Northern Ireland was today branded the race hate capital of Europe.
Human rights campaigner Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, was in Belfast for the launch of a new report on racist violence in the North.
The report from the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), identified institutionalised racism in the criminal justice system and asked how it should be addressed.
Racist violence has been growing at an alarming rate in Northern Ireland in recent years, not just against blacks and Asians, but almost anyone considered an outsider.
On Saturday a Latvian was taken to hospital with serious eye injuries after being attacked in a racially motivated assault in Lisburn, Co Antrim.
Yesterday a house lived in by a number of Poles was damaged in an arson attack which police suspected was also racially motivated.
The report: “The Next Stephen Lawrence? – Racist Violence and Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland” was written by Dr Robbie McVeigh and details the stories of 162 victims and survivors of racist violence across the North.
Dr McVeigh said: “The scale of the violence is frightening enough but the failure of different elements in criminal justice to deal effectively with that violence is just as problematic.
“It is, we believe, unambiguous evidence of institutional racism right across the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.”
He said, in effect, the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland was in a pre-Stephen Lawrence Inquiry situation.
“We need a MacPherson-style review into racism and criminal justice to put this right – piecemeal changes will not be enough,” he added.
Patrick Yu of the NICEM, said they had commissioned the report because they had so many people approaching them with terrible stories of racist violence.
“The report illustrates just how widespread the problem has become in Northern Ireland. Time and again people make reference to how they don’t want to become the next Stephen Lawrence,” added Mr Yu.
He said it was fitting that Doreen Lawrence and Imran Khan, the Lawrence family lawyer, were present for the launch of the report.
“Their campaign for justice for Stephen should have put an end to institutional racism. Their presence reminds us how far we have come and how far we have to go – especially here in Northern Ireland which has become known as the ’race hate capital of Europe’.”
Mrs Lawrence said in some respects people were beginning to become a little complacent again about racism.
“People think that we have had the inquiry into Stephen’s murder and so everything’s fine, but its not. There are a lot of people still complaining about racism attacks.
“In Britain things have improved since the MacPherson report but there is still a long way to go. It is important the people of Northern Ireland look to learn the lesson of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.”
Mr Khan said in the past victims of race crime would never go to a lawyer.
“Now people expect justice from the law. But you also need a criminal justice system that is prepared to acknowledge and address institutional racism.
“From the evidence of this report, you haven’t got that yet in Northern Ireland. I think the lessons of MacPherson should be implemented here in full,” he said.