Police in Northern Ireland have launched a hate crime probe after graffiti reading “Irish lives matter” was left on a wall in Belfast, a phrase thought to reflect anti-immigrant sentiment following several similar incidents in the area.
The local authorities confirmed the vandalism in west Belfast on Wednesday, with police inspector Andrew Matson saying the graffiti and other anti-immigrant signage would be treated as “hate” incidents.
“Our local Neighbourhood Policing Team have been undertaking enquiries in the area and anyone who has any information in regard to the erection of the notices is asked to contact police,” Matson said, also referring to a sign placed elsewhere in Belfast stating that “illegal immigrants” would no longer be accepted for housing.
A number of local lawmakers have come forward to denounce the graffiti and signs, with Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey calling them “offensive” and “disgraceful.”
“It’s deeply concerning and disgraceful that these offensive and racist signs have been erected in an attempt to create fear and intimidate people,” he said, adding “There is no place for this type of behavior in our society.”
Social Democratic and Labour Party councilor Paul Doherty said he asked city officials to remove the graffiti, insisting Belfast is a “welcoming area that is home to a diverse array of people,” while People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll called the signs “racist poison.”
Similar anti-immigrant slogans were found on multiple signs erected in south Belfast earlier this month, which were also investigated as a “hate incident” by police. So far, the authorities have not identified any suspects or organized groups behind the signage.
The investigation was launched against the backdrop of last week’s anti-migrant riot in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. The unrest erupted after a man of Algerian origin stabbed three children and one adult outside a school. Irish police described the rioters as a mob driven by “far-right ideology.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar urged the public not to demonize migrants, arguing that it is “totally wrong” to link migration with crime.