associate any foreigners with the perceived threat from nationalists.

  9. I can only concur with the above comment. I am English and a born and bred Essex man. Unfortunately Loyalists have over the last few years seen all their privileges, job guarantees and fixed supremacy melt away. They are like the Boer in South Africa or White Rhodesians. No longer required by the British to subdue the Irish. Everyone has the vote now, no gerrymandering and Sinn Fein are gaining stronger and stronger support with each election. A Catholic birthrate outstripping the Protestant birthrate. The bigoted loyalist is dying a very slow death. In the future there will be a United Ireland. The British state created this divide and the sooner loyalist leaders recognise they are the same as and equal too their republican counterparts the real issues of jobs,housing, health and schools can be looked at and improved. Unfortunately the loyalists are stuck in a strange holding on to their culture which includes flag waving and marching down certain streets wher it is not required, these are not real issues but petty things to slow down the prosess of positive change. Unfortunately into the mix comes the foreigner and the way the loyalist feels at this time, it is one of the few areas where they can still exert strength and supremacy. The fools really have no idea of the impact of what they are doing and their political leaders are once again showing no leadership at all. The flag issue is sadly pathetic, I have never seen so many flags dispayed in loyalist working class areas and yet in Republican areas you only know are republican because of the complete absence of flags. It is like a child with a teddy bear used for comfort, it is safe and gives them security and identity. Sadly for loyalists the game is over, you now need to share!

  10. I agree with most of the above sentiments but I’ll add my own two cents. Loyalist groups are very right wing. They have military structures etc and the political groups represent them. Nationalist paramilitary groups were pretty much the same though, operating in battalions headed by a commander who comprised the factions council with a sister political group. They worked because there was a feeling of immediate threat and the need for violent action or armed resistance in order to sustain their communities and feel safe. They maintained because they were relevant to the day to day life of Belfast but the war is over now and these oligarchical structures have lost their use. The arena has shifted from the streets, for the most part, to the government where the most progress can be made. The likes of the P.I.R.A disbanded. They decommissioned their weapons and stopped recruiting. Those who wanted to continue the fight became dissidents. The U.V.F did decommission but there has been little evidence that they have stopped recruiting. I’ve even heard tell (not from an official source though, so be skeptical) that they maintain their numbers with a “buyout” clause and use harassment to get young men in the area to join up. The problem is they have lost any legitimate relevancy with no genuine threat of a military insurrection from the “Fenians”. That’s why disputes like The Ardoyne and the city hall’s “fleg” are so important and why they have such a deep involvement in them, often helping orchestrate them. They need their communities to feel under attack in order to appear as defenders as opposed to what they really are: their oppressors who use fear and intimidation to maintain their power. Foreigners moving into these areas is simply another propaganda tool to hold these “staunchly loyalist” areas as hostages. Unfortunately with the feeling that the enemies are at the gates these “staunchly loyalist” areas have developed a finely tuned Stockholm syndrome for their captors and some will willingly join in with racist and sectarian attacks. Others are held at ransom, they can join in or face being persecuted themselves for being a sympathiser, a “lundy”. These sort of attitudes are just an unfortunate part of a post war culture. I wouldn’t blame the “staunchly loyalist” people for any of this. I would blame a broke police force and incompetent government who don’t know how to attack and disassemble radical paramilitary groups who are more than well known for orchestrating violence. I don’t think anyone, even those Loyalists who live alongside them, can overlook the fact that these are death squads and they have, and still do, kill human beings. I’d speculate that fear is the biggest motivator for these attacks: fear that if you do not align yourself with the violent, radical and very scary elements within your own community, you might become a target yourself.

  11. I’m a young British born Asian ( my parents are from Sri Lanka so they are Hindu) who has been offered a fantastic opportunity to work in our new Belfast office and would lead to the promotion I have been waiting for in Manchester. I have visited Belfast before and fell in love with the beautiful city. I Really want to take the opportunity as would be great for my career but am terrified by the race crimes I have read about and some of the comments on here. I’m fortunate to never have experienced these opinions in the friendly and diverse area of south Manchester. I’d be really grateful of some advice . I’d be looking to live in the titanic quarter if I did move there. Thanks

  12. I recently moved back to Northern Ireland after ten years via London and previously europe (I’m an EEA citizen) where i lived for one year, finding a sort of “darker” city.
    People in everyday life are always welcoming and warm, certainly more friendly then the mainland, and you can break the ice pretty quickly. But as a foreigner I think there is so much suspiciousness from the government departments: even re-regestering with the GP is made a complicated matter and also discriminatory, while in England is absolutely simple. The fact is when you talk on the phone about the subject, many people are so willing to help and even laugh about the crazyness of the bureaucracy the have to deal day by day.
    The increase in immigration has been really big in N.I in this ten years, even if relatively little as percentage in the total population. there are formal institution that explore and analyze but who really work on the streets? And I think that until the school system will keep kids divided, people won’t have the opportunity to meet “The different”, considering integrated schools are attended only by 7%

  13. despite race,skin colour and other things we all have to learn how to tolerate people around us. maybe u wont like the way one looks like,speak or maybe just dont like everything about others but that wont give u the right to kill,harass or threat someone.everybody is born with the right make own decision and live the way they like as long as this doesn’t disturb others. Lived for 8 years in italy and worked as domestic assistant for 10 families for over 6 years.very proud to say i became part of their family. the ones who can’t stand others around are not catholic or loyalist,protestant or whatever u call them…they are just people who are born short minded,who can be easily manipulated and that’s all the organisations look for.they are so unhappy about their life that find comfort harming helpless people. why try change way of life of other nationalities when they just want to live in peace???? not true colour people dont make a country better…..try know one and will see how many new things can learn….must be willing to do it and teach our children to tolerate.

  14. Hi Saffron.. Hope you must have shifted to Belfast and must be in good health. Can you share some of your experience with me?

  15. A survey needs to be done about the silent racism towards the English living in N.Ireland. A silent racism against its own nationals.
    I am white, was born in England as was all the generations within my family history. I have been living in N.Ireland for 20 years, I have experienced the silent racism that goes on here and it’s hurtful and down right ignorant of people to assume it’s ok to be racist to any person on this earth.
    I grow up in a multi cultural society & im proud of that, proud that my country the UK is multi cultural, or rather a part of it is. It seems to me that N.Ireland has fallen behind and is still very much about themselves, unable to join hands with the rest of the world to live in harmony. It’s so very sad that N.Ireland is so blinkered!

  16. it’s indeed interesting to note the comments here. Not surprising that Belfast is known as the racist capital of Europe. As a black professional who has come to work here in Belfast for weeks, the huge amount of prejudice, harrassment and threats is unbelievable. I guess I did not do my due diligence online before moving here. Now I have to move back to my base in England. The lawyer whose services I sought was as prejudiced as my tormentors. She simply asked me to go get another job in England. Awful, awful awful. That’s even an understatement.

  17. Im a nationalist but I don’t agree that belfast is the racist capital If it was why is more and more foreign nationals choose to live there makes no sense

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