Discrimination in Ireland

Posted on Wednesday, 8 December 2021
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Integration is defined in current Irish policy as the ‘ability to participate to the extent that a person needs and wishes in all of the major components of society without having to relinquish his or her own cultural identity’ (Department of Justice and Equality, 2017. The Migrant Integration Strategy, A Blueprint for the Future, s.l.: s.n.).  For the 12.7 per cent of the population who are non-Irish nationals, achieving real integration requires concerted policy responses aimed at supporting education, job activation, tackling hate speech and racism and supporting cultural awareness.


According to Census 2016, there was a total of 535,475 non-Irish nationals – representing 200 different nations - living in Ireland on Census night. The main nationalities were Polish (23 per cent) and UK (19 per cent). Other nationalities with over 10,000 residents included USA, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Spain. Non Irish nationals have a very different age profile to the rest of the population with half aged between 25 and 42 compared with a quarter of the Irish population.  There are proportionately fewer children under 14 (12.3 per cent versus 22.5 per cent), and older people (4 per cent versus 13 per cent) among non-Irish nationals.  The unemployment rate among non-Irish nationals was 15.4 per cent, compared with a rate of 12.6 per cent among the Irish population. 

Census 2016 also asked people to identify their ethnicity and cultural background. 681,016 people identify themselves as other than “White Irish”, of whom 234,289 identify as Black, Asian or other people of colour.  The period between 2011 and 2016 also showed a 3 per cent reduction in people from traditional Christian religions, an increase of 74 per cent in those with no religion and a growth in other religions with 63,400 Muslims (+29 per cent), 62,200 Orthodox (+37 per cent) and 34,100 Hindus (+34 per cent). 


According to data published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), as of Q1 2019, 17.7 per cent of the population aged 18+, or approximately 636,000 people, experienced some form of discrimination[1] in the two years prior to the interview.

Of this 636,000, the most common ground of perceived discrimination was age (34.1 per cent, c.217,000 people); Race/skin colour/ethnic group/nationality (21.9 per cent, c.139,000 people); and gender (18.6 per cent, c.118,000 people).

In terms of the types of discrimination, almost one in ten (9.4 per cent) people in Ireland experienced workplace discrimination, defined by the CSO as discrimination experienced in the workplace and/or while looking for work. Almost one in eight (11.8 per cent) people experienced discrimination when Accessing Services, defined by the CSO as discrimination experienced in one or more of the following: ‘In places like shops, pubs or restaurants, Using the services of banks, insurance companies or financial institutions, Education, Looking for housing or accommodation, Accessing health services, Using transport services, Accessing other public services at a local or national level and In contact with An Garda Síochána.’.

As can be seen from Chart 1, there is significant cross-over between the groups most likely to experience Workplace discrimination and those most likely to experience discrimination in Accessing Services.

Unemployed people were most likely to experience discrimination in a Workplace setting (26.6 per cent) and also likely to experience Accessing Services (17.4 per cent). Persons from a non-White ethnic background were the group most likely to experience discrimination in Accessing Services (23.1 per cent) and the second most likely group to experience discrimination in the Workplace (19.8 per cent).

Persons who identify as LGBTQI+ were the second most likely group to experience discrimination in Accessing Services (19.6 per cent) and the third most likely group to experience discrimination in the Workplace (17.5 per cent).

Persons with a disability were also likely to experience discrimination in the Workplace (12.3 per cent) and in Accessing Services (18.3 per cent).

Chart 1: Persons who experienced Workplace discrimination and/or discrimination in Accessing Services by Group, Q1 2019


Source: Central Statistics Office, Equality and Discrimination 2019, www.cso.ie

Experiencing discrimination in both the workplace and in accessing services was experienced by 3.5 per cent of people aged 18+. For unemployed people and people from non-white ethnic backgrounds, aged 18+, this number trebles to 10.8 per cent and 10.1 per cent respectively.


Grounds for Discrimination

According to data published by the Central Statistics Office, more than one third of people who experienced discrimination cited Age as a ground, while more than one in five (21.9 per cent) gave Race / skin colour / Ethnic group / Nationality as a reason for this discrimination and 18.6 per cent cited Gender. However, while these were the most prevalent grounds of perceived discrimination overall, this very much depends on the setting (Table 1).

Gender is the most prevalent perceived ground for discrimination in the workplace (33 per cent), while Age is the most prevalent perceived ground experienced by those looking for work (35.3 per cent). When it comes to accessing services, sexual orientation was the most prevalent perceived ground experienced by people in pubs, restaurants etc (30.4 per cent), while in banks, insurance companies or financial institutions, it was age (35.2 per cent). Race/skin colour/ethnic group/nationality was the most prevalent perceived ground for those experiencing discrimination in the use of public transport services (35.9 per cent) closely followed by disability (34.7 per cent). Age was the most prevalent perceived ground for those experiencing discrimination in education or looking for housing or accommodation (38.2 per cent and 19.2 per cent respectively), and gender was the most prevalent perceived ground for those engaging with An Garda Síochána (32.6 per cent).

Table 1: Persons who experienced discrimination by social setting of discrimination and perceived grounds for discrimination, Q1 2019

Grounds for Reporting Discrimination

Knowing your rights

A report published last year indicated that there was a gap between what people say publicly about their attitudes to minority groups in Ireland and what they are prepared to say when afforded anonymity. The study found that 66 per cent of people openly support more Black people coming to Ireland when asked the question directly, however, this decreases to 51 per cent when respondents were afforded anonymity. Fewer respondents (59 per cent) openly supported more Muslim immigration when asked directly, with a smaller decrease to 53 per cent when afforded anonymity.

The evidence produced by both the CSO and the ESRI/IHREC report suggests that equality legislation is not having the desired effect of combatting inequality and discrimination and that, even as recently as 2019, these issues affected 636,000 people living in Ireland. Ireland has experienced profound societal changes since the introduction of the first piece of equality legislation, this review presents a timely opportunity to reflect that.

The same report from the CSO indicated that nearly one in eight (11.8 per cent) people aged 18+, including those who had not experienced discrimination, had no knowledge or understanding of their rights under the Irish equality legislation, compared to 56.8 per cent who had a ‘moderate understanding’ of their rights and 31.4 per cent who had a ‘good understanding’.

It would appear that a person’s knowledge of their rights increases with their experience of discrimination, with almost one in three people who had experienced discrimination (32.3 per cent) having a ‘very good understanding’ of their rights. Educational attainment also plays a role here, with 46.3 per cent of people with a third level education and 35.2 per cent of persons with a post-Leaving Certificate education having the greatest understanding of their rights.

An interesting insight, is that of those who experienced some form of discrimination and who reported having a very good understanding of their rights, 62.3 per cent took no action in respect of their experience of discrimination, while just 27.1 per cent took some form of verbal action.

It is clear that more is needed to raise awareness among the general population of the equality legislation, not just with those who are most at risk of experiencing discrimination, but also those who are at risk of perpetrating it. However, with just 3 per cent of the people who experienced discrimination making an official complaint, and just 1.7 per cent contacting the Gardaí, raising awareness of the legislation alone may not result in any greater use of the legislation to combat discrimination.


Barriers to Social Inclusion

In July 2018, the ESRI published a study on barriers to social inclusion of which belonging to an ethnic minority was one (where ‘ethnic minority’ included members of the Traveller community, Roma, refugees and asylum seekers).  Because of the age profile of immigrants, discussed earlier in this Chapter, there is a strong correlation between the barrier of ethnic minority and those Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEETs). It is also reported as being more heavily associated with lower educational attainment, living in an urban location and being short-term unemployed. However, it is because of this younger age profile that there are greater opportunities to address issues of social inclusion and to develop supports and programmes for greater integration and inclusion, including training and job activation programmes targeted at ethnic minorities.