I warmly welcome this opportunity to participate, with the other Church Leaders, in exploring ways in which we can respond to the current situation where there is a significant and rapidly growing problem of ‘hate’ crime in Northern Ireland. This is a depressing and disappointing situation. It is depressing that incidents of ‘hate’ crimes have increased in recent times. It is very disappointing to learn that attacks against people with disabilities is a significant problem. The promise to tackle the problem more vigorously is very welcome. We need a concerted programme of action to address this problem. We need to promote the harmonious co-existence of individuals and peoples, respecting each other’s dignity, identity and traditions. Last Sunday, Racial Justice Sunday, reminded us that humanity exists as a single human family within which the concept of racial superiority has no place.

The fight against ‘hate’ crimes is urgent. The programme must begin at the level of legislation and practice. The Criminal Justice Act (No. 2 NI – August 2004) is welcome. It sends a clear signal that ‘hate’ crimes will not be tolerated.

Law enforcement on its own will not solve the problem. Legislation must be accompanied by education. Education in mutual understanding and tolerance and respect must remain a normal part of the educational programme for children, at all levels.

In view of the actual situation it is very surprising to find that the Department of Education, last April, decided to cease funding for the Churches Peace Education Project. This Project has carried out twenty-six years of pioneering work in this area. It is the only such programme to have the backing of the main Churches and subsequent access to both the Maintained and Controlled Sectors. The aim of the programme was to support schools in promoting mutual understanding. That support consisted in the production of a range of school based materials. At present these materials are being used in 500 out of 800 primary schools in Northern Ireland.

I welcome the fact that in the proposed legislation an offence will be considered aggravated by hostility if its perpetrator demonstrates hostility to the victim based on the victim’s religious group. True religious belief is absolutely incompatible with the attitude that underpins ‘hate’ crimes.

Hate is a complex, primitive emotion, often hidden and pathological in character. It can be both personal and collective. It also supposes certain personal failure and builds on the co-operation of others. In a situation of conflict, where there are varying degrees of cultural approval for attitudes of hate towards others, this hatred is more likely to manifest itself in violent behaviour. This requires that we confront the pathological cultural and social sources of hate directly and comprehensively, while at the same time respecting the dignity of the person that hates and desiring, not alone their punishment but also their transformation through appropriate education, psychological support and restorative justice initiatives.