RACISM is a subject that makes many people in Ireland uncomfortable and embarrassed as a subject for discussion. It is far too often ignored or dismissed as not being present here in any significant manner.
But the reality is that our traditional Céad Míle Fáilte welcome is not experienced by everyone who arrives on our shores, especially those who are visibly different from the majority of the Irish population.
A report reveals the shocking reality of everyday racism in Ireland.
The highest ever number of racist assaults in this country was recorded in the second half of 2015, according to the European Network Against Racism Ireland.
Figures from the Enar Ireland iReport, which first began collecting data in 2013, show a total of 165 incidents reported, including 25 assaults and 13 cases involving serious threats to harm or kill.
The incidents also include public and sexual harassment, online abuse and discrimination in employment.
According to the Director of ENAR Ireland, Shane O’Curry, even these figures represent only the tip of the iceberg, as racism is significantly under-reported in Ireland.
Apart from the rise in recorded incidents of abuse and hostility, what is most worrying is that the report also shows that we are structurally and institutionally unprepared to deal with racism.
In the first instance, we have few official statistics on racism. Without them, there will never be any significant State response to the problem.
The gardaí also appear to be woefully unprepared to deal with reports of racist abuse and hostility. According to the report’s author, Dr Lucy Michael, of Ulster University, there are “ongoing problems both with the recording of racist crimes by An Garda Síochána and communication with victims after reporting”. They could learn a lot from the PSNI, which has a robust and effective means of dealing with hate crime, as well as legislation that allows a judge impose a harsher sentence for those aggravated by hostility.
Dr Michael also points to direct racist discrimination in a range of public services detailed in the report and reaches the shocking conclusion that “there is a very clearly a culture of ignoring racism in our society amongst our public servants, and of perpetrating it”.
If that is, indeed, the case, we need a serious response by government and legislators. In contrast to the lack of State response, there are lots of good things happening among civil society groups and NGOs.
We have no specific legislation to deal with racism. Equality laws are confined mostly to discrimination in employment and housing, while there is currently no provision within Irish legislation to deal with racist crime. It is at the discretion of judges to consider a racist motive as a factor when determining a sentence in a case.
The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 is clearly not fit for purpose and should be amended or replaced.
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