Ireland must do more to tackle racism and hate crime

Travellers, Roma, and people of African decent in Ireland face racism and hate crime most often.

Ireland is not doing enough to bury racism and hate crime faced by minorities within its legal and institutional framework, the United Nations (UN) said after reviewing the latest report by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) on December 3.

“We have a demonstrable history of chronic racism toward Travellers, a minority ethnic community that is indigenous to Ireland,” Chief IHREC Commissioner Emily Logan claimed.

Irish Travellers are 22 times more likely to experience discrimination if they want to access private services. People of African descent and the Roma community are also more likely to experience discrimination than “white Irish”, the report reads.

More than 500,000 people living in Ireland were of a demographic other than Irish, mostly the Polish and British nationals, according to the 2016 Census. Additionally, the IHREC report expects there are up to 26,000 undocumented people in Ireland.

Verene Shepherd, an expert from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, urged Ireland to make racists feel uncomfortable in the country, including politicians and rogue police officers, and to criminalise hate speech and prosecute the perpetrators.

Racial profiling by the police is a problem

The IHREC remains critical of ongoing racial discrimination against Ireland’s ethnic minority groups, which are also at a disadvantage if they want to find work or have access to different services such as education, health, and housing.

“Travellers, Roma, and people of African descent experience significant barriers to accessing employment,” the report reads.

The Traveller community continues to experience discrimination despite having been recognised as an ethnic minority in 2017 and having a national strategy on the integration of Travellers and Roma adopted in the same year.

“Recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority will not remove overnight all the obstacles that have prevented them from experiencing full equality within Irish society,” the Minister of Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton, told the UN Committee on December 2.  However, he went on to say it has created a pathway towards equality for Travellers.

Although some improvements have been made, there are still deficiencies in training practices in An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force, when it comes to racial profiling. The UN Committee is concerned about the ongoing racial profiling, especially of young men of African origin, Ms Shepherd claimed.

“A total of 70% of Travellers felt discriminated against by the Gardaí and 77% of Roma had reported being stopped by the police for identity checks,” the UN Committee also said.

An independent human rights audit of An Garda Síochána has also revealed that officers and members expressed negative views about Travelers and Nigerians, the UN Committee stressed.

Ireland’s racism impacts ethnic minorities hard

The state is also failing to provide cultural competency training, appropriately trained interpreters, Traveller-specific accommodation and to involve the minority in the political participation.

“Travellers continue to live in unacceptable conditions, and many others face persistent discrimination in the private rental sector,” the IHREC report reads. The Commission hence proposed to sanction local authorities if they fail to provide such accommodation where it is needed.

In reaction to this report, Minister Stanton told the UN Committee that a wide range of accommodation options are provided to Travellers. The Department of Housing is also going through recommendations made by an independent group of experts in this regard in July of this year, he added.

At the same time, the Commission expressed its concern about the lack of support for Traveller and Roma children in education.

“There are consistent reports that reduced timetables are routinely applied to Traveller children, exacerbating their exclusion from mainstream education,” the report reads.

Mr Stanton told the UN Committee that Ireland has launched a two-year project of €2 million to “target attendance, participation and school completion in specific Traveller and Roma communities regionally”.

Some cultures are superior, the Irish say

The recent IHREC report also lists several studies that looked into how “white Irish” respondents see ethnic minorities living in Ireland and how these minorities perceive racism and hate crime. The Attitudes to Diversity in Ireland study from 2018 found that “half of the adults born in Ireland believe some cultures to be superior to others.”

Another study looked into reported racist incidents. It found that discrimination towards and the shaming of people of African descent is highly visible in Ireland leading, moreover, to mental and physical health issues.

The 2017 research study Who Experiences Discrimination in Ireland? found that “black” people are five times more likely to face discrimination if they go to banks or shops.

“Persons of African descent living in Dublin have also reported experiences of racism and systematic xenophobia, including being targeted in their homes through break-ins, intimidation, and the shouting of racist slurs,” the IHREC report reads.

77% of Travellers have also said they experienced discrimination in 2018. Furthermore, they are 38 times more likely to experience discrimination in shops, hotels, and restaurants, compared to “white Irish” respondents.

A further survey, from 2017, revealed that 37% of the general public claimed they would avoid the Roma community. The recent National Roma Needs Assessment study found that 81% of Roma respondents experienced discrimination on the street.

One of the reports also found that Muslim women experience anti-Muslim hostility more often than Muslim men in Ireland.

“Ireland should adopt public awareness-raising and education measures to address discrimination and prejudice, including on the grounds of race and religion, and to specifically address the discrimination faced by minority ethnic women,” the Commission said.

Outdated hate crime legislation

Apart from a critical approach towards fighting racism in Ireland, the Commission has also questioned the effectiveness of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 in its report. It is the only law in Ireland to criminalise hostility on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, among others.

Under this law, only 12 cases have been prosecuted and two people jailed since 2010.  However, the research co-funded by the Commission shows racially loaded discourse online is frequent in Ireland.

The level of hate crime was high, especially against people of sub-Saharan African background and in particular against women wearing headscarves in public, Ms Shepherd of the UN Committee claimed.

“The Act also appears particularly ill-equipped to deal with online hate speech incidents,” the IHREC also said. The European Commission has criticised the outdated law too. The ministry has asked the public how the law could be improved.

“Research is also being finalised with regard to international best practice on hate crime legislation,” Mr Stanton said to the UN Committee. He also pledged to bring proposals forward for new hate crime legislation in Ireland once this had been completed.

The Commission has also raised concerns over the ability of police officers in Ireland to recognise hate crime and deficiencies of the Garda’s PULSE system. The database facilitates, among other crime incidents, the recording of crimes with a discriminatory motive from 2002.

“Ireland should use all legislative and non-legislative means to create a world in which ethnic categorising and vestiges of colonialism would be relegated to the past where they belong,” concluded Ms Shepherd, of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, on December 3.

Peter Dlhopolec
Peter Dlhopolec

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