The Government yesterday (21st March 2023) launched the National Action Plan Against Racism (the Plan). In the Plan, "racism" is defined as "a form of domination which manifests through those power dynamics present in structural and institutional arrangements, practices, policies and cultural norms, which have the effect of excluding or discriminating against individuals or groups, based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin" (p.8).
The Plan is underpinned by a vision of a "fair, equal and inclusive society, where minority ethnic groups share full parity of esteem and respect, where everyone is able to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms and has equal opportunities in all aspects of life, irrespective of their racial background; a society in which the existence and impacts of racism are acknowledged and all sectors work to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms", which is supported by five objectives. Those objectives are:
Supporting people who experience racism and protecting people from racist incidents and crimes;
Addressing ethnic inequalities;
Enabling minority participation;
Measuring the impacts of racism; and
A shared journey to racial equality
Each objective then has a series of actions outlined in the plan, with responsibility for achieving these actions resting with certain Government Departments, State Agencies, an Garda Síochána, and community representatives.
Racism and Discrimination in Ireland
According to the Irish Network Against Racism (2021), there were 404 reports of racism in Ireland in 2021. Of these, 54 were criminal offences (Irish Network Against Racism, 2021). There were 113 reported instances of hate speech, with well over half of these (65) taking place online. Staff in public sector bodies were implicated in 30 per cent of all reported racial discrimination in 2021.
As we detailed in our contribution to our Annual Social Policy Conference, Towards Wellbeing for All, the proportion of the population who experienced discrimination in the previous two years increased by 50 per cent between Q1 2014 (12 per cent) and Q1 2019 (18 per cent). The proportion of people of “other stated religions” who experienced discrimination in Q1 2019 (29 per cent) was more than twice that of Roman Catholics (14 per cent) and 11pps higher than the general population (18 per cent). Unemployed people were most likely to experience discrimination (30 per cent) and almost twice as likely as people in employment (17 per cent). And the proportion of non-Irish nationals experiencing discrimination was 11pps higher than Irish nationals and 9pps higher than the general population (p.175).
In recent months we have seen concerning increases in anti-immigrant rhetoric. Those seeking to spread this rhetoric are using the legitimate concerns of communities experiencing multiple pre-existing crises of housing, welfare, and safety and security, to spread fear and incite hatred against immigrants. These crises pre-date Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and are largely linked to austerity policies introduced by Government following the Great Financial Crash in 2008.
Migration has become a normal feature of modern life and as we face increasing climatic disruptions as associated fallouts globally, we can expect to see more immigrants arriving to Ireland. Integration and participation are of vital importance as we adapt to the globalised world. Faced with an ageing population and skills gaps, not only does Ireland have a moral obligation to welcome immigrants, but also seeks to benefit from increased diversity and expanding workforce.
According to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance fifth Report on Ireland (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2019) while Ireland has made some progress in tackling racism in recent years, there is still more to be done, particularly in areas of hate speech and hate crimes; ethnic profiling; gender identity; supporting the needs of Travellers and Roma, particularly when it comes to accommodation; and supporting asylum seeker applications to be processed more efficiently and tackling specific areas of discrimination in Direct Provision.
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). For the 13.8 per cent of the population who are non-Irish nationals (CSO, 2022), achieving real integration requires concerted policy responses aimed at supporting education, job activation, tackling hate speech and racism and supporting cultural awareness.
There were 30,897 Irish Travellers in 2016, an increase of 5 per cent from 2011, only three per cent of whom were aged 65 and over, compared to 13.3 per cent for the general population (CSO, 2017a). Notwithstanding the statement of recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority, Travellers continue to face discrimination in education, employment, and accommodation, with a discernible gap in health over the life course (Watson, et al., 2017).
On the 26th February 2021, Government published a White Paper on ending Direct Provision, and replacing the system through the establishment of a new International Protection Support Service within four years (Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, 2021). This new system will support those applying for protection to integrate in Ireland from day one with health, education, housing and employment supports. We are now over halfway through the timeline provided by Government for the White Paper and there have been record numbers living in Direct Provision, with advocacy groups pointing to children within the system as being left behind in Budget 2023 (Children’s Rights Alliance, 2022).
The consequences of racism are very serious, increasing fear and insecurity. The European Network Against Racism(European Network against Racism (Ireland), 2018)noted that “Racism has a demonstrable impact on the lives of those targeted.... there is psychological impact, ... impact on their social connectedness, and economic impacts through for example increased costs or lost income.” This is unacceptable in a society that prides itself on its open and accepting character.
The National Action Plan Against Racism, while a welcome step, must be followed through with Government policy to eradicate existing two-tier systems and unequal treatment of communities in Ireland. In order for society to be truly welcoming towards immigrants policy and Government must be welcoming too.
While Social Justice Ireland greatly welcomes this long-awaited Plan, it must be resourced if it is to have any meaningful effect. Resourcing the Plan not only means ensuring sufficient resources to pay for additional staff within the relevant Government Departments, State Agencies and an Garda Síochána to undertake the actions for which they are responsible, but to provide training and supports for front-line staff to identify acts of racism and discrimination and to act accordingly.