The Bahá'í Council for Northern
Statements on Matters of Public Interest / Concern
NORTHERN IRELAND HOUSING EXECUTIVE
RACE RELATIONS POLICY
Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland
64 Old Dundonald Road
Belfast BT16 0XS.
31st March 2005
Mr Tony Steed,
Equality Unit Manager,
2 Adelaide Street,
Belfast, BT2 8PB.
Dear Mr Steed,
I have been asked to respond to the consultation document on the Race
Relations policy on behalf of the Bahá'í Council for Northern
The Bahá'í community has probably the greatest ethnic
diversity of any faith community in Ireland. There are Bahá'ís in
Northern Ireland from all the continents, some have come as refugees and others
as migrant workers or students. Some of these Bahá'ís came here
in the 1950s and they have made a massive contribution to life in Northern
Ireland - both in their professions as well as supporting the development of
the Bahá'í community. There are also many Bahá'ís
from Northern Ireland who have settled overseas and the community maintains
close links with them. It is not surprising then that we have a keen interest
in the issue of race relations.
We applaud the Housing Executive for taking this step in drafting a Race
Relations policy and for the extensive consultation exercise that accompanied
the development of the policy. We feel that the policy is appropriate, timely,
and pertinent. It is presented in a way that is clear and easily understood. We
feel it contains significant commitments that will benefit the Housing
Executive as well as members of minority ethnic communities and the community
There are two areas that we feel the Housing Executive might consider
further developing in order to strengthen the policy. These are outlined below.
The policy and strategic framework for good relations in Northern Ireland
"A Shared Future", recently published by the Office
of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister describes the challenges
that we face in developing good relations. It states that "The
underlying difficulty is a culture of intolerance, which we will need to remedy
if we are to make Northern Ireland a more 'normal' society - the sort of
society we would all be proud to live in."
Furthermore "A Shared Future" specifies the first policy
objective in the following way: "[To] eliminate sectarianism, racism
and all forms of prejudice to enable people to live and work without fear or
The Bahá'í community strongly supports the objective of
eliminating prejudice. We believe that such an objective is essential,
achievable and imperative. We are aware that in the drafting of the NIHE Race
Relations policy you would not necessarily have been aware of the thinking of
the OFMDFM in relation to "A Shared Future". We feel that it is
essential that the NIHE Race Relations policy is closely aligned with "A
Shared Future" and we feel that there is now an opportunity to create that
The particular area that we feel needs to be addressed is the issue of how
the Race Relations policy can be used to support the objective of eliminating
prejudice - particularly within the NIHE workforce. We acknowledge that the
policy makes the following commitments:
Staff training in Race Relations and cultural sensitivity, to
promote awareness of prejudice and stereotypical attitudes will continue.
In addition, the Housing Executive could, in certain circumstances,
make available positive action training to employees from minority ethnic
We feel, however, that the policy could be significantly strengthened in
relation to the internal measures that could be introduced to assist in the
elimination of prejudice. A starting point would be a clear statement that
identifies the problem. We feel that the OFMDFM document might assist as a
model in this regard. Having clearly identified that there is a problem of race
relations within the Executive there could then be a number of specific
measures introduced to address the problem.
Ethnicity and faith
We feel that the policy needs to include a section that explores the
interface between racial discrimination and religious discrimination. It is an
area where currently there is much confusion in public documents in Northern
Ireland. Indeed, to date we are not aware of a single document that addresses
the complexity of the issue in a satisfactory manner.
The issue is complex for the following reasons:
- ·Jews and Sikhs are regarded as being distinct races - so in these
cases the terms "religion" and "race" are synonymous.
- Most other faith communities contain members from differing ethnic
backgrounds. The differing ethnicity within a faith community is often a
product of the geographical location of the community. So for example a
Christian community in India will be made up of people of Indian ethnicity,
some of whose ancestors may have converted to Christianity in the early years
of the Christian era whereas a Christian community in Fermanagh is not likely
to have many Indian members.
- Increasingly in Ireland we are seeing that people are making informed
choices about the faith community to which they wish to belong (as opposed to
simply accepting a faith of one's birth). This means that it is increasingly
likely to meet a Bahá'í, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu who is of
Irish birth. Indeed within the Bahá'í community we have many
Bahá'ís whose grandparents accepted the Faith. In such cases
there is a clear separation of faith and ethnicity.
We feel that it is essential that there is a section in the policy that
explores this issue and makes a clear commitment that the Race Relations policy
extends to cover issues of faith. The Appendix contains reference to a number
of documents that refer to both religion and race; however we were not able to
find any reference to religion in the main text of the policy.
The need for the policy to explicitly include references to religion is
illustrated by the following example.
In Craigavon following the public dispute in relation to a planned site for
a Mosque many Muslims were intimidated and had to flee their homes. Some Muslim
homes were burned. Much of the media coverage of this issue described it as
"racism". However in our view this description was invalid. Some of
the people that were forced to leave their homes were Irish people who had
converted to Islam and the specific issue of a site for a Mosque is clearly a
It is essential that the policy extends to include protection for people who
suffer discrimination of this type.
Finally we congratulate you on the development of a very good draft Race
Relations policy and we send our best wishes for the further development of the
policy and its implementation.
Dr Keith Munro,
Secretary of the Bahá'í Council.