31 May 2014

Belfast rally against racism attracts 4,000 people

A rally at Belfast’s City Hall to protest against a rise in racist attacks attracts thousands, following controversy over support for an influential pastor who said that Islam is “satanic”.

Photos courtesy Dermot O’Lynn

Anna Lo, a Chinese-born politician and representative for south Belfast, told the crowd that Northern Ireland needed to “stand up against racism”.

Earlier this week she said she would not seek re-election and was considering leaving the country because of growing racial prejudice.

But she told the rally on Saturday: “I’m not going to go away“, UTV reported. “It’s not about me, it’s about all of us. We must stand up – stand up against sectarianism and racism,” she added.

A representative from the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and a Muslim representative also addressed the crowd, and a smaller anti-racism rally was also held in Derry. A police spokeswoman said that 4,000 people attended the Belfast rally.

Although she was the victim of racist comments and abuse in February, Ms Lo told Channel 4 News that comments made by First Minister Peter Robinson last week were the “last straw”.

Attacks on migrants are shaming. A clear rise in racial prejudice is shaming Rally organisers

Mr Robinson, the DUP leader, initially backed Pastor James McConnell, who had made comments in a sermon that Islam was “satanic” and “a doctrine spawned in hell”.

Video: Flashmob in Belfast city centre, chanting ‘Peter must go’

Mr Robinson said that he would not trust Muslims who are “devoted to Sharia law”, but added: “I would still trust them to go down to the shops for me and give me the right change”.

He has since met with Muslim community leaders and apologised to them privately for supporting the pastor’s right to make the comments about Islame.

But he is still facing calls from politicians to publicly distance himself from Pastor McConnell and Ian Paisley’s son has called the comments “condescending”.

Ms Lo told Channel 4 News that Mr Robinson should apologise publicly or resign.

‘It’s time to show some solidarity’

In a statement, the rally organisers said: “Attacks on migrants are shaming. A clear rise in racial prejudice is shaming. Widespread and growing Islamophobia is shaming. The fact that Anna Lo MLA is now considering leaving Northern Ireland due to racism – that’s shaming. Shame isn’t enough.

“It’s time to show some solidarity and support for Belfast’s migrants and ethnic minorities.”

A flashmob wielding banners saying “Out shopping for Peter” and shouting “Peter must go” was also organised outside Tesco on Belfast city centre’s Royal Avenue by the West Against Racism Network (WARN) after the main rally (see video above).

The group is calling for the introduction of a racial equality strategy and anti-racism training for all MLAs.

The recent row follows a rise in racist attacks in Northern Ireland: police figures released in April showed that there are two racist incidents a day – a 43 per cent increase in one year.