Growing hostility to foreigners drives Hong Kong-born Anna Lo out of Northern Ireland politics

Hostility to foreigners behind why she's quitting Northern Ireland politics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 11:29am

A Hong Kong-born woman who became Britain's first ethnic Chinese parliamentarian says her decision to quit politics - and possibly her adopted home - reflects a growing hostility to foreigners and the rise of far-right politics across Europe.

Northern Ireland politician Anna Lo Man-wah announced last week that she would not seek re-election for the Belfast South seat she has held for the moderate Alliance Party for eight years.

In an interview with the Sunday Morning Post, she said her decision stemmed from the inability of people in her adopted homeland to shake off sectarian hatred and a growing sense of insularity and anti-foreigner sentiment across Europe, reflected in recent European election results.

Lo, 63, went to Shau Kei Wan East Government Secondary School and left the city to start a new life in Northern Ireland in 1974 - at the height of what became known as "The Troubles".

She said of certain sections of the community she represents: "They're scaremongering the British people, telling them that immigrants are taking people's jobs, that they take benefits and are not contributing."

Lo said a rise in racism, with two racially motivated incidents reported in Northern Ireland each day, had left her feeling vulnerable, despite having lived through some of the province's worst sectarian violence.

The three-decade conflict saw more than 3,500 people killed and more than 50,000 injured in a bitter battle between the pro-British, predominantly Protestant loyalist community and the predominantly Catholic minority who favoured reunification with the rest of Ireland.

While the 1998 peace accord committed both sides to "the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community", an upsurge in sectarian violence appeared to have found a new target - immigrants.

It is a trend Lo believes has its roots in the wave of intolerance "all over the UK and Europe, towards immigrants, immigration and towards Islam".

Comments by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson of the majority Democratic Unionist Party, a loyalist party, in support of a pastor who called Islam a "doctrine spawned from hell" were particularly distressing, Lo said. She believed they could be used to justify more violence.

Despite being showered with flowers, e-mails and text messages, and seeing a Facebook page attract more than 16,000 supporters urging her to stay on, Lo is adamant it is time to leave politics following threats from a loyalist mob as she helped her party campaign during last month's European and local elections.

When the European results came in, the United Kingdom Independence Party had won the biggest share of the vote. The right-wing party takes an anti-immigration stance and looks to increase border controls within the European Union.

Lo said: "My sons are concerned about the threats against me and want me to go to England, but I love it here. This is my home." But she added: "I don't feel things are getting better. It's just bickering all the time. I'm disillusioned with the current state of politics, which is still mired in the past. It's tribal politics, us-and-them politics, not politics for all in Ireland."

Lo expressed frustration that a racial equality strategy in the works for seven years had yet to be approved.

The Chinese community has been the largest ethnic minority in Northern Ireland since the early 1970s, when none of the fast-food chains wanted to set up there because of "The Troubles". Many ran restaurants.

According to the Chinese embassy in London, there were nearly 10,000 Chinese citizens living in Northern Ireland in 2007.

Lo's decision comes just months after a Chinese man was left with a broken jaw in an attack.

Lo said she hoped such incidents would not put off foreign investors, as she believed most of the Irish were not involved in such hatred. "They're just as angry as me," she said

She said she had no plans to move back to Hong Kong.