Gardaí expect rise in reports of racist incidents

CLOSE to 200 racially motivated incidents have been reported to the Gardaí over the last two years.

Gardaí involved in tracking racist incidents and attacks expect a significant increase this year because they believe such attacks were still going unreported to the end of last year.

Provisional figures for 2003, released following a Dáil question from Labour's justice spokesman Joe Costello, show there were 68 reported incidents in 2003, more than half of them in the Dublin Metropolitan Region.

This was significantly down on the previous year, when there were more than 100 reported incidents.

However, Gardaí have cautioned that 2003 was the first full year in which a racially motivated incident was clearly defined to members of the force. The incidents include verbal abuse, slogans daubed on walls and physical assaults.

There has been at least one racist murder in recent years of a Chinese man and a number of serious assaults, including severe beatings and slashings.

A number of people came before the courts last year in connection with racist incidents. In one case, a Galway man who called a shop assistant a "f***ing Romanian" was jailed for two months.

Judge Conal Gibbons warned that anyone who comes before his court and is guilty of a similar offence would be going to prison.

"Anecdotally, there's strong evidence of an increase in expressions of hostility and racist remarks. Unquestionably, it's fairly widespread in areas where there is a reasonably high level of non-nationals," said Mr Costello.

He said a reduction in racism awareness funding for 2004 indicates the government's lack of interest in promoting tolerance.

This is a charge denied by the government. Despite the ending of the three year anti-racism awareness campaign that ended last year, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the government was committed to tackling racism and had supported a number of measures, including the Know Racism campaign, a national action plan, a consultative committee and a Garda Racial and Intercultural Office.

The two-person Garda office monitors incidents and advises some 140 ethnic liaison officers across the State.

An incident is defined as one that is perceived to be racist by the victim, a Garda or a witness.

In 2003, the number of incidents peaked at 11 in February. There was just one in December. The worst month over the two years was in April 2002 when there were 15.

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