Intolerant society - Racist abuse levels should alarm us all

The report of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency makes alarming reading in relation to the apparent level of intolerance in this country.

The Irish Human Rights Commission is seriously concerned about the findings showing that Ireland has one of the worst records in the EU in the area of racial discrimination and abuse.

The Fundamental Rights Agency survey was the first ever EU-wide study into the experience of discrimination and racist crimes. The GALLUP organisation interviewed 23,500 people of ethnic and immigrant backgrounds throughout the EU.

The survey found that 73% of those questioned of Sub-Saharan African origin and 25% of those from new EU member states considered that discrimination based on ethnic or immigrant origin is widespread in this country, which ranked among the worst ten of the 27 member states.

Ireland ranked among the worst five in the treatment of Sub-Saharan Africans, who experience racist crime and victimisation, such as theft, assault or harassment. The survey found that immigrants avoided certain areas and places for fear of being assaulted or harassed because of their background.

People probably do not realise the real level of discrimination because the survey found that 82% of respondents did not report their most recent experience of discrimination.

Everybody has undoubtedly heard racist comments and complaints, with the result that it would be very surprising if the immigrant people in this country did not experience some of this, but this should not be taken as representative of the views of most, or even a majority of the Irish people.

People engaged in such intolerance are probably a very distinct minority. Irish people have had a reputation for tolerance for generations, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa. While other countries tried to build empires in the Third World, Ireland sent proportionately more of her people to educate and help the natives in those underdeveloped countries than probably any other country.

This is a record of which we can be justifiably proud, and it is incumbent on us all to ensure than a small, vocal, intolerant clique is not allowed to spoil that record. Such intolerance is particularly dangerous in the current economic downturn, in which some evil or unthinking individuals seek to rationalise their own inadequacies by blaming innocent immigrants.

It is important for our own self-respect that such discrimination should be exposed and highlighted, so that steps can be taken to ensure that it is eliminated. We should do this in our own interest. If we do not stand up for the rights of others, then others will not respect our rights, and we will no longer deserve that respect.


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