We must fight Irish prejudice

The subdued reaction to the brutal murder of Marioara Rostas suggests that an undercurrent of racism is ingrained in Irish attitudes, writes Killian Forde

THE latest edition of the Garda Review contains a hard hitting editorial on the murder of Marioara Rostas, the 18-year-old Roma whose mutilated and violated body was found in the Wicklow Mountains in January after a four-year search.

In Jan 2008, after 72 hours of rape and torture by several men, she was shot dead. After three weeks in Ireland, she found herself in a pit of psychopaths initially disguised as good Samaritans.

Marioara Rostas was one of 15 children from Timisoara in western Romania. After a Ryanair flight to Dublin, she lived with her family in a derelict bungalow in Donabate, with no water or electricity. By day the family begged in the city streets, and Marioara, illiterate and without English, was an easy, “untraceable” target for an experienced criminal.

That Sunday afternoon on Lombard St, she disappeared, last seen by her brother Dumitru in the passenger seat of a silver Mondeo. It was three days later when the gardaí were informed of her disappearance, as it took her father that long to get a Roma interpreter.

One part of the Garda Review editorial examines the lack of reaction to her “depraved” murder death and asks “as a society, are we ambivalent towards the murder because the victim was a member of the Roma community?”.

It wonders: “Where are the outpourings of disgust that such a level of depravity could be committed here?”

Marioara, as a member of the Roma community, could have been long used to being victimised and discriminated against. The Roma — according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and Amnesty International — come under huge discrimination. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment. Their life is one of poverty, segregation, harassment, and marginalisation.

Both in the media and in conversations, Roma are routinely demonised and dehumanised. It is likely that this dehumanisation was a factor in the rape, torture, and murder of the girl. It is also likely that this dehumanisation was a factor in the indifference to the news and detail of her death.

Silas Weir Mitchell, the leading 19th-century American neurologist, believed that those who had become civilised had a reduced “capacity to suffer” and went on to claim that “the savage does not feel pain as we do”. His theory was used to support the ill treatment and torture of black slaves and Native Americans.

In parallel to this dehumanisation of Marioara are the stereotypes attached to European gypsy groups. Studies show the public believes they are dishonest, criminal, sly, dirty, and promiscuous.

Was there any underlying feeling that Marioara was somehow complicit in her own murder? Couple the dehumanisation and the stereotyping and what you have is both a disgusting murder and an indifferent reaction. A public reaction that could be suggesting that she was asking for it and that she didn’t really suffer that much.

It was only a few months after Marioara was being tortured in Dublin that we got the chance to tut-tut and shake our heads in amazement at other Europeans. Two Roma sisters living in Italy — Cristina and Violetta Djeordsevic — drowned at a beach. After the girls were pulled out of the water, a lifeguard pronounced them dead and beach towels put over them.

For the three hours before the ambulance arrived, sun holiday fun continued around their bodies. Couples on holidays continued with their picnics and a picture of the Roma girls lying on the beach with their feet poking from under their beach towel shrouds surrounded by indifference shocked the world.

The Garda Review calls for judges to be given “greater latitude for the sentences permissible for the most heinous crimes”. We agree and politicians could start by legislating to allow judges to introduce racism as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

This change would ensure that more serious incidents can be monitored in the courts, reassure immigrants that the state takes racism seriously and send a very clear message from government of their intolerance of intolerance.

We also feel that a crucial lesson to learn from this case is the need to have frontline gardaí trained in diversity awareness and have the resources available for translation on a 24/7 basis. There was a three-day gap between Marioara’s father going to the gardaí and them realising that he was reporting her missing. They mistakenly assumed he was asking had she been arrested.

As a society, we need to get serious about the levels of racism in the country. The Integration Centre believes the discrepancy between the official figures for racism and the actual experience of racism is in the region of 90%.

In 2010 the total number of racist incidents recorded by An Garda Síochana was 122. In England and Wales for the same year, it was 51,187.

England and Wales have a similar percentage of ethnic minorities to Ireland and the criteria for recording a racist incident with the police services of all jurisdictions is the same.

Yet, on a per person basis, these statistics suggest that England and Wales are 20 times more racist, an evidently unreasonable assumption. The experience of immigrants suggests something else.

In 2008, a European survey done by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that Ireland had one of the worst records for discrimination. More than half of those from Sub-Saharan Africa stated that they had suffered from discrimination. Ireland also scored highest from Eastern European residents in the country, with 26% claiming they had been victims of racism or discrimination.

By contrast, the corresponding figure for Eastern Europeans in Britain was only 11%.

In 2010 a survey of post primary teachers done by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Equality Authority showed that 46% of teachers were aware of racist incidents in the previous month.

In a survey carried out by Millward Brown Lansdowne last summer of TDs, 60% of them reported being exposed to racist sentiments whilst canvassing.

There will always be psychopaths. The Garda Review editorial and our proposed legislative changes won’t eradicate them but we hope they will raise awareness of the corrosive effect that racism can have in society and reduce its practice in any form.

* Killian Forde is CEO of The Integration Centre


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