“That Seanad Éireann:
- that tackling racism and promoting diversity is not just the responsibility of Government: everybody in Irish society, including individuals, organisations, businesses, governmental and non-governmental organisations have a responsibility to address racism and its impact on the people who experience it;
- that the programme for Government (2011-2016) states: “We will promote policies which integrate minority ethnic groups in Ireland, and which promote social inclusion, equality, diversity and the participation of immigrants in the economic, social, political and cultural life of their communities”;
- that the 2011 Report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated its concern at the lack of legislation proscribing racial profiling by the Garda Síochána and other law enforcement personnel;
- that the 2013 Report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that there are no provisions in Irish criminal law defining common offences of a racist or xenophobic nature as specific offences, nor is there any provision which provides for the racist motivation of a crime to be considered as an aggravating circumstance during the sentencing stage of a trial; and
- the inconsistent and unco-ordinated reporting of racist incidents in Ireland;
- the excellent work of the Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office (GRIDO) and supports its ongoing training of members of An Garda Síochána;
- the important research and data collection work of ENAR IRELAND (The Irish Network against Racism) and the quarterly publication of IReport.ie; and
- the work of non-governmental organisations in working with businesses and communities across Ireland to tackle racism;
calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality–
- to review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 in order to introduce provisions to deal with racist crimes including definitions of ‘racial hatred’;
- to consider ratification of European Conventions on Cyber Crime to ensure a robust response to online racism;
- to consider a second National Action Plan to Combat Racism;
- to establish a centralised database and the use of the Garda PULSE system to ensure there is accurate recording of the levels of racism; and
- to return to Seanad Éireann within six months to report on progress.”
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House. I was going to congratulate her but it is not she who has moved job; it is the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and I had intended to congratulate her. I know she is otherwise engaged in the other House. I also welcome our many guests in the Visitors Gallery, including representatives of Pavee Point, the European Network Against Racism, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Integration Centre, the NASC Immigrant Centre, An Cosán and Sports Against Racism Ireland, or SARI. I look forward to them engaging in the overall dialogue.
The Minister of State knows this is an important topic for consideration, and one that is often not too far from the news, whether in this country or in other jurisdictions. Racism is insidious and can arise from the lazy attitude we have to our own moral compass when we deal with others who are perhaps more vulnerable in our communities. The worst is the complacent approach when we do not take notice or make an objection to the casual remark that is hurtful or, indeed, racist to other people. How many times have we heard the phrase "I'm not racist but..."? This caveat gives permission to speak about someone else in an insulting and hurtful manner.
This motion is about us, in the Oireachtas, taking a stance and calling on the Government to take account of what we feel strongly about. Some action needs to be taken in order to encourage a more tolerant, inclusive society. As laid out in our motion, the tackling of racism and the promotion of tolerance and diversity is not just a responsibility of Government. On this occasion, we cannot just shrug our shoulders and leave it to the Minister of State and her colleagues to resolve on their own.
Everybody in Irish society, whether individuals, organisations, Government agencies or non-governmental organisations, has a responsibility to address racism and its impact on the people who experience it. There are excellent examples of actions taken by certain organisations, such as the "No room on board for racism and discrimination" campaign run by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Dublin Bus, the National Transport Authority and Dublin City Council, the legal reforms on racist crime with Integration Centre Ireland, and the "Show racism the red card" campaign by Sport Against Racism in Ireland, SARI.
The Government can do more to offer leadership and clarity by reviewing the legislation. This motion seeks an affirmative response from the Minister of State and I look forward to hearing her contribution. To remove the perceived ambiguity around racist remarks and incidents, there is no room for complacency in degrading fellow human beings. The intensified presence of social media in daily life has presented new avenues for hate speech. Pavee Point defines hate speech as speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender disability or sexual orientation. This week, a Facebook page was removed due to its racist nature and the comments it was garnering. The page was based on the idea of the Roma not being welcome in Waterford and, over the course of 72 hours, it amassed over 3,000 likes and a threat of violence. Countless examples of racism could be cited from social media and, in addition to the difficulty of calling anyone to account for his or her actions online, the reality of not being able to call people to account for racial hatred is ever present.
The first issue I wish to raise concerns data and the lack of a co-ordinated approach to documenting racist incidents and attitudes towards racism. The qualitative and quantitative information available is disjointed, disconnected and diffuse. The Government's data and reports on racist incidents differ from the data collated by other organisations. This motion attempts to deal with our lack of knowledge about the extent to which racism is an issue in Ireland and how it has increased or decreased over the past five years. That is a problem for us. The CSO states that the incidence of racist crime has decreased from 128 in 2009 to 92 in 2013. This covers all categories of crimes, including minor assaults, harassment, criminal damage and menacing phone calls. No crime was recorded under section 2 of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 in 2010, 2011 or 2013, although 12 such crimes were recorded in 2012. The Immigrant Council of Ireland's independent reporting system, through firstname.lastname@example.org, recorded an increase of 85% in cases to 144 in 2013, with a further 103 incidents reported since the start of 2014. The disparity between the CSO's figure for 2013 of 92 and the council's figure of 144 is clear. This is why we need a centralised partnership across Government and NGOs to accurately monitor incidents of race crimes.
This is only data, however. We also need to carry out a longitudinal study on attitudes towards ethnic groups and the level of xenophobia in society. Only last Wednesday, as we were preparing this motion, an article in The Guardian traced the rise of xenophobia in Britain since 1983. There was a bump in 2011, when 34% of respondents declared themselves somewhat prejudiced. That figure fell to 24% during the Olympic Games in 2012 and increased again to 30% in 2013. These are the kinds of data required in Ireland. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI, was established by the Council of Europe as an independent human rights monitoring body specialising in investigating racism and intolerance. Under the framework of its statutory activities, the ECRI conducts country-by-country monitoring work to analyse the situation in each member state in regard to racism and intolerance, and draws up suggestions and proposals for dealing with the problems identified. It published its third report in February 2013, and we have cited one of its findings in our motions.
According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, FRA, Ireland has a good system for registering racist criminal offences, a fact which was also acknowledged in the ECRI’s third report. According to the official statistics, 128 racist incidents were reported in 2009 and 122 were reported in 2010. These statistics indicate that the most common types of racist incidents are minor assault, public order offences and criminal damage. In 2009 the FRA analysed the discrimination in the everyday life experienced by immigrant and ethnic minority groups across the EU. For Ireland, a sample of sub-Saharan Africans was surveyed. The ECRI noted that 26% of the respondents reported that in the previous 12 months they had fallen victim to racially motivated crimes involving serious harassment, threat or assault. Such a high estimate led the ECRI to consider that the official statistics do not correctly reflect the reality of the number of racially motivated offences in Ireland. In its report of February 2013 the ECRI strongly encouraged the Irish Government to improve and supplement the existing arrangements for collecting data on racist incidents and to work with civil society groups to find a standardised and centralised way of documenting and reporting attitudes towards xenophobia, racist incidents and crimes.
Without data there can be only a skewed attempt at policy making. Without proactive policy making there can be no coherent vision of what we as a society, whether in government, in the Oireachtas or in civil society, can do to improve the human interaction between us all in Ireland. A quantitative study that should be acknowledged and praised in this House is iReport.ie, which is produced on a quarterly basis by the European Network Against Racism, ENAR, Ireland. ENAR has been operating since July 2013 and its third report is due in a couple of weeks. This second quarterly report, as with the first report, demonstrates that a wide range of groups in Irish society experience racism on a daily basis. With reporting rates for people who identify as black or of African descent highest in this report, the racism experienced by Travellers, Roma, Muslims, migrants and minority ethnic Irish was also shown to be unacceptably high. ENAR Ireland’s research has identified a wide gap in the number of racist incidents actually occurring and those reported to any official body, including An Garda Síochána.
The iReport system goes some way towards closing this gap, although in common with all racist incident monitoring systems it is limited in its ability to capture sufficient data to support broad claims about overall rates with any degree of certainty. With these limitations in mind, the figures demonstrate that racism is common to different communities in Ireland and that manifestations of racism may vary depending on the background of the person experiencing it. The figures suggest that gender, disability and sexuality may impact on people’s experiences of racism, requiring further investigation into the relationship between hate incidents and variations in these intersecting identities. ENAR reported a total of 188 incidents in six months in 2013. This suggests that racist incidents are increasing and there is evidence of under reporting. This figure contrasts significantly with the official Government figures released by the CSO and the Department of Justice and Equality. Racist incidents in Ireland appear far more common than the official figures suggest but we need clarity on attitudinal change and the number of incidents occurring. I will deal with the issue of legislation in my concluding response.