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					Volume 3 | Issue 1
Spring 2008

Political Parties and Minority Ethnic Communities in Northern Ireland: Election
Manifestos 1994-2007

Aidan McGarry1, Paul Hainsworth2 and Chris Gilligan3
1 University of Ulster (a.mcgarry@ulster.ac.uk)
2 University of Ulster (pa.hainsworth@ulster.ac.uk)
3 University of Aston (c.gilligan@aston.ac.uk)


This article examines how political parties in Northern Ireland have attempted to address
and engage with minority ethnic communities through election manifestos. It assesses
each of the main political parties in Northern Ireland in turn by focusing on the language
employed in election manifestos from 1994-2007. Specifically, it highlights instances
when language such as equality, immigration, racism and culture is discussed in relation
to minority ethnic communities. The article acknowledges that there may exist a
difference between „saying and doing‟ and also that the increase in attention directed at
minority ethnic communities could be interpreted as political parties chasing votes.
However, it is equally true that, by raising issues such as racism, political parties are
contributing to much-needed integration efforts in Northern Ireland society. By stating
their commitments to minority ethnic communities, political parties are making de facto
promises, meaning that the language carries with it tacit understandings to realise certain

Key Words: manifesto, election, political party, ethnic, minority, Northern Ireland


In recent years in Northern Ireland, issues of concern to minority ethnic communities
have become more salient. Over the past decade, this development has been reflected in
the increase in reports, studies and other output on minority ethnic communities and on
issues such as racism, equality, migration and interculturalism. Coming to terms with
racism, in a context where it has been largely ignored and denied, is central here. Of

  This research was funded by the Community Relations Council of Northern Ireland through the European
Union‟s Peace and Reconciliation Program. The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for
their comments.

course, racism takes many forms including overt and explicit racism which results in
harassment and violence. The aim of this article is not to examine this broad arena, but
rather to focus on an examination of election manifestos in order to illustrate and assess
how political parties in Northern Ireland have engaged with and addressed the above and
related matters through these key documents.

By way of introduction and contextualisation here, it will be instructive to recall some of
the significant findings and thrust of recent analyses. For instance, in a report
commissioned by the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), McVeigh
(2006) - drawing upon interviews with 162 victims of racist violence and intimidation -
points to institutional racism and lack of progress on race issues within the criminal
justice system (see also McGill and Oliver 2002 on institutional racism). Also, in part
building on earlier work (Jarman 2002), Jarman and Monaghan provide an analysis of
incidents of racist harassment in Northern Ireland in the period 1996-2001 (2003). These
authors point to a growing number of reported incidents over this period. This is despite
the tendency of victims to under-report, due to factors such as lack of confidence in
reaching successful outcomes, fear of backlash and a tendency to accept abuse as a fact of
life. They conclude that: “Racist harassment is a fact of life for many members of
minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland” (Jarman and Monaghan 2003: 6).
Also, Connolly and Keenan highlight the tendency to deny the existence of racism in
Northern Ireland: “It has become a hidden truth, painfully obvious to many minority
ethnic people living in the region yet largely ignored and/or denied in the wider
population” (2001: 11). The same authors contend that young males/men are the main
perpetrators of racist aggression and thus need to increase their racial awareness and be
encouraged to understand and respect cultural diversity and difference. Also, research of
late has tended to focus on hyperbolic statements such as declaring Belfast or Northern
Ireland to be the „race hate capital in Europe‟ (BBC News Online 2004; Borooah and
Mangan 2006; see also Lentin and McVeigh 2006; McVeigh and Rolston 2007).

The situation of migrant workers has been addressed increasingly too. Bell, Jarman, and
Lefebvre, for example, set out to understand the needs and experiences of migrant
workers, in order to provide baseline information for policy makers and statutory bodies
in Northern Ireland (2004). An overall picture is presented of a growing body of
employees who make a positive and necessary contribution to Northern Ireland, but who
face problems such as racism, harassment, adverse working conditions and difficulties
with recruitment agencies. In order to meet growing demand and needs, organisations
such as NICEM, the Multi-Cultural Resource Centre (Belfast), the Anti-Racist Network
(ARN), the Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU) and Animate (Dungannon) have
focused upon providing support, including welcome and information packs, to migrant
workers. Indeed, information on accessing public services has been a longstanding
concern of minority ethnic communities. Thus Mann-Kler‟s „Out of the Shadows‟ report
on racism and exclusion in Northern Ireland gathers together much evidence of
institutional racism and neglect, including restricted access to health and social services,
accommodation problems for Travellers and a lack of mainstreaming of minority ethnic
needs in the public sector (1997). More recently, Watt and McGaughey‟s project report
focuses on government services‟ delivery to minority ethnic communities in Northern

Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland (2006). Part of the background context here
is the recent formulation of racial equality strategies in the various jurisdictions. These
strategies can be seen as responses by the state to try to come to terms with racism and an
increasingly diverse society.

In 2005, the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey incorporated material on attitudes
towards minority ethnic communities, including questions on racial prejudice.
Respondents who supported Unionist parties (DUP 46%; UUP 31%) were more likely to
say that they were prejudiced than were those who supported Nationalist parties (Sinn
Féin 21%; SDLP 21%), the Alliance Party (19%) or those who claimed not to support
any party (21%) (Gilligan and Lloyd 2006: 1-2; NILTS 2005). Across the border too,
research has focused upon how political parties in Ireland have dealt with issues such as
integration and immigration (Fanning et al 2007). The research identifies examples of
good practice such as party literature translated into different languages (Fine Gael) or in
the process of being translated (Fianna Fáil); outreach to minority ethnic and immigrant
groups (Sinn Féin); and a party forum for new immigrant members (Labour). Overall
though, the research reported “low commitment amongst Irish political parties to
reaching out to immigrant communities” (Fanning et al 2007: 1) and little progress in
attracting party members from herein. Again, research has been conducted on the theme
of politicians and community relations in Northern Ireland. Notably, Foley and Robinson,
on the basis of questionnaire returns, concluded that “our survey indicates that many
elected representatives themselves recognise that politicians are not doing enough to
support the development of better community relations” (2004: 72). However, arguably,
less is known or documented about elected representatives and political parties in
Northern Ireland and their respective attitudes towards, and policies on, minority ethnic
communities. There remains a gap in the knowledge and literature in terms of
understanding how elected representatives and political parties address the needs and
interests of minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland.

This article addresses the above arena, drawing specifically upon an analysis of recent
electoral manifestos (1994-2007) in order to shed some light on political parties in
Northern Ireland and how they interact with minority ethnic communities. It examines
the manifestos of the following political parties: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP);
Sinn Féin (SF); the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP); the Social Democratic and Labour Party
(SDLP); the Alliance Party (ALL), and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). Of course,
a manifesto is one means by which a political party engages with voters and society.
There are others too, such as political surgeries, newsletters, conferences, policy
briefings, campaigning, meetings, media outlets and so on – and systematic research
work needs to be done here. Nonetheless, a manifesto is an important, primary document
that contains commitments and promises. If political parties do not adhere to these, they
are accountable to the voters who can recall the manifestos to highlight party
shortcomings. A manifesto is more than just words on a page. It carries with it a tacit
understanding that political parties will endeavour to honour the promises made in this
electoral platform. If a party consistently fails to meet its promises then voters will
consider the party untrustworthy. A manifesto gives voice to the political party in a
concise and targeted manner and we understand that there is substance behind the words,

and that ideally it is more than just tokenism. By making pronouncements in a manifesto,
a political party is de facto committing to realising them.

The 1994 elections are significant in that they mark the date of the Irish Republican
Army (IRA) cease-fire and, thereafter, a certain opening up and unfreezing of socio-
political issues has been in evidence. Issues, such as minority ethnic concerns, would be
discussed and taken on board more and more so in the post-1994 setting. The period also
coincided with the build up to and introduction of the 1997 Race Relations (Northern
Ireland) Order, a significant and overdue landmark development, and the signing of the
Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement. The 1994-2007 elections are broad in scope and
thus reflect a diverse range of issues including local, national and European concerns.
The accompanying manifesto documents become increasingly voluminous during this
period, reflecting a move towards devolved powers and localised administration over
public goods and services. The manifestos are analysed chronologically below in order to
demonstrate how the emphases on minority ethnic communities‟ concerns were relatively
minimal initially, but acquired increasing prominence subsequently, reflecting the
growing importance and salience of these matters in Northern Ireland society. The
evolution of the language employed by each political party is important to note, too, in
order to gauge how the relevant issues have developed. Furthermore, the manifestos have
been organised systematically below in order to reveal the extent to which each political
party has addressed minority ethnic communities and this allows for fruitful comparison
across the parties. As becomes clear, some political parties give comparatively more
attention to minority ethnic communities, and to matters of racism, equality, cultural
diversity and the rights of migrant workers. All relevant discourse from the manifestos
has been included to provide an overview of how political parties are addressing the
interests of minority ethnic communities.

Table One below notes each political party election manifesto from 1994-2007. Each „X‟
signifies a manifesto, whereas the absence of an „X‟ means that no manifesto was
produced here. It should also be noted that political parties often combine local
government/district council manifestos with general/Westminster election manifestos.
The only party to have produced a manifesto tailored for each election in this period was
Sinn Féin.

Table One: Political party election manifestos in Northern Ireland 1994-2007*
                 UUP            DUP            SDLP            SF               ALL   PUP
European         X              X              X               X
Forum            X              X              X               X                X     X
Westminster      X              X              X               X                X     X
Local            X              X                              X                X
Assembly         X              X              X               X                X     X

European        X              X              X             X              X
Westminster     X              X              X             X              X             X
Local           X                                           X              X
Assembly        X              X              X             X              X             X
European        X              X              X             X
Westminster     X              X              X             X              X
Local                                                       X
Assembly        X              X              X             X              X             X

* The shaded cells denotes a manifesto which refers to minority ethnic communities either directly (by
citing the community by name) or indirectly (for example, by addressing racism, immigration, or other
related issues).

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)

The DUP‟s 1994 European election manifesto refers to Article 8A of the Maastricht
Treaty, which relates to the freedom of movement of persons throughout the European
Union (EU), and warns that “the United Kingdom could be forced to take in people
whom it does not want” (DUP 1994: 5). Immigration is presented, in this instance, as a
burden on the state that the UK cannot resist due to the erosion of sovereignty at the EU
level. This manifesto contains sections on the disabled and on women which deploy the
language of equality (DUP 1994: 16-17), but it does not refer to minority ethnic
communities in the context of equality. The party‟s 1996 Forum and 1997 general
election manifestos make no reference to minority ethnic communities. The 1997 local
government manifesto refers to the most vulnerable sections of our community and
specifically mentions “our children, our sick, our disabled, our jobless and our young
people” (DUP, 1997a: 2), but minority ethnic communities are notable for their absence
from this list. Again, the manifestos for the 1998 Assembly elections and the 1999
European elections make no reference to minority ethnic communities.

Human rights and equality are acknowledged by the DUP in manifesto format for the first
time in a section, entitled „Human Rights and Equality - for Unionists as well!‟(DUP
2001: 8). This section aims to shed light on how human rights and equality have favoured
republicanism. The section closes by outlining the DUP‟s explicit support for policies
affecting minority ethnic communities: “we believe in real and meaningful equality for
women and ethnic minorities. We hold that this principle should be built into mainstream

government priorities and not relegated to token programmes or projects. In this way the
problem of discrimination can be effectively and resolutely tackled” (DUP 2001: 8). The
DUP supports the promotion of Ulster Scots language, history and culture, but no
reference is made to the culture of minority ethnic communities (DUP 2001: 15). The
language of equality is used repeatedly in the 2003 Assembly manifesto, in the context of
funding (DUP 2003: 4) and equality of opportunity for unionists as well as nationalists
(DUP 2003: 13). However, the economic burden of equality proofing is noted: “in
Northern Ireland we have the most extensive consultation and equality proofing process
in the world. As a result resources are wasted and crucial time and money is lost” (DUP
2003: 22). The manifesto calls here for a more streamlined approach to equality and one
that is not encumbered by bureaucracy. The DUP supports tougher sentences on hate
crimes (DUP, 2003: 24) and notes that a positive human rights agenda is protected and
the role of the legislature is respected (DUP 2003: 29). Echoing its statement on equality
proofing, the party contends that the human rights agenda pursued under the Belfast
Agreement has proved to be “financially very costly” (DUP 2003: 29). No specific
mention is made of minority ethnic communities in the context of human rights.

The 2004 European election manifesto contains a section entitled „Facing Enlargement‟
and notes that the new entrants to the EU are mainly Eastern European countries, many of
which are “economically impoverished” (DUP 2004: 22). This section suggests that “in
consequence of the free movement of labour afforded to Member States it is likely that
there will be an increase in economic migrants moving across Europe from East to West
in search of higher paid jobs and benefits” (ibid). The DUP‟s Euro-candidate, Jim
Allister, supports effective measures “to ensure that we do not suffer the effects of
„benefits tourists‟ who would seek to abuse the social security and healthcare systems on
offer in Northern Ireland” (DUP 2004: 22). The reference to „benefits tourists‟ is
conjecture and has turned out to be somewhat contestable.5 This speculation would
appear to be scaremongering, playing on society‟s fears, and the language utilised could
provoke overly hostile reactions towards migrants and to minority ethnic communities.
However, one year later, a complete change in language can be detected. Most notably, a
section in the party‟s 2005 manifesto is dedicated to eradicating the scourge of racism:
“we have supported legislation to deal with racially motivated attacks and believe it is
important to keep legislative provisions under review. Politicians can also play a role in
helping to shape attitudes in society. It is important political parties make it clear there
will be a zero tolerance approach in relation to racism” (DUP 2005: 24). Thus the DUP
spells out clearly that elected representatives have a role to play here. The section
continues: “as a Province we have benefited in many ways from other cultures and
traditions. Whether it is people who have come to Northern Ireland recently, or have been
here for many years, our economy and society have benefited from their presence” (DUP
2005: 24). The DUP again calls for tougher sentencing for crimes motivated by hate
(DUP 2005: 19). Finally, the party reiterates its commitment to tackling racism in the

  Research conducted by the UK Institute of Public Policy Research calculated up the amount of money
used in benefits and public services for migrants in relation to tax conducted. The main findings included
immigrants make up to 8.7% of the UK population but account for 10.2% of all income tax collected
(quoted in Sriskandarajah, Cooley and Reed 2005). It indicated a substantial annual surplus which means
that “migrants actually subsidise the rest of the population” (Animate 2006: 15).

2007 Assembly election manifesto – “racism is a scourge on the reputation of Northern
Ireland. We support a zero tolerance approach against racism” (DUP 2007: 58).
Sinn Féin (SF)

More than any other party Sinn Féin uses the language of equality and human rights.
Racism is referred to in the 1994 European election manifesto, although it is in the
context of targeted racism against the nationalist community, not against the smaller
minority ethnic communities (SF 1994: 12). The 1996 Forum manifesto contends that the
people of Ireland deserve a “pluralist, democratic socialist Ireland” and to this end
emphasises „mutual respect‟ (SF 1996: 1). This manifesto repeatedly mentions equality
and accommodating diversity in the context of the “inclusion of deprived and
marginalised communities” (SF 1996: 8). The same discourse is employed too in the
1997 general election manifesto, which includes a section on discrimination as it applies
Catholics (SF 1997a: 7). This point is reiterated in the 1997 local government manifesto
(SF, 1997b: 1) which also incorporates sections on the disabled (SF 1997b: 8) and
women (SF 1997b:14), though not on minority ethnic communities. The 1998 Assembly
election manifesto maintains that Sinn Féin‟s vision is based on “equality, respect for
difference and the protection of the weak and vulnerable” (SF 1998: 3) and advocates
“human rights and cultural awareness training” for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (SF
1998: 24). The 1999 European election manifesto begins with a foreword from SF
president Gerry Adams which affirms the party‟s commitment to building an “inclusive,
just and equal society” and explicitly mentions racism when it calls for “an EU wide
campaign to oppose racism” (SF 1999: 1).

Under a section dealing with equality in the 2001 local government election manifesto,
Sinn Féin states that it will campaign for “a fully resourced Department of Equality
which can monitor local councils” (SF 2001a: 3), which clearly suggests a commitment
to a specific institution to monitor and enforce equality. The 2001 Westminster election
manifesto mentions discrimination, however only in the context of anti-nationalist
discrimination in employment (SF 2001b: 6). Whilst it calls for policies to reverse under-
representation of minority groups within agricultural bodies (SF 2001b: 10), it does not
specify who or what these minority groups actually are. Under a section dealing with
social development, Sinn Féin also calls for the “promotion of equality of opportunity
between persons of different religious beliefs, political opinions, racial groups, ages,
marital status and sexual orientation” (SF 2001b: 16). Furthermore, a section is dedicated
to Anti-Racism (which is distinct from the section on equality). This manifesto section is
the most far-reaching in terms of Sinn Féin‟s position on matters relating to racism and
minority ethnic communities. It includes the affirmation that Ireland is becoming more
multicultural and states that “the challenge is to embrace our growing diversity as a
source of strength and opportunity. To do this we must begin by opposing racism,
discrimination and intolerance of any kind, wherever it occurs” (SF 2001b: 17). The
section also supports the 2000 EU Directive requiring enhancement of anti-racist
provisions by 2003. It calls on “all political parties in Ireland to sign an anti-racist pledge
and make a commitment that they will not play party politics with the race issue and that
they will not tolerate racism in any form in their party” (SF 2001b: 17). As regards
asylum seekers, it advocates an amnesty for all those asylum seekers who arrived in

Ireland before January 2001 (SF 2001b: 17), although it is not clear why the line is drawn
after this date. Additionally, it demands an end to the voucher system for asylum seekers
as well as an end to the detention of asylum seekers (SF 2001b: 17). Asylum seekers are
not the only minority community which is cited here. Legislation is called for to transfer
powers of responsibility for Traveller accommodation from district councils to the
Northern Ireland Housing Executive without further delay (SF 2001b: 17). Sinn Féin also
calls for legislation and adequate funding to ensure the implementation of PSI (Promoting
Social Inclusion) as well as increased powers for the Equality Commission to legally
challenge discrimination. It calls for measures to combat racism in Ireland through
policies such as “incitement to hatred legislation, racial discrimination; mainstreaming
anti-racist awareness and resourcing minority ethnic groups and projects” (SF 2001b: 17).
The importance of a National Task Force on Immigration and Emigration to develop a
national policy and a new Immigration Act is elaborated (SF 2001b: 17). On Arts policy,
too, the party is committed to ensuring “ethnic minority participation” (SF 2001b: 18).

The 2003 Assembly election manifesto states that equality is at the core of Sinn Féin‟s
agenda. Moreover, a section on multiculturalism lists what the party has instigated.
Notably, it has “brought forward major initiatives to tackle sectarianism and racism;
launched an anti-racist charter and are seeking to have it introduced in councils across the
country. Demanded and promoted equality for all cultural traditions” (SF 2003: 9). It also
reiterates the detailed provisions made in the 2001b manifesto, including a call for “all
political parties to sign an anti-racist pledge” (SF 2003: 14). Its proactive and considered
approach can be seen in its conviction for the “Arts Councils to work from the principles
of „interculturalism‟ and not from the negative perceptions that arise from treating
policies as targeting two, or more, communities”, which includes “ethnic minority
participation in the arts” (SF 2003: 67). It recognises the double discrimination that
women can experience if they are members of minority ethnic communities such as
Travellers (SF 2003: 73), and supports “healthcare training for Traveller women to work
within their communities” (SF 2003: 72). Travellers are also mentioned in relation to a
specific housing/accommodation strategy (SF 2003: 82). Under a section entitled „An
Ireland of Equals‟ Sinn Féin advocates equality irrespective of “race, age, marital or
family status, sexual orientation, physical or mental capacities, ethnicity, social origin,
political or religious affiliations or membership of the Traveller community” (SF 2003: 90
emphasis added). Interestingly, a distinction appears to be made between race, ethnicity,
and membership of the Traveller community. It warns that racism exists in Ireland: “a
commonly articulated view is that if groups or individuals experience racism in Ireland,
then it is a result if (sic) some form of deficiency or lack of ability to assimilate into Irish
society. This is a dangerous and erroneous attitude that must be reversed by the majority
population” (SF 2003: 90). It goes on to highlight the recent and ongoing abuse of the
Muslim community (SF 2003: 90). In order to combat racism the party believes that it
must be addressed at two levels: through local communities and at statutory level. This
necessarily includes “anti-racist and inter-cultural education which should be
mainstreamed through the curriculum; additional English-language classes for all
minority ethnic children; interpreting and translation services and materials within health
and social services; the K-NO-W Racism Campaign should be extended to the Six
Counties” (SF 2003: 90). It maintains that political parties should not tolerate any form of

racism within their party (SF 2003: 90). The Executive and the Assembly departments are
called to produce a policy paper addressing asylum policy and practice, and the
responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees should be devolved to the Assembly (SF
2003: 91). Additionally, asylum seekers should receive legal aid and be entitled to work
while their cases are being heard (SF 2003: 91). The manifesto states that in the provision
of health and social care for Travellers all staff should be trained to meet their specific
needs (SF 2003: 92). Finally here, Sinn Féin recognises that Traveller children might
require “alternative education programmes” (SF 2003: 92).

The 2004 European election manifesto promises that Sinn Féin will work for “an
immediate right to employment for all EU workers in any member state” (SF 2004: 9).
They have an equal right to social protection (SF, 2004: 15). Also, it points out that “EU
transnational companies must respect and promote the dignity and human rights of their
workforces wherever they are” (SF 2004: 28), and that “the EU must ensure non-
discriminatory work practices” (SF 2004: 35). This document maintains that Ireland
shares an affinity with “the economically marginal former Eastern Bloc states” (SF 2004:
14). In 2005, Sinn Féin produced manifestos for general and local government elections
as well as an „Equality Document‟, which albeit not a manifesto as such indicates an
obvious commitment to equality nonetheless. However, this document is solely
concerned with Catholic/Nationalist disadvantage, not with minority ethnic communities
and their concerns.

Of note in the party‟s general election manifesto is the call for the adoption of an all-
Ireland Citizen Traveller Campaign (SF 2005a: 6). It does not articulate what such a
provision would include, although it recognises Travellers as an “indigenous minority
community” (SF 2005a: 43). A section on equality demands that the “Single Equality Act
is harmonised and provides the fullest anti-discrimination protection for all citizens and
sectors in society” (SF 2005a: 16) and that a “Bill of Rights be brought forward now and
its powers must be enforceable” (SF 2005a: 20). The 2005 local government election
manifesto advocates “challenging racism” and “tackling discrimination within Councils
and across society” (SF 2005b: 2). To this end, SF will work for “all Local Councils,
Councillors and Officers to sign up to an anti-racist charter” and for “penalties to be
imposed upon any Councillor or official who engages in racist or sectarian behaviour or
uses racist or sectarian language” (SF 2005b: 9). In this respect, Sinn Féin draws clear
parallels between racism and sectarianism. Furthermore, it calls specifically for the
following: “the speedy implementation of the recommendations of the Promoting Social
Inclusion Working Group on Travellers; a Good Practice Guide to be developed and
implemented for all Traveller service providers, including local councils; Local Councils
to fund initiatives to encourage participation from ethnic minorities in the political
process and there should be council representation on ethnic community support group”
(SF 2005b: 9). It contends that “too many councils are still ignoring their responsibilities
to citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds and failing to properly address issues such
as intimidation, discrimination in employment, education and inadequate health
provisions” (SF 2005b: 31). As part of this work, in March 2005, Sinn Féin hosted a
delegation of ethnic minority community activists from Ireland at the European
Parliament in Brussels. The party claimed that Belfast, Lurgan and Omagh Councils

“have led the way in reaching out to and working with members of minority ethnic
communities on a range of issues” (SF 2005b: 31).

The 2007 Assembly election manifesto confirms SF‟s commitment to workers‟ rights
including the launch of a “multilingual public education campaign on workers‟ rights and
employers‟ responsibilities and actively encourage[s] trade union recognition,
membership and representation” (SF 2007: 8). In order to build a more equal economy, it
warns of the “social and economic consequences of discrimination on the grounds of
race/ethnicity” (SF 2007: 26). The party promises to work to “respect, protect and
promote the rights of Travellers to adequate and appropriate housing and ensure genuine
engagement and consultation on a basis of equality between the Housing Executive, local
authorities, Travellers and the settled community” (SF 2007: 34). Moreover, it promises
to “confront sectarianism, racism and bigotry wherever they arise and to promote instead
tolerance, inclusivity and a pluralist society in which difference is celebrated and
diversity is encouraged” (SF 2007: 41). Finally, under a section addressing „Equality for
the New Communities‟, it highlights the new cultural diversification “which has huge
potential to change our national dynamic for the better” (SF 2007: 46). To this end, it will
work to “promote and fund anti-racism programmes” and “ensure that racist attacks are
confronted and eradicated” (SF 2007: 47).

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)

The UUP‟s 1994 European election manifesto makes reference to educational, social, and
cultural contacts being made between Northern Ireland and the rest of Europe (UUP
1994: 6), but is silent on issues such as racism, equality and interculturalism. The party‟s
1996 Forum manifesto alludes to the flourishing of “cultural diversity” (UUP 1996: 1)
and claims an awareness that the “treatment of minorities requires detailed study and
debate” (UUP 1996: 2). It also states its commitment to the safeguarding of individual
and group rights (UUP 1996: 2). The 1997 general election manifesto maintains the
importance of a “genuinely plural, liberal democratic state capable of accommodating
social, cultural and religious diversity” and again refers to minority rights (UUP 1997a:
1-2). When addressing fair employment, the UUP stakes its commitment to equality of
opportunity “irrespective of race, gender or creed” (UUP 1997a: 2). Sections are included
on women and the disabled, though no section deals directly with minority ethnic
communities - albeit a section on human rights takes an international perspective. The
importance of tolerance is expressed in the 1998 Assembly manifesto, within a section
dealing with religion (UUP 1998: 4). The fair employment principles from the 1997
manifesto are repeated thus: “in trying to achieve fairness and equality, it is essential that
the highest value is placed on equality of opportunity irrespective of race, gender, creed
or disability” (UUP 1998: 6).

It is worth noting that the 1997 local government, the 1999 European, and the 2001 local
government election manifestos contain no reference to minority ethnic communities.
The first reference towards minority ethnic communities comes in the 2001 Westminster
election manifesto: “we have a wonderful diversity of culture, diversifying further with
the contribution to our society of our ethnic minority communities” (UUP 2001a: 13).

This language carries through to the 2003 manifesto: “Northern Ireland must become a
tolerant, pluralist society welcoming to all and inclusive to all. We stand for [a]
multicultural, multi-ethnic society in which everyone plays a part” (UUP 2003: 9). An
Ulster Unionist Charter is included at the end of the 2003 manifesto which stipulates that
“Ulster Unionists will work for the social and economic betterment of all our citizens
regardless of class, gender, colour, race, nationality or religion” (UUP 2003: 10).

In 2004, the UUP European manifesto leads with its slogan „Simply British‟, which has
exclusionary tones for some. Furthermore, a section entitled „Governed according to our
laws and customs‟ leads in with a discussion on international terrorism and international
crime and then proceeds to mention asylum seekers and migrants (UUP 2004: 1). When
interpreting language, the context is important. The inference in this case seems to be that
asylum seekers and migrants are associated with terrorism and crime. The section closes
by stating that: “The UUP is a signatory to the European Charter against racism,
cherishes diversity and supports a humane asylum policy in Northern Ireland. Unionists
comprehend pluralism much more naturally than nationalists, who seek to make
everybody the same. The free movement of peoples across borders is a reality with which
we must come to terms” (UUP 2004: 1). Finally, in bold lettering to add emphasis, it
states that “controlled immigration can be beneficial but abuse of the asylum laws cannot
be tolerated” (UUP 2004: 1). The language employed in this manifesto is not particularly
embracing of diversity or tolerance and is couched in rather negative or cautious
terminology with allusions to terrorism, crime, and abuse of the immigration system.
Whilst it supports a „humane asylum policy‟, it does not condemn the practice of
imprisoning asylum seekers in detention centres and prisons in Northern Ireland and

The importance of context in interpreting language again comes to the fore in the 2005
general election manifesto. In a section dealing with law and order, the UUP
demonstrates its commitment to protecting “you and your family from crime” (UUP
2005: 9) and proceeds to cite „illegal immigration‟ in a list of priority areas in order to
reduce crime. The inference here is that crime and (illegal) immigration are two sides of
the same coin. However, the manifesto concludes by stating that „”Ulster Unionists
support a Northern Ireland anti-racism strategy to promote the British values of tolerance
and inclusion” (UUP 2005: 10), and notes that these values are threatened by racism and
bigotry. The party‟s 2007 Assembly election manifesto contains sections on women,
older people, and the disabled - but none specifically on minority ethnic communities. In
a section on „A Shared Community‟ though, the UUP states its commitment to “a
culturally diverse Northern Ireland in which the rights of all are secured” (UUP 2007:
27). Also, equal citizenship is held up as a goal “irrespective of class, gender, religious
belief, political opinion, sexual orientation, colour or race” (ibid). The UUP calls for a
Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland as well as “effective implementation of the Racial
Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland” (UUP 2007: 27). Finally, the UUP recognises the
diverse cultural and linguistic heritage of Northern Ireland (UUP 2007: 28). Indeed, to
underline this last point, the UUP‟s 2007 election manifesto was condensed and
translated into several languages on the party‟s website.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)

A section in the SDLP‟s 1994 European election manifesto is dedicated to equality and
refers to “equal rights for women” (SDLP 1994: 7), although it does not mention
minority ethnic communities. Again, no reference is made to minority ethnic
communities in the 1996 Forum election manifesto. However, the 1997 Westminster
election manifesto contains a section on equality and partnership which advocates
“recognition of people‟s rights regardless of wealth, ability, gender, age, faith, sexual
orientation or race” (SDLP 1997: 11). Under another section entitled „Race Relations‟,
the SDLP proclaims that “we believe the ethnic minorities in our society are entitled to
protection from discrimination and measures to guarantee equality of opportunity in
terms of jobs, accommodation, education and health care in line with international
obligations” (SDLP 1997: 14). Furthermore, the SDLP welcomes the then new and long
overdue Race Relations legislation and “the fact that it specifically protects Travellers;
we believe that nomadic lifestyle is a fundamental freedom to be vigorously defended”
(SDLP 1997: 14). The party then specifies in some detail what it is campaigning for in
terms of minority ethnic communities:
        Proper funding to ensure the effective implementation of the New Race Relations
        legislation; a radical rethink on site-provision for Travellers to ensure that all
        families have their right to basic amenities guaranteed; A government
        commitment to adding an ethnic grouping question to the next census form for the
        North in order to make an accurate assessment of the needs of the various
        minority ethnic communities; the introduction into Northern Irish law of the
        offences dealing with racial violence and harassment contained in the British
        version of the Criminal Justice and Public Order legislation; The provision of
        adequate resources to meet the needs of minority ethnic communities, particularly
        in the fields of health, education and social services; the lifting of the
        government‟s veto on the establishment of a European Union Centre to monitor
        racism (SDLP 1997: 14).

This inclusion amounts to one of the most comprehensive and elaborate manifesto
references to minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland. The 1997 manifesto also
notes the “„double disadvantage‟ suffered by, for example, people from ethnic minority
communities who have disabilities” (SDLP 1997: 14). Finally, it acknowledges that
cultural policy must acknowledge the importance of tradition and heritage to ensure that
diversity is recognised and its expression encouraged (SDLP 1997: 19).

The party‟s 1998 Assembly election manifesto acknowledges human rights and equality
as major issues. Moving beyond partisan politics, it recognises that “within and cutting
across the two main communities are other groupings - those defined by deprivation and
unemployment and by gender, race, age or disability” (SDLP 1998: 8). The 1998
manifesto reiterates its detailed commitments relating to minority ethnic communities and
racism (SDLP 1998: 10). It concludes by displaying predictive foresight when discussing
the new Europe and the impact of migration on Northern Ireland: “it must be able to deal

with the ethnic tensions which might arise as a consequence of labour mobility” (SDLP
1998: 11). This point is developed in the 1999 European election manifesto, which notes
that EU enlargement will “pose major challenges to a region like ours on the western
periphery of the Union. Our voice must be heard as these changes evolve” (SDLP 1999:
2) - although it does not specify what these „challenges‟ are - migration, structural funds,
Common Agricultural Policy? Equality though is a recurrent theme and is mentioned in
the context of active integration policies for ethnic minorities (SDLP 1999: 6). The
manifesto states that particular attention must be given to young people who are denied
equality of opportunity “because of poverty, unemployment or ethnic identity” (SDLP
1999: 7). Furthermore, access to political structures must be open to all regardless of
gender, disability, religion and ethnic background (SDLP 1999: 7).

The 2001 general election manifesto maintains that, under the SDLP‟s Finance Minister,
the party has initiated a Senior Civil Service Review to address under-representation of
certain groups in society including women, Catholics and minority ethnic groups (SDLP
2001: 5). A section on equality declares the SDLP‟s commitment to “the creation of a
pluralist democracy that respects and cherishes all traditions and cultures” (SDLP 2001:
13). The party pledges to “tackle discrimination; to build a fairer society we must actively
target social need, giving extra support to those who need it most” (SDLP 2001: 13). It
points out that “the SDLP negotiated to have an „equality duty‟ included in the
agreement; this means that all government policies must now be checked to see if they
would negatively affect particular groups in society such as women or people with
disabilities” (SDLP 2001: 13). However, it neglects to mention minority ethnic
communities in this instance. The SDLP‟s commitment to equality though is reflected in
its support of the Single Equality Bill, which will extend protection from racial
discrimination. The SDLP advocates funding “to support ethnic minority voluntary
groups” as well as “for pilot traveller accommodation” (SDLP 2001: 13). As well as
supporting Travellers, the SDLP calls for “fair treatment of asylum seekers” (SDLP
2001: 18). However, as yet, it does not specifically mention the imprisonment of asylum
seekers in detention centres and prisons.

The SDLP‟s 2003 Assembly manifesto outlines its commitment to „tackling racism‟
(SDLP 2003: 6) and to developing “a rights awareness programme for migrant workers”
(SDLP 2003: 11). It also promises to increase North/South cooperation on immigration
(SDLP 2003: 25). Moreover, the SDLP proposes the creation of a new Equality Tribunal
to hear all discrimination complaints and vigorously opposes proposals to put Equality
and Justice into the one department – “the SDLP will not give equality to the securocrats”
(SDLP 2003: 27). The delivery of the Race Equality Strategy is cited as crucial, as well
as “proper accommodation for travellers in line with the recent needs assessment” (SDLP
2003: 28). It champions the funding of groups involved in equality consultation and the
full development of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. The SDLP makes a link
between hate crime and sectarianism which should be fought in a multi-pronged attack
(SDLP 2003: 30). It articulates the unfair treatment of asylum seekers when it calls for
“an end to the use of prison accommodation for those awaiting hearing” (SDLP 2003:
33). Finally, the 2003 manifesto calls for the UK to sign up to the UN Convention on the

Rights of Migrant Workers and maintains that the SDLP will promote trades union
membership for all migrant workers (SDLP 2003: 33).

The SDLP‟s 2004 European election manifesto addresses the latest round of EU
enlargement - we have a “practical and moral interest in supporting our new fellow
citizens today” (SDLP 2004: 4). Whilst acknowledging the practical challenge to society,
it cautions against “community tensions arising in areas attracting migrant workers”
(SDLP 2004: 4). Furthermore, “evidence shows that migrant workers make a net
contribution to the economy as we see clearly in our health service. While others may fan
the flames of racism, the SDLP will stand firm for equality and diversity” (SDLP 2004:
4). This manifesto repeatedly affirms the SDLP‟s commitment to equality and its stance
against all forms of discrimination including race, ethnic or social origin and membership
of a national minority (2004: 14). The 2005 general election manifesto calls for “all-
Ireland action on tackling racism” as well as “the development of common effective
incitement to hatred laws, North and South” (SDLP 2005: 7).

On issues relating to migrant workers, the 2005 election manifesto states its intention to
“deliver an integrated cross-departmental strategy to review and address the range of
needs of migrant workers and their families, raising awareness of their entitlements, and
helping them to access social welfare, education, health and other services. We will also
campaign for the UK government to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant
Workers” (SDLP 2005: 14-15). In order to protect migrant workers‟ rights, it promotes
“union membership for all migrant workers” (SDLP 2005: 39). On staffing in the NHS, it
warns that the “short term solution of overseas recruitment is inadequate, uneconomical
and unfair to developing countries trying to build up their own services” (SDLP 2005:
26). Maintaining that equality and human rights are not just political slogans, it outlines
proactive measures for party representatives, notably “training for party representatives
against all forms of intolerance, including racism and homophobia” (SDLP 2005: 30).
Additionally, the SDLP commits to ensuring “proper accommodation for travellers in line
with their established needs” and to “fund groups involved in equality consultations and
ensure the full development of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act” (SDLP 2005: 30).
The party welcomes improvements in how the police handle hate crime (SDLP 2005: 37)
and calls for the fair treatment of asylum seekers, including an end to the use of prison
detention for those awaiting hearings (SDLP 2005: 39).

The SDLP‟s 2007 Assembly manifesto supports the end to exporting asylum seekers to
Scotland (SDLP 2007: 5). The party points also to the necessity of an effectively
implemented schools‟ policy, to support the development of ethnic minority children‟s
English as an additional language, so that all reach their full potential (SDLP 2007: 18).
Part of the SDLP‟s goals is to protect workers and in this respect it calls for a “cross
departmental strategy to augment protection and awareness of the rights of Migrant
Workers, as outlined by the Human Rights Commission in the recent „Migrant Workers
Advice Guide‟” (SDLP 2007: 21). On issues relating to justice, law and order, the SDLP
welcomes the unprecedented numbers of minority ethnic communities applying to join
the PSNI and it demands an “overarching hate crime strategy for the criminal justice
system” (SDLP 2007: 23). The manifesto outlines the party‟s commitment to “continue

training for party representatives against all forms of intolerance, including racism”
(SDLP 2007: 43). Under the new Anti-Poverty strategy, it calls for “quality, accessible
pre-school care for traveller children” (SDLP 2007: 43) and it commits to “invest in
education for Travellers so that in the medium term all travellers‟ educational needs can
be sensitively met in the integrated system” (SDLP 2007: 43).

The Alliance Party (ALL)

The Alliance Party‟s 1996 Forum election manifesto calls for a settlement to be
constructed which “recognises the diversity of our society, respects all of our traditions”
(Alliance 1996: 6), and also makes reference to any settlement being subject to the
“consent of the minority”. However, these comments refer to Unionist/Nationalist respect
and recognition and do not explicitly refer to minority ethnic communities. The party‟s
1997 general election manifesto reiterates many of these principles, including a call for
the establishment of a Bill of Rights (Alliance 1997a: 5). The Alliance Party claims that
education is fundamental in developing tolerance, respect and mutual understanding
(Alliance 1997a: 8). Under a section dealing with the economy, the party outlines its
commitment to “ensuring equality of opportunity regardless of religion, gender, disability
or age” (Alliance 1997a: 10), but again no specific mention is made of minority ethnic
communities. The 1997 general election manifesto targets specific sections of society
namely women, children, young people and the disabled (Alliance 1997a: 15-16). Once
again no mention is made here of minority ethnic communities. Under a section dealing
with Community Relations, though, the Alliance Party identifies several priority areas
including “building a single but diverse community with a pluralist ethos” (Alliance
1997a: 17). Finally, the 1997 manifesto welcomes the introduction of Race Relations
legislation to Northern Ireland: “Alliance has consistently supported effective legislation
to ensure equality of opportunity and to counter discrimination on grounds of religion,
political belief, gender, race, disability and age” (Alliance 1997a: 17). Thus
discrimination is the context in which minority ethnic communities are mentioned by the
Alliance Party. The local government elections were held at the same time. Whilst most
other parties do not produce a separate manifesto, the Alliance Party did so and outlined
that the role of councillors was: “To work hard to ensure that no discrimination of any
kind – on grounds of religion, politics, gender, disability or race – occurs in District
Councils on which they serve” (Alliance 1997b: 4).

The party‟s 1998 Assembly election manifesto begins with a statement on equality and
the party‟s support for a “liberal, pluralist and democratic society” (Alliance 1998: 2), at
the same time outlining a commitment to human rights. Discrimination is once again held
up as a key principle underscoring the work of Alliance which moves beyond the „two
community‟ approach: “Discrimination is often seen only in terms of Catholics and
Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists but discrimination on grounds of disability, race,
gender, age, marital status and sexual orientation is just as widespread” (Alliance 1998:
2). The 1999 European election manifesto points to the contribution of the EU project
towards human rights and multiculturalism (Alliance 1999: 2). Furthermore, it highlights
the role in the European Parliament of the European Liberal Democratic and Reform
(ELDR) party grouping, to which Alliance is affiliated. The ELDR grouping has

campaigned for human and civil rights, and against racism (Alliance 1999: 6). The 1999
manifesto document highlights too the rights of minorities to enjoy appropriate
representation and expresses support for the Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities (Alliance 1999: 7). Alliance also welcomes the EU‟s commitment to
develop a “common immigration policy, without which the freedom of movement of
people within the Union will remain a pipe-dream” (Alliance 1999: 7).

The 2001 local government election manifesto contains a section on community relations
- which must be “united yet diverse”, as well as a section on equality intended to commit
local district councils not to “discriminate or erect barriers to persons from any section of
the community” (Alliance, 2001a: 9). The 2001 Westminster election manifesto outlines
several problems in society including an increase in “racist and homophobic attacks”
(Alliance 2001b: 6). Alliance calls for the immediate extension to Northern Ireland of the
racially motivated offences‟ provision contained within the Crime and Disorder Act
(1998), in order to provide stiffer sentences for those convicted of crimes when a racist
motive could be proven. A section on human rights advocates the incorporation into UK
domestic law of international and European conventions such as the International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Alliance, 2001b:
8). Once more a section on equality is provided which states the need for “building a
tolerant and inclusive society where diversity is celebrated” (Alliance, 2001b: 18), and
reiterates Alliance‟s commitment to fighting discrimination. It advocates the
establishment of an Equality Act that can deal with all types of discrimination based on
“gender, ethnicity, religious background, age or sexual orientation” (Alliance 2001: 19).
The party also points to the importance of enlargement of the EU to include the emerging
democracies of Central and Eastern Europe (Alliance 2001b: 25).

Alliance‟s 2003 Assembly election manifesto declares the party‟s opposition to
sectarianism, racism and other forms of arbitrary division (Alliance 2003: 3). In order to
build a united community, Alliance pledges to “ensure that the interests and needs of
persons belonging to ethnic minorities are included in the broader framework of
community relations” (Alliance, 2003: 8). Part of this process involves proactive steps to
attract persons from ethnic minorities into the police service (Alliance 2003: 13).
Alliance outlines its commitment to establishing an integration policy for asylum seekers
in Northern Ireland, thus abolishing the practice of placing such persons in detention
(Alliance 2003: 14). On cultural matters, Alliance supports the appreciation and
promotion of Cantonese, Irish and Ulster-Scots. Moreover, “Alliance recognises the
linguistic diversity within our community, and believes all ethnic minority languages
practiced in Northern Ireland deserve as much protection as indigenous languages”
(Alliance 2003: 24). The party‟s 2005 general election manifesto states that “it is to
Northern Ireland‟s shame that we have the highest rate of racist attacks in the UK.
Alliance welcomes the growing diversity in Northern Ireland, and recognises that our
new citizens are valuable members of our community” (Alliance 2005: 2). It notes the
increase in sectarianism, racism and segregation on the ground (Alliance 2005: 3).
Furthermore, under a section on equality, the party renews its commitment to address
unfair discrimination and pledges to:

       [C]elebrate the economic and cultural benefits that come to Northern Ireland from
       a more diverse population; ensure that the interests and needs of persons
       belonging to ethnic minorities are included in the broader framework of
       community relations; place emphasis on the needs of speakers of ethnic minority
       languages within language policy as such persons are at greatest disadvantage in
       accessing crucial services; and work with the police to ensure that new „Hate
       Crime‟ laws are enforced effectively (Alliance 2005: 8).

Alliance also demands the extension of the Football Offences Act (1991) to deal with
racist chanting at local sports grounds. In light of the Eastern enlargement of the EU, the
party calls on member states to comply with requirements under the Single Market,
which includes the freedom of movement of persons (Alliance 2005: 24-25).

In many respects, the 2007 Assembly election manifesto contains many previous
commitments and provisions though it would “seek to ensure that all migrant workers
and immigrants have full access to public services, and employment rights” (Alliance
2007: 10). Furthermore, it would support “the creation of a Comprehensive Languages
Act, based around public bodies producing language schemes to address the needs of
those individuals with whom they deal” (Alliance 2007: 9). It points out that Northern
Ireland now has the most comprehensive set of „Hate Crime‟ laws in the UK, creating
stiffer sentences for racist attacks. Of course racist attitudes remain prevalent, and there is
a deeply ingrained pattern of segregation (Alliance 2007: 7), that manifests itself in racist
flags (Alliance 2007: 8). However a growing number of new immigrants are coming to
Northern Ireland to work, a development which the party maintains is an encouraging
sign of a globalising economy (Alliance 2007: 7). Alliance therefore supports the full
implementation of the Racial Equality Strategy and the integration of immigrants into
Northern Ireland society (Alliance 2007: 10).

Progressive Unionist Party (PUP)

The Progressive Unionist Party has been forthright in its opposition to racially motivated
violence. Its electoral support is found principally in working-class Protestant areas in
Belfast. These areas have also witnessed a high number of attacks on members of
minority ethnic communities (Rolston 2004: 4; Lentin and McVeigh 2006: 153; McVeigh
and Rolston 2007). In 1996 the PUP‟s Forum election manifesto demanded respect for
the rights of all “regardless of religious, cultural, national or political inclinations” (PUP
1996: 1). The party has repeatedly called also for “respect for diversity” (PUP 1996: 3;
PUP 1997: 1; PUP 1998: 2). Moreover, the PUP expressed its commitment to a Bill of
Rights for Northern Ireland which would protect individuals as well as „minorities‟ (PUP
1996: 2), although it is not clear what type of numerically inferior and non-dominant
group(s) this refers to. In the 1997 general election manifesto, the PUP claimed that
„mutuality‟ (PUP 1997: 1) was the key to a just and equitable society and that each
individual had the right to be treated equally regardless of, amongst other attributes, race
or colour. The 1997 manifesto welcomed the Revised Order on the Draft Race Relations
(Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and noted that Northern Ireland was the only region in the
UK which had been lacking legislation covering race.

A section on human rights is included in the PUP‟s 1998 Assembly manifesto,
highlighting the party‟s commitment to working for the establishment of a “just,
equitable and pluralist society” (PUP 1998: 2). Furthermore, it reiterates party support for
the rights of each individual regardless of race or colour. Whilst the under-representation
of women is acknowledged (PUP 1998: 2), no mention is made of minority ethnic
communities in this context. The 1998 manifesto also outlines the party‟s determination
to see a health service free to all peoples regardless of class, colour, or creed (PUP 1998:
4). The 2001 general election manifesto contains no reference to minority ethnic
communities aside from a banner maintaining that the PUP is “dedicated to an anti-
sectarian, pluralist and equitable society” (PUP 2001: 1). The leader of the PUP, David
Ervine, opens the 2003 Assembly manifesto by stating that “it is my conviction that
diverse identities will become a positive feature of a truly multicultural Northern Ireland”
(PUP 2003: 2). Again, a section on human rights is included, which advocates “the
development of pro-active initiatives that lead to more representative participation of
women and ethnic minorities in public and private institutions” (PUP 2003: 4).

With Ervine‟s death in January 2007, Dawn Purvis succeeded him as party leader and the
PUP maintained its policy approach to human rights and respecting diversity. Thus, in the
2007 Assembly election manifesto, there is a section on race as well as one on human
rights and equality. The former contends that racism is a growing problem for the more
diverse Northern Ireland and sees education as the key to tackling racism. Also,
according to the party, this situation is being exploited by those “willing to scare monger
and cause racial tensions”. The PUP makes its position clear here: “Racism is
unacceptable in all its shapes and forms, we along with all reasonable people will combat
it at all levels” (PUP 2007: 5), and the party offers backing to community initiatives that
foster good relations. The section on human rights and equality reiterates the party‟s
support for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, as well as calling for the development of
proactive initiatives to achieve more representative participation of women and ethnic
minorities in public and private institutions.


As the analysis explains, in the 1994-2007 period, the manifestos of all six of the political
parties examined above have taken on board issues and matters of concern to minority
ethnic communities. Initially, in this respect, in the elections during the early years of this
period, there is little specific forthcoming on minority ethnic matters. Indeed, arguably,
there are instances of missed manifesto opportunities where parties might have exploited
themes and discourse more pointedly, notably when alluding to „cultural diversity‟ or to
„vulnerable sections of society‟.

Thereafter, some parties (Alliance, SDLP) specifically make a point in their manifestos of
welcoming the introduction of the race relations‟ legislation in 1997. Again, several
parties call for tougher sentences on hate crimes or „zero tolerance of racism‟ (DUP
2005). Both of the Irish nationalist parties (SDLP, SF) call for better treatment for asylum

seekers. First, the SDLP moves from a general position of „fair treatment for asylum
seekers‟ (2001) to more engaged demands for non-detention (2005) and non-exporting
(for detention) to Scotland (2007) of asylum seekers. Also, SF (2001) is critical of the
detention of asylum seekers and (2003) wants them to have access to legal aid. Again, the
two Irish nationalist parties include support for Travellers in their manifesto discourses.
For example, the SDLP (1997) welcomes the inclusion of Travellers as an ethnic group
within the remit of the Race Relations (NI) Order and SF (2001) focuses on Traveller
accommodation and (2003) the mainstreaming of education/ training provision. The DUP
(2001) too - warning against tokenism - calls for mainstreaming of government priorities,
as regards “real and meaningful equality for women and ethnic minorities”.

Interestingly, several manifestos from different parties see a definitely proactive role for
elected representatives and political parties to play in tackling racism. For instance, the
SDLP (2005, 2007) calls for anti-racist training for party representatives and wants
access to political structures regardless of gender, religion or ethnic identity. The DUP
(2005) envisages a role for politicians in eliminating „the scourge of racism‟ whilst
Alliance (1997) sees the role of district councillors as to „work hard‟ to ensure that no
discrimination takes place on grounds of race inter alia. In turn, SF (2005) wants local
councillors to provide initiatives for enhancing minority ethnic participation and calls for
penalties for councillors who use racist or sectarian language. The party is keen to link
sectarianism and racism as bigotry that needs confronting. Indeed, as already illustrated
above (SF 1994 notably), the party tends to see racism against the nationalist community
as leading to discrimination and disadvantage. In a recent paper, McVeigh and Rolston
(2007) also focus on the nexus between racism and sectarianism, whilst also questioning
the capacity of the state to address problems here.

The type of election and manifesto matters. For example, as we have seen, local
government elections enable calls for local councillors to get involved in anti-racism and
minority ethnic causes. Also, European election manifestos have tended to focus on
migration, with Unionist parties in particular having certain reservations here. For
instance, from a Euro-sceptic stance, the DUP (1994) has warned against „benefit
tourists‟ abusing the welfare state and taking jobs. In not dissimilar vein, the Ulster
Unionist Party (2004) (albeit in favour of a humane asylum policy) warns against the
abuse of asylum legislation and against uncontrolled immigration as a source of crime
and terrorism. In contrast, the SDLP (2004) has put the emphasis on the positive net
contribution of migrants and (2005) defended their rights to trade union membership. SF
too (2004) has used European electioneering as an occasion to support migrant workers‟
rights or (1999) to promote an EU-wide campaign against racism. Uniquely, also, there is
declared support for „the Muslim community‟ from SF (2003).

The references to racism and migration increase incrementally along with the actual size
of the manifestos and the passage of time. To some extent, there is a consensus across
political parties on minority ethnic issues and the need to tackle racism. The references to
equality, human rights and the accommodation of diversity also increase with every
manifesto for all political parties. Certainly, some parties have embraced the language of
equality more readily than others; yet every political party manifesto refers to these

values. Although, the manifesto analysis shows also that there have been some
Democratic Unionist Party reservations about what it sees as the bureaucratic and costly
nature of equality proofing. Some parties have tended to take the initiative in introducing
measures for women‟s social and political equality; these same parties have also tended
to be somewhat more responsive to the concerns of ethnic minorities. From about 2004,
the condemnation of racism in Northern Ireland becomes especially more prominent,
coinciding with the significant increase in migrant workers and attacks on them.
However, racism is not new in Northern Ireland, but has been subject to denialism,
under-reporting and neglect, leading it to be referred to as the „hidden troubles‟ or
„hidden truth‟ (Connolly and Keenan, 2001). For instance, Travellers and the settled
Chinese community have been subjected to racism for many years yet, until quite
recently, political parties were not been so forthcoming in addressing the problem in their
manifestos and discourses. As Mann-Kler has argued persuasively, it was only really with
the 1994 ceasefires “that matters concerned with ethnic minorities have been deliberated
in the wider public arena in Northern Ireland” (1997: 5). Thus racism should not be seen
as the „new‟ hate crime, latterly replacing sectarianism in an era of post-1994, post-Good
Friday Agreement harmony. There is evidence and argument to suggest that racism pre-
dated the mid-1990s in Northern Ireland (CAJ 1992; Connolly and Keenan 2001;
Hainsworth 1998; Mann-Kler 1997) despite its absences from political party manifestos,
and also that segregation and sectarianism have not simply gone away (Lentin and
McVeigh 2006; McVeigh and Rolston 2007; Shirlow and Murtagh 2006).

Northern Ireland has witnessed a significant demographic change in recent years due to
inward migration, particularly from Central and Eastern European states which joined the
EU in 2004 (Animate 2006; Bell et al 2004; Jarman 2006; Jarman and Byrne 2007).
Many of these communities have faced racism in different guises including institutional
racism, blatant racism in the form of attacks, and more covert racism. It is in the interests
of political parties to appeal to these new voters, whose voting weight could well have an
impact in areas with delicately balanced voting blocks. After all, political parties are in
the business of attaining the highest number of votes possible. Employing anti-racist
discourse or language relating to migrant worker rights is likely to resonate with minority
ethnic voters and these new voters, respectively, and is a legitimate practice. However,
political parties must ensure that they endeavour to deliver what they say they will in
their manifestos. Significantly, a 2006 study by the Electoral Commission found that
people from minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland believed that “political
parties were generally not interested in their vote” (Electoral Commission, 2006: 3). It is
up to political parties to address this perception through targeted and substantive policies
and initiatives that meet the needs and interests of minority ethnic communities.

Moreover, without a strong commitment from state structures, racism and its various
manifestations will continue unabated. In this respect, as already pointed out, the Office
of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has produced two documents
of note. The Race Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland 2005-2010 (OFMDFM 2005a)
outlines the challenge of racism and racist inequalities and the situation of minority
ethnic communities in Northern Ireland, and specifies how OFMDFM will implement the
strategy. The strategy has six aims: the elimination of racial inequality; equal protection;

equality of service provision; increased participation; promotion of dialogue; and
building capacity in minority ethnic communities. Also, the Shared Future document
(OFMDFM 2005b) addresses the policy and strategic framework for good relations in
Northern Ireland. This document views minority ethnic communities through the prism of
bipolar community structures and addresses „good relations‟ rather than specifying
pragmatic ways to deal with racism in Northern Ireland.

Political parties and leaders have expressed some willingness to work together in order to
address racism and to implement the Race Equality Strategy. Moreover, the first public
event in the new, restored devolved Assembly in 2007 was a reception for minority
ethnic groups and migrant workers. Also, the First Minister (Dr Ian Paisley, DUP) and
the Deputy First Minister (Martin McGuinness, SF) issued a joint statement when
welcoming the Chinese Consul General to Northern Ireland: “It is important tonight to
celebrate our rich cultural diversity, highlight the importance of ethnic communities and
demonstrate our zero tolerance of racism” (OFMDFM 2007). Again, one of the first
debates in the new Assembly focused on racism and minority ethnic communities, in the
context of ensuring that “the second Implementation Action Plan of the Racial Equality
Strategy fully and rigorously addresses issues of racial equality for minority ethnic
communities in Northern Ireland” (Northern Ireland Assembly 2007: 1). The above
motion was moved by Alliance‟s Anna Lo, ex-Director of the Chinese Welfare
Association (CWA) and, throughout the debate, there was strong cross-party support for
minority ethnic communities and plaudits for the contributions of migrant workers to
society and the economy. At the same time, there were reservations expressed about the
belatedness and limited scope of the Racial Equality Strategy. Lo, for example, referred
to the first action plan as “a mere mapping exercise by departments to list their existing
initiatives” and called for actions that were more outcome-focused and less process-
orientated (Northern Ireland Assembly 2007: 2-3). To some extent, this echoed the
findings of Watt and McGaughey, who concluded that public authorities had provided
examples of interesting initiatives and approaches in their provision of public services for
ethnic and immigrant communities in Northern Ireland, but they “have to become more
mainstreamed to begin to have a real impact on outcomes” (2006: 78). Elsewhere too,
there have been strong doubts expressed about the capacity and willingness of the state to
address racism via „a state-driven „good relations‟ agenda‟: “It is difficult to judge how
much of this process of mainstreaming anti-racism was a cynical state-led attempt to
blunt the equality agenda by broadening it, and how much was a genuine response to
equality and human rights constituencies” (Lentin and McVeigh 2006: 150-151; see also
Hadden et al 2007).

In conclusion, it is most likely therefore that political party manifesto discourse will
continue to incorporate minority ethnic concerns in the future. Indeed, as inward
migration continues and Northern Ireland becomes more culturally diverse, there is
likelihood that political parties will become more and more attuned to accommodating
and embracing societal/demographic changes, minority issues and best practices. At the
same time, there will be critical attention upon the extent to which minority concerns are
mainstreamed and resourced effectively and to what degree manifesto commitments and
broader strategies are implemented.


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