Social Issues

HK native to run in polls for N Ireland Assembly

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2006, 12:00am

A Northern Ireland political party has announced it will field the region's first Chinese candidate in elections next year, in a move to address growing racial discrimination in the British territory.

Hong Kong native Anna Lo Man-wah, a veteran social worker, will run for one of six seats in the South Belfast constituency in elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly on March 7.

Ms Lo, who is chief executive of the Chinese Welfare Association in Belfast, will be a candidate for Northern Ireland's Alliance Party. She will also be the first ethnic minority candidate to run for a 'winnable seat' in the assembly.

'I am delighted to have been selected by the Alliance to contest South Belfast, and am looking forward to the campaign,' Ms Lo said. 'The Alliance's message of building a shared future and building inclusive politics is the only credible way forward in Northern Ireland, for all our citizens.'

Ms Lo's candidacy is seen as a move to highlight the racial harassment problems faced by Chinese and other minority communities in Northern Ireland. The territory's population of 1.7 million is still 99 per cent white, according to the 2001 census, but immigrants have been arriving in growing numbers. The 8,000-strong Chinese community is the biggest ethnic minority in Northern Ireland.

The Chinese in Northern Ireland have long suffered quietly from racist attacks, which have grown worse since the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement in April 1998 ended the 30-year-long Troubles.

As that conflict, involving intense communal violence between Catholics and Protestants, has calmed, violence has been redirected at other groups, including the Chinese.

The Alliance Party, one of six main political parties in Northern Ireland, bills itself as non-sectarian and aims to reach out to both sides.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, the product of the peace agreement, has been suspended since October 2002 but is expected to resume after the elections next year.

Ms Lo said she hoped to encourage other people from minority backgrounds in Northern Ireland to enter politics. 'It is through the ballot box and the democratic process that real change can be delivered,' she said.

The Alliance's leader, David Ford, gave Ms Lo his full backing.

'Anna's candidature is a major watershed. The population in Northern Ireland has become much more diverse over recent years. It is time that our politics caught up,' he said.

'Anna is a proven leader with a strong track record in community relations and community development work.'

Ms Lo was born in Hong Kong, where she married a journalist from Belfast. They moved back to his hometown at the height of the Troubles. She previously has said she and her children often suffered racial harassment since moving to Northern Ireland.

Trained as a social worker, Ms Lo began doing voluntary work for the Chinese community, including setting up Chinese-English classes and interpreting for the police.

Chinese first started arriving in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Seven out of 10 born outside of the territory were born in Hong Kong, with the rest from China, Malaysia and Singapore.

As in the United Kingdom, most Chinese in Northern Ireland work in catering, toiling long hours for low pay.