Say No to Racism

Posted on Wednesday, 5 June 2019
No to racism

The European Network against Racism reported 256 incidents of reported racism (it should be noted that not all incidents will be reported) in the latter half of 2017, with almost half of these (113) concerning online abuse.  A further 23 incidents involved racial assaults, 35 cases involved ongoing harassment, 11 cases involved threats to kill and 20 cases involved ‘other threats’.  The number of racist crimes reported is increasing.  This is concerning in and of itself, however when considered in the context of reports of racism being made against five politicians and 10 newspapers publishing racist items in just six months of 2017, people and institutions who play a significant role in shaping the national consciousness, we may anticipate a further rise.

A 2017 study by the National Youth Council of Ireland on young people from minority ethnic backgrounds identified racism and exclusion as a “normal” feature of their lives.  It also described the extra stresses of developing identity, belonging and integration in a different culture to their parents.  The report highlights the key role that appropriately trained youth workers can play in supporting young people from minorities, and in promoting interculturalism to all young people.

The consequences of racism are very a serious, increasing fear and insecurity.  The European Network Against Racism  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.  But racism is not only socially damaging, it is also harmful to the economy.  As Ireland seeks to attract FDI and is sourcing workers from all over the world to meet skills shortages, it is imperative that racism in all areas is definitively addressed.

The Migrant Integration Strategy was published by Government in early 2017.  The strategy proposes a wide range of initiatives across all Government Departments, including language courses, producing documents in multiple languages, promoting integration via sports, culture and community funding programmes and specific supports for labour market integration.  It also undertakes to monitor and review current procedures in a wide range of areas.  A welcome development is training for frontline staff in State agencies in anti-racism and cultural awareness.  The first report under the Strategy, published in November 2018, showed that migrants were more likely to be at work than their Irish peers (the working age employment rate of migrants in 2017 was 69.6 per cent, compared to 66.4 per cent for Irish nationals), they were more likely to have a third level education (the share of 25-34 year old migrants with a tertiary education was 56 per cent, compared to 51 per cent for Irish nationals), but their median annual net income (needs adjusted) was lower at €17,804 compared to €20,890 for Irish people (McGinnity, et al., 2018).  Higher education, higher employment and lower disposable income is not an attractive proposition for someone looking to relocate to Ireland.  Government needs to address areas of discrimination to provide a support environment for our migrant workers.


There were 30,897 Irish Travellers in 2016, an increase of 5 per cent from 2011.  The long-sought recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority was achieved in 2016, however, Travellers continue to face discrimination in education, employment and accommodation, with a widening gap in health over the life. 

According to the 2016 Census, education levels amongst Travellers remain low, with 62 per cent having primary education or less, 13 per cent having completed second level and only one per cent having a college degree.  Eighty per cent of Travellers reported as being unemployed, compared with 13 per cent for non-Travellers.  Watson, et al., 2017 suggest that much of this is directly related to low levels of education. Traveller health is also poor with 19 per cent categorised as having a disability compared to 13.5 per cent of the general population. The suicide rate amongst Traveller men is almost seven times higher than in the general population, and this is an indicator of a serious mental health issues in the Traveller Community.  Overall life expectancy for Travellers is low with only 7.5 per cent of Travellers aged over 54 years compared with 23 per cent of the overall population.  Housing continues to be problematic for Travellers with Census 2016 figures showing that 39 per cent of Traveller accommodation was overcrowded compared with 6 per cent for all households. In contrast to previous trends, the number of caravans being used increased by 10 per cent between 2016 and 2011.  517 Travellers (1.7 per cent) were recorded as homeless on Census night 2016 compared with 0.1 per cent of the overall population.

According to the European Network Against Racism (Ireland), incidents of racism against Travellers indicate a more concerted and targeted approach, with reports of pubs collectively closing in an area around the time of a Traveller funeral and Travellers being excluded from events having produced paid tickets.  The report for 2018 has yet to be published, but it is likely that incidents have increased in the past year.

The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy was published in 2017.  This lists 149 actions across Government under the headings of cultural identity, education, employment, children and youth, health, gender equality, anti-discrimination, accommodation and access to public services.  Pavee Point notes that Traveller services were disproportionately hit during the austerity programme, and that reversing the impact of those cuts will require concerted action. Social Justice Ireland calls for the full implementation of the new Strategy, in particular in the critical areas of education and accommodation.  In July 2018, Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, provided an update on the Strategy in a Written Response to a Parliamentary Question that, at that point, work had begun on 130 of the 149 actions and further updates predominantly concerning the working of subcommittees.  In light of the levels of discrimination faced by members of the Traveller community, more urgent action is needed to protect and support Traveller people.

Migrant Workers

After a significant fall between 2006 and 2012 the numbers of non-Irish nationals in employment has begun to increase, and in 2018 surpassed pre-Recession levels  (Table 1).

Source: CSO Labour Force Survey Series Statbank 2006-2018, QLF26.

Note:  All data for Q3 of year

Census 2016 reports that 342,000 people in the work force were non-Irish nationals, with the four leading origins being the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Romania.  Forty-two percent of all non-Irish national workers were employed in four main sectors, namely Wholesale and Retail Trade (45,812), Accommodation and Food Services (40,859), Manufacturing Industries (36,387) and Human Health and Social Work (21,779). In terms of socio-economic groupings, nearly half (47 per cent) were classified in non-manual, manual skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled occupations, compared with 39 per cent of Irish nationals.  This is at variance with the high educational qualifications of immigrants, indicating that many are employed below their skill level.  There is a need to accelerate the appropriate recognition of qualifications gained in other countries, so that migrants can work in their fields of expertise.  Non-EEA nationals require a work permit to take up employment in Ireland in sectors where there is a skills shortage.  10,518 such permits were issued in 2018, a decrease of 7 per cent, with the majority in the medical /nursing or services sector including IT.

There has been criticism of Irish immigration policy and legislation specifically due to the lack of support for the integration of immigrants and a lack of adequate recognition of the permanency of immigration. The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland has highlighted specific areas of concern regarding vulnerable employment especially in live-in hospitality, domestic and care work, where migrants are over-represented.  They note that the issuing of work permits primarily to employers, rather than employees, ties the employee to a specific employer, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking, exploitation and reducing their labour market mobility. The new General Employment Permit introduced in 2018, will go some way towards addressing this issue, however its implementation is yet to be tested to any great extent.

There are up to 26,000 undocumented migrants working in Ireland, one in five of whom has been here for over ten years. Without credentials they are denied access to basic services and vulnerable to exploitation by employers. In October 2018, Government announced a new scheme to regularise undocumented people who came to Ireland as students between 2005 and 2010.  This was welcomed by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland as a ‘long-awaited, life-changing’ scheme, with calls for ‘clarity, flexibility and common sense’ from policy makers in their implementation of the scheme.

The second report on Ireland’s performance on implementing the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings confirms that trafficking is on the increase in Ireland, mainly for sexual and labour exploitation.  It suggests that there is a mismatch between the demand for workers and legal migration options for those workers which can create the conditions for trafficking.  They note a high number of undocumented migrants working in personal care, hospitality, fisheries, agriculture (including illegal activities such as cannabis grow houses).  While all these individuals may not have specifically been trafficked into Ireland, their precarious employment conditions put them at a serious disadvantage and restrict their choices.  The report notes that the Government’s second action plan on the topic has been published but there is no indication of the agencies responsible for the different actions, nor is there an indication of the budget allocation, or a plan for external monitoring and evaluation.  In their response the Government of Ireland outlined their plans to support victims of human trafficking in Ireland, including the enactment of statutory protections, offering a period of recovery and reflection backed by training of front-line officers who may come into contact with victims of trafficking, providing access to legal supports for victims of trafficking, and improving victim supports. 

In light of this new report from ECRI, it is clear that Ireland has some distance to go to be a fully inclusive society, respectful of the rights of all inhabitants.  Social Justice Ireland welcomes this report and urges Government to act on its recommendations to do the just thing in an era of populism and anti-immigrant sentiment.