27 Jan 2004

Remarks by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams, at the Anti-Racism Rally Belfast City Hall.

Some of you may be wondering what a Children’s Commissioner is doing at an Anti-Racism Rally. Let me give you three good reasons why:

FIRST, in racist attacks it is children who suffer most. We know this from the impact that the sectarian conflict has had in our own society over the last 30 years. Young children have little framework for understanding hatred and evil. They are shocked, disturbed, and will quickly assume that their attackers are representatives of the whole community that they come from. Their childhood is snatched from them by bigots

SECOND, my legislation identifies the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as my guiding light. That Convention could not be more explicit in condemning racism in Article 2 and in placing a duty on governments to protect children from any discrimination or violence arising from the background of their parents, and Article 30 stresses the rights of children from ethnic minorities to enjoy their own culture and tradition.

THIRD, for the last 12 years I have lived in South East London. I am familiar with the road where Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a group of white racist young men. The 10 year old Damilola Taylor died less than a mile from my home and went to the school at the bottom of my road. I have seen what unchecked racism can do in graphic terms. I don’t want there to be any Stephen Lawrence’s or Damilola Taylor’s in Northern Ireland. I don’t want to attend any such funerals.

But living in South East London, I have also experienced the incredible richness and ethnic diversity of local communities. I have been a member of a local church with people whose birthplaces are all over the world – the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, East and West Africa, and the Indian sub-continent. That gives me hope and is a message we need to listen to in our society here in Belfast.

For generations, from both sides of this community missionaries have gone to places all over the world to bring a message of good news to local people. Now that more people from those very countries are now coming to us, we need to be sure that we greet them with open arms. How ironic it would be if the land of saints and scholars ended up being known as the land of the new klu klux klan.

Let us not let that happen. Let us work together to build a non racist society and stand against both the racist thugs, and those who resist any change in the make-up of our society..

Nigel Williams
Commissioner for Children and Young People