Racism in Ireland. Still an issue?

Vincent Whelan

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With all of the tourism that Ireland attracts based off of its reputation for being friendly, we should really ask ourselves, is Ireland is all that welcoming to people of all creeds and nationalities? This is in the wake of recent studies which are quite damning when it comes to how much racism there still is and how little of an appetite there seems to be to really quell this aspect of certain parts of society.


When starting to research into this topic, one need only look at the raw figures to know that it is still a considerable issue. ENAR, which is the European Network Against Racism, published a report on Ireland in relation to January-June 2015. It was found that 148 incidents were reported in that span including 22 assaults with 4 of those containing threat to seriously harm or kill.


But for as alarming as ENAR’s findings are, it is only when you combine it with another report, ‘Recording Racism in Ireland’, by Helen Clarke of The Integration Centre that you get the full story. The worrying conclusion she draws is in relation to the judicial process here is that, ‘There are no statutory provisions prescribing aggravated sentences for offenses committed as an expression of race hate. While judges can rule that racism is an aggravating factor in sentencing, there is no law to compel this.’ It is clear that an individual judge has too much free rein to input their own personal prejudices when ruling on such a case.


Encouraging that Ireland does acknowledge other cultures in its St. Patrick's day parade. Photo credit: Flickr.
Encouraging that Ireland does acknowledge other cultures in its St. Patrick’s day parade. Photo credit: Flickr.


This suggests that as a country, Ireland is enforcing quite a lackadaisical approach to weeding out racism. This is further enforced when she points out that, ‘The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, a state funded organisation was created to provide a strategic approach to racism, was disbanded in 2008. The structures put in place to advance integration were quickly dismantled in the recession, as Ireland put a price tag on social inclusion.’ Throughout history, in times of economic strife, racism rises as the masses look to vent their anger towards one clear segment of the population. It is something which Ireland needs to be vigilant against.


However, this is not to say that good work is not being done. The very same report by The Integration Centre acknowledges that, ‘There have been a number of key improvements within the Gardaí in recent times. The creation of the Ethnic Liason Officer role helps to provide a specialised service’. Indeed, when speaking with international members of the local community here in Dublin 8, I found that they had no direct experience from suffering from any kind of racist abuse in their time here. Asif, an employee in Spar, said he has lived in Ireland for 11 years and that while incidents do occur in his shop, he has never felt that it was out of any racist motivation. Karim, an employee in Delice Café, echoed those sentiments too, though admittedly he has only been here for a little over a month.


And while Clarke notes that, ‘Racially motivated incidents in Ireland are published on a yearly basis by the Central Statistics Office’, she says flaws are noticeable when comparing the Irish system to its English or Welsh counterpart. This is because, ‘In Ireland the published figures only cover the incidents which ended in a criminal conviction…In England and Wales, whether or not a racist incident is deemed to have involved a crime the incident is recorded and it is clearly shown how many racist incidents gained convictions and how many did not.’


This 2008 football match in Dublin between Ireland and Poland showed just how sizable in the Polish community was here. Photo credit: Flickr.
This 2008 football match in Dublin between Ireland and Poland showed just how sizable the Polish community are here. Photo credit: Flickr.


In fact, The Integration Centre felt such a lack of confidence in the current system of statistic gathering on this issue that in 2012 they elected to carry out their own survey. Their findings were stark as, of the 150 people who had been victims of racist abuse, only 13.3% had reported it. When quizzed on why they had not, the remaining victims stated a number of reasons. They are as follows: 34% believed there was no point, 30% did not feel the incident was serious enough to warrant reporting, 10% did not know who to complain to, 9% other, 6% fearful of the authorities, 6% too scared and lastly, 5% too upset. The fact that the majority either did not think it was serious enough or that it would be a waste of time is an indictment of a complacency that has set in amongst the Irish government and its people. It is possible that as a modern, well-educated country there is a general disbelief that such things could go on here.


One need only look at the fact that the, ‘only legislation directly related to racism in Ireland is the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989’ to realise that Ireland has an archaic attitude towards combatting the issue. This is further augmented by the disturbing reality that Clarke says ‘This Act is difficult to prosecute-and in the four years 2006-2009 only 43 cases were prosecuted successfully.’


Dublin is now a very diverse city. Photo credit: Flickr.
Dublin is now a very diverse city. Photo credit: Flickr.


As to correcting this systemic flaw in Irish society, Clarke concludes that a number of things need to happen. For starters, ‘The State needs to accept the existence of the under-reporting/underrecording of racism and commit itself to targeting the problem.’ Once this has occurred there can be widespread changes brought about. She recommends that we model ourselves after the English and Welsh in recording more details such as the nationality, religion and ethnicity of all victims of crime. This could help in ascertaining whether or not certain groups are targeted more often than others.


To go along with this, Clarke adds, ‘A system should immediately be put in place for the recording of racist incidents which are not in breach of the criminal code. A specific option needs to be made available for racist incidents/crime within the Pulse system.’ If these steps are taken, Ireland may then have a fair claim to be one of the most friendly, welcoming countries in the world.


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Vincent Whelan