Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Jun 2014

Racism in Ireland: Motion

I move:

“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 stopracism@immigrantcouncil.ie, 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.

I relish the opportunity to second this motion, and heartily commend Senator Mac Conghail on bringing it before the House. Since 2008, with the closure of NCCRI and the ending of the National Action Plan on Racism, and in spite of the excellent and progressive work to which the motion refers, I have no doubt that Ireland has lagged behind in its responsibilities to protect and promote the human rights of the ethnic, racial and national minorities, including Travellers, in Irish society.

People are being violated because we lag behind. This harms our society and, equally, our economy. Most of all, it places an iron cage around the potentially productive and happy lives of Irish citizens and residents who are culturally different from those of us who are white Irish.

In a comment piece in The Irish Times at the beginning of the year, Mr. Shane O'Curry, director of the European Network Against Racism Ireland, ENAR Ireland, to which my colleague has already referred, wrote, "Language can so easily be used to dehumanise other ethnic groups". As we are all aware, an extraordinary woman who used language to humanise and wrote words to save generations and heal passed away last week. Ms Maya Angelou finally wrote a book at 40 years of age because, as she said herself, "there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you." With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she broke her silence and, by doing so, set off a roar throughout the globe that still reverberates.

To prepare for this debate, I went to Tallaght west to a meeting organised by An Cosán to discuss racism in Ireland with people who have personally been affected by it. I met 15 extraordinary individuals and was privileged to hear their stories. Some of them are present alongside An Cosán's CEO, Ms Liz Waters. I will bring their voices - their song in the sense that Maya Angelou spoke of singing - to the centre stage of my remarks. I applaud their generosity and courage in sharing them with me. I am in no doubt that, in light of them bearing witness, the Minister for Justice and Equality needs to do at the very least what we have called on her to do.

Why should Ireland introduce provisions to deal with racist crimes? Senator Mac Conghail will also address this question. It is evident from the research conducted by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI, and ENAR Ireland that our justice system is unacceptably biased. Many of the testimonies from my meeting at An Cosán support the same. I will share a few of their stories with the Minister. One of the meeting's participants had witnessed an incident where members of the Garda physically assaulted a man who was of Islamic faith for no other obvious reason. The witness, a man of African descent, approached the gardaí involved and told them he had witnessed the assault and would be willing to testify against them. Subsequently, he was arrested. To this day, he has not been informed of the reason for his arrest despite a number of requests for same. We must ask ourselves whether this would have happened were he white and Irish.

It was also mentioned that the crimes against foreign residents were a lesser priority for the Garda. One woman at our meeting stated that crimes against such people were not solved, leading to people becoming frustrated and taking the law into their own hands and the media subsequently reporting that all immigrants are criminals. During the past three years, there had been 13 break-ins at the woman's house but none at the house of her neighbour, who was Irish. She stated that the Garda was doing nothing to help her.

Another woman spoke of the need for legal reform and the delivery of justice. She mentioned a saying in her country, namely, "If there is no law, there is no sin". She stated that there needed to be a law that prohibited racism in all its forms, starting with the shouting of racist slurs and name calling. She also stated that there should be a punishment for racist incidents and that these should be reported as a separate issue, but that gardaí were laughing at people who tried to report racism. She continued by telling us about the community effort in her local area where people were encouraged to report racist incidents to the Garda. She knows that many people did so. When they requested information at the end of the year on the levels of racist incidents in the area, though, the Garda report showed no recording of racist incidents.

According to ENAR Ireland, the reporting of racist incidents is unacceptably low in Ireland. Some 11% are reported to the Garda, with 18% reported to NGOs and other authorities. Of those who reported to the Garda, the satisfaction levels with its response were low. After hearing this woman, we also need to ask how many racist incidents were there that were reported to the Garda but did not appear in its reports.

As Senator Mac Conghail has discussed at length, there is a need to establish a centralised database to ensure an accurate recording of levels of racism. This must happen in order to reform fundamentally the current, inconsistent and unco-ordinated reporting of racist incidents where the victims do not receive the public support and confidence that is required.

It is critical that the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, bring a new vision and energy to tackling ongoing racism. I will conclude with Maya Angelou's own words. She wrote:

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

I move amendment No. 1:

“To delete all words after “That Seanad Éireann:” and substitute the following:


- 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”; and

- that a number of proposals have been put forward directed to strengthening existing legislation and other arrangements in this area, including proposals for specific offences and/or treating racist crime as an aggravating circumstance in the context of the criminal law as well as proposals in the area of racial profiling and regarding the reporting of racist incidents;


- the work which has been done at Government level and in the wider public sector to combat racism, including through the National Action Plan Against Racism 2005 - 2008 and subsequent measures as well as the work of the Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office; and

- the important contribution of non-governmental organisations in working with businesses and the communities across Ireland to tackle racism;


- the ongoing work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on integration, multi-culturalism and combating racism;

- the review launched by the Minister for Justice and Equality on our approach to the integration of our migrant population with a view to the development of a new and updated overall integration strategy in keeping with the Government’s commitment to the successful integration of migrants; and

- the establishment of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission with enhanced resources and powers and, in particular, the role envisaged in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill currently before the Oireachtas in relation to support for programmes of activities and projects for the promotion of the integration of migrants and other minorities and respect for diversity and cultural difference; and

calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality–

- to take forward work on the review of our approach to integration and to ensure that measures to strengthen existing arrangements for combating racism and xenophobia are examined as part of that review taking account of the outcome of the public consultation process and the results of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality’s own examination of this issue;

- to consider, in particular, the following issues for the purpose of strengthening our approach in this regard:

- measures directed to promoting intercultural awareness;

- strengthening the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989;

- ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and its Protocol on Racism and Xenophobia;

- how work begun under the National Action Plan to Combat Racism 2005-2008 can continue to be taken forward; and

- the reporting and recording of racist incidents in order to ensure the most complete picture possible of the situation; and

to return to Seanad Éireann to report on progress on these matters and on the review of integration policy currently underway.”.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House. She is a regular contributor on these important issues. I thank our colleagues and friends in the Independent Taoiseach's nominees group, particularly Senators Mac Conghail and Zappone, for proposing this valuable Private Members' motion. The Government is proposing an amendment, but not because it disagrees in any way with the sentiments expressed by the Senators. Rather, technical issues must be addressed, as the motion would require that significant amendments be made to a great deal of legislation that the Government is reviewing. The Minister of State will outline in her response the actions the Government is taking to deal with this menace.

The racism, racist comments and racially motivated gestures and provocation to be found in society are unacceptable. Unfortunately, though, they are the reality. Members of ethnic minorities and the Traveller community can give wholesale testimonials of what happens. In a modern, civilised and so-called equal society, one would expect tolerance to be something that could be taken for granted. Unfortunately, it is not. Many people suffer racial slurs and abuse in silence and do not have the courage to go to the Garda to make complaints or seek help or justice. Many young people among minority groups also suffer in silence because of their fear of bullies, etc.

The House has discussed cyberbullying, homophobic bullying and so on at length. It is all interlinked. I am fully aware of the Government's deep commitment to dealing with this issue. I look forward to the Minister of State's response to the motion. It will be detailed and constructive.

To this day, people with disabilities suffer this type of inappropriate behaviour, commentary, etc. Many do not speak out. For one reason or another, they are afraid of bullies. The young people going through this in silence are the ones who really need support.

This motion is timely and important because we need to continue raising these issues at every opportunity if we are to increase public awareness of what is happening in certain of society's underbellies. People have a right to go about their business free from racial abuse and intimidation. Some people in Ireland have travelled across the world and enjoyed different cultures and environments. They may have been treated badly, but in many cases they were treated with utter respect. Of all countries, we should be a leader in terms of tolerance. We should set the standard, not follow it. As a nation, the majority of us are tolerant and giving and embrace multiculturalism, diversity and minorities. However, the small minority of people who are not need to be dealt with firmly.

We need to ensure that there is proper education of young people in order to ensure they are aware of the richness that minorities bring. We need to ensure that we start the process at primary school level, the place where we teach and foster a culture of tolerance, equality and respect.

Big organisations need to play their part. It is worth pointing out in this debate the work done in this area by the GAA, as an association. We all remember the matches last year where the big screen in Croke Park showed the word "respect" as a key word. Obviously the GAA can do an awful lot more. All of us have a responsibility in this area. All organisations within this country that influence public opinion have responsibilities, particularly in the area of sports.

I commend my colleagues on tabling the motion. If Seanad Éireann does nothing else but give a forum for debating, discussing and helping create resolution to this type of menaces in society then we will have done a very good period of work.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for a less adversarial debate than we are used to. My group agrees with the motion and will support it. However, I question the need for an amendment at all but appreciate what Senator Conway has said. The motion reminds me of the thing that I hated the most about being in government. I refer to motions being dealt with in a self-congratulatory tone and approved by Cabinet as a way of saying how good a job we were doing. Instead of doing something, as proposed by the Independent Senators, we propose that the motion might be considered or reviewed.

Sadly, Ireland is a nation of racists due to inaction in the past. While the 1989 Act was somewhat appropriate for its day it is outdated now and falls well short of a modern society, particularly one as cosmopolitan as Ireland has become and demands.

I take no pleasure from saying we are a nation of racists. I say that because there are not many of us who can honestly say that we have availed of the opportunity for our child, brother or ourselves, to sit beside a Traveller at school, had a sister or daughter bring a Muslim boyfriend home or had friends bring their gay friends home, for example. These are all things that, traditionally in Ireland, are frowned upon yet we like to come in here and pontificate about how bad racism is and we all aspire not to have a racist society. We all support campaigns like the GAA's initiatives called "Respect" and "Show racism the red card", which FIFA and UEFA have also done throughout the world. They are noble causes.

Have we made any real progress combatting racism on the ground? I do not think that we have because I have not seen a great level of integration. Every town has different ethnic groups who stick predominantly together. We do not invite them into our communities and into our day-to-day lives and, equally, they are not very becoming in welcoming us into their communities. I do not mean that they are racist. I mean we have segregation circumstantially, perhaps not by design, but that is what is happening.

On a personal level, I am not sure we will ever bridge the gap until we break down barriers and integrate. That will not happen until, for example, the Filipino community, who famously get together on O'Connell Street on Sundays, do not meet there anymore and, instead, go to St. Stephen's Green to mix with a bunch of Irish people, attend football matches in Croke Park or whatever. We all aspire to and like the idea of that taking place. What are we prepared to do to achieve that aim, in practice? That is where all Irish people are guilty of falling short. We can have as many Acts of the Oireachtas and initiatives as we like but in terms of practice, on the ground, who will invite Travellers into their home, or invite the Muslim community into their church? Who will invite various other ethnic groups to share in their everyday life? We will always have racism in a way that we do not want and in a way that we will not accept until such time as we conquer ways to integrate and share our everyday lives together.

I remember one very good thing that happened on radio. I am sure that the Senator will be here later. I do not mean to mention her while she is not in the House but I will do so in a positive manner. I refer to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and her work as a broadcaster. I remember when she worked with the "Pat Kenny Show" she spent a week with a Nigerian family in Dundalk, I think. I am sure she will correct the record if I am wrong. I found her radio report hugely informative for me as an individual and citizen of Ireland because I did not know about the day-to-day lives of Nigerian people who came to live in Ireland. I learned about the struggles they had to put up with and their struggle to put their children through school and college.

The understanding that we have as individuals is closed. It was Orwell who said that all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. We are all happy with that kind of imperfection in life and that is what we must strive to overcome. I am not sure how we will do so or what initiative will work but it will be by practising rather than by Acts of the Oireachtas.

In terms of getting over some of the issues, perception is a big issue. For example, every town in Ireland probably has a number of people with refugee status. There is a perception that such people all get social welfare payments and people say "I am entitled to invalidity pension because everybody is getting it who has come in as a refugee", or "Everybody is getting jobseeker's allowance so why can't I get family income supplement when I know that a family from such a country who are staying in Globe House in Sligo, for example, are getting it?". That attitude breeds the kind of hatred that we all want to get away from.

Equally, when my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, commented on an issue he was very wrongly picked up and very wrongly scrutinised by the media because he made reference to the fact that quite a large number of taxi drivers who operate after hours are Nigerian. That is fine but again the perception needs to be explained to people. Fair play to them for being prepared to do the work. They work hard and provide a service so they are entitled to do the work. The Senator is the most fair-minded person I know and is not remotely racist. We must begin to explain these challenges to society. We must say "Here is why there are so many taxi drivers who happen to be Nigerian, and here is why there are so many refugees on social welfare payments or whatever." We must explain to the rest of society what is actually going on.

I do not believe that anybody should be allowed into Ireland. I do not mean allowed in Ireland. I mean nobody should be left in Ireland and kept here in limbo while awaiting refugee status or whatever and not be allowed to work. That situation breeds further resentment. The vast majority of these people would like to contribute in terms of taxation and so on. In addition, their working would help combat racism. How many of us work side by side with foreign nationals? Not many; very few, in fact. Allowing them to work can lead to integration.

I support the motion and the spirit in which it was put forward. However, I do not support the amendment because it is classic Government of the day stuff. Fianna Fáil was no better when it was in government in that sense. I regret the fact that the Government side cannot just accept the motion tabled by the Independent Senators as a target for all of us to work towards. We have a lot of challenges in this area. I am not sure we are even close to the kind of integration and acceptance that we need to be. In that regard, we need to be guided by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and I welcome Mr. Jerry O'Connor and his colleagues from the council who are present. I also welcome the delegation from Pavee Point and the other groups that Senator Mac Conghail mentioned. They are the people at the coalface who know the situation. Clearly, there is work to be done by both sides in pulling it all together. I believe that it can be achieved but only if we strive for a level of integration that does not remotely exist at the moment in terms of sharing the experience, mutually, of our everyday lives. The solution to racism lies in integration. Please God, we will come up with some solutions through conducting negotiations, with the body that I have mentioned, in order to meet that challenge.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, to the House. She is always welcome and is a regular attendee here.

I commend Senators Mac Conghail, Zappone and their colleagues, the Independent Taoiseach nominees' group, for putting forward a motion on this important issue. I also commend them on their highly articulate speeches. It is nice to speak on a motion where we all agree with its sentiments. I also welcome the NGOs represented in the Visitors Gallery. They are the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the European Network Against Racism, Pavee Point and others. It is good to see the Seanad used in this way.

There is very little difference between the Government's counter motion and the Independent Senators' motion.

As there is often discussion to try to arrive at an agreed wording, I hope we will not get bogged down in differences. They have the same origins and both seek to ensure progress on the work we can all do together to combat racism and promote integration. They note that tackling racism and promoting diversity are not just the responsibility of the Government but of everybody in society.

Both motions quote the commitment in the programme for Government, made in 2011, to 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 community. Clearly, a great deal more must be done to fulfil that commitment, but the counter-motion which I second acknowledges what has been done, what is ongoing and what commitments can be made. I hope the Minister will give a commitment to return to the Seanad to report progress on the issues we have raised in this Chamber and that we will receive that report within a six month period.

In addition to a general commitment to promote integration and tackle racism and xenophobia, some specific issues were raised which I will discuss. The first is the issue of hate speech and the need to strengthen the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. I will return to that issue, but it is separate from that of hate crime. There is no doubt they can be related, but tackling hate crimes requires different legislation. I refer to racially motivated assaults and so forth. We must also examine racial profiling, an issue I raised last week in the Second Stage debate on the DNA Bill. There is a concern that the new powers and the DNA database could be used in a way that will bring about racial profiling; therefore, we must ensure there are safeguards in the Bill against this. There is also the issue of the reporting of racist incidents and the difficulty in gathering data. All of these issues are critical and require somewhat separate treatment.

The Government's motion also acknowledges the ongoing work of the Oireachtas joint committee on justice, of which Senators Martin Conway and Katherine Zappone and I are members. I am glad to point out that a key priority of our work programme for this year which we agreed at our meeting today is to examine how best to promote integration and multiculturalism and how best to combat racism. The Chairman of the committee, Deputy David Stanton, is due to receive an award on Africa Day next Saturday, a Metro Éireann award in recognition of the work of the committee. I believe it is the first time a committee of the Oireachtas has received such an award; therefore, we are very proud of it. There should be an acknowledgement of what has been done and what still needs to be done. The new citizenship ceremonies are a hugely important symbolic change that was made by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, to promote integration. I have many friends who have gone through these ceremonies and they have told me how moving and powerful they are. It is a very symbolic way of welcoming new communities to Ireland and a huge improvement. Under the old system involving a declaration in the District Court, one waited until the end of the criminal law list before standing up to engage in a very technical procedure in a dusty courtroom.

The direct provision system should be mentioned. The Seanad has had debates on that issue, but clearly more must be done to ensure the integration of asylum seekers and tackle the lengthy delays where families are in direct provision accommodation for years. A cross-departmental group was agreed to by the Cabinet in February to examine the general approach to the integration of migrants. That group will also look at a strong anti-racism strategy.

To return to the specific issues of hate speech and the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, others have spoken about the flaws in that 1989 legislation. The critical issue with the legislation is that it is impossible to secure a conviction under it. The mens rea test is too high. We have seen instances of what appears to be hate speech to any objective lay person, but prosecutions have failed because they could not get over this hurdle. Clearly, the Act must be revised. The Constitutional Convention this year looked at replacing the blasphemy offence in the Constitution and the archaic, yet recent, statutory definition of blasphemy introduced by the former Minister, Mr. Dermot Ahern, in the Defamation Act, bizarrely, with a revamped Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act which would deal with hate speech on grounds that would include religion and ethnicity.

Hate crimes require different treatment and probably different legislation. I acknowledge the work and research of my colleague in the University of Limerick, Jennifer Schweppe, on this issue. There are different views on how best to tackle hate crimes such as racially motivated assaults, racially motivated public order offences, criminal damage offences and racially motivated homicides, of which there have been some in Ireland. Does one deal with them through the creation of specific new offences or through sentencing provisions providing specific grounds for aggravation? Ireland has traditionally had a discretionary based approach to sentencing. As we have not provided specific guidelines for judges in legislation, perhaps we might examine that issue. Our judges have robustly rejected any attempt to plead racist motivation as a provocation defence in homicide cases. I can think of two high profile cases in which this was attempted and I am glad the judge rejected it. However, we must look carefully at how best to tackle hate crimes. Ireland has received adverse comment internationally for not including something in its legislation to deal with this issue. The Minister of State recently signed the Idaho Declaration of Intent, on 14 May, which commits Ireland to considering legislation on hate crimes based on sexuality and gender identity, which I welcome, but we must look carefully at this issue. This is acknowledged in the Government's motion.

Non-governmental organisations, NGOs, are doing immense work on the reporting and collating of data, but we clearly require a much better system. The idea of placing all racist incidents on the PULSE system might not work, especially as some might not meet the hurdle of being a criminal offence, but we must have a system in place, whereby we can collate data for racist incidents generally. It is hugely serious if somebody is subject to racist abuse and even if it does not fall into a category of a criminal offence, we must ensure there is a way of reporting and recording it.

All Members agree on the need for a new national action plan. The action plan for the period 2005 to 2008 clearly continues to inform ongoing work at governmental level, but we require a new and revised national action plan.

To conclude on a positive note, the recent European elections resulted in a rise for those on the far right across European countries, including the UKIP in Britain and Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France, whereas Ireland has not experienced that rise of political xenophobia and racism. We might have what one guide book rather disparagingly referred to as a particularly crude and ignorant form of racism, while others have spoken eloquently about appalling incidents of racism in Ireland, but at least we do not have the type of organised racist political activity which has sadly risen to the fore in other countries.

I thank Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone for tabling this important motion. It was tabled within 24 hours of the First Minister of Northern Ireland having to apologise to the Muslim community. I believe he apologised genuinely and profusely to the Imam, Dr. Raied Al-Wazzan, in Belfast last evening. He regretted the incident which had been caused by the speech of Pastor McConnell in Belfast.

On the happier side, I think of the installation of President Higgins, when representatives of all Christian traditions, as well as Muslims and Jews, participated in the ceremony, as they do in the annual Easter Monday commemoration at Arbour Hill. It would be very useful for Irish society if representatives of the Hindu, Islamic and Jewish traditions were seen and heard more by people and if their traditions were explained to the wider community. We want to build friendships with those who have come to this country. There are some great successes in that regard. President Obama was warmly received here, while Kader Asmal, a colleague of mine and Senator Ivana Bacik, was a major community figure. There was Anna Lo's contribution to the Chinese and ethnic communities in Northern Ireland. Paul McGrath and Phil Babb were two of most popular footballers who ever played for Ireland. There is also the success of anti-racism campaigns in sport, in which respect the FAI and the GAA have been mentioned.

We must get to know one another.

The happy and warm events I have described would contrast sharply with what happened decades earlier at the funeral of the former President Douglas Hyde. On that occasion, people either stayed away or remained outside the cathedral as a result of the fact that he was a member of a different tradition, namely, the Church of Ireland. We are learning and we will try our best to help all of the organisations that are seeking to combat racism. The presentation made earlier today was most impressive, particularly in the context of the garda involved trying to recruit Senator Ó Clochartaigh to deal with the problem.

He was a sergeant actually.

Everybody is welcome and I am delighted Senator Bacik referred to the citizenship ceremonies which were introduced by the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. I still recall people waiting at the back of the District Court until all of those who had committed burglaries, etc., had been dealt with before they could be sworn in as Irish citizens. The new regime in this regard is much better.

Our economy has been through a disastrous period and that has made life difficult for everybody. For example, approximately 250,000 fewer people are currently in employment than was the case at the peak of the boom. Let us hope that the great tradition established by people such as Daniel O'Connell to work against racism internationally will continue and that we will remain generous. I take this opportunity to thank those who are in the Gallery this evening. They are most welcome to Seanad Éireann. I also thank those Senators who tabled the motion which is the subject of this debate. This is a great way for the Seanad to relate to new communities. We will always be here to help to promote tolerance and diversity.

We must use existing legislation to combat incitement. We are trying to build a more tolerant society and I am of the view we have made substantial progress in that regard. Sometimes the best can be the enemy of the good. If we hear about incidents of racism, let us try to ensure that they are dealt with immediately. As stated earlier, I am impressed by the stance the Garda Síochána has taken in respect of this issue. I wish to assure all new citizens of this country, visitors and asylum seekers that they are all welcome. We will be informed by them on how we can improve our performance. We wish to make them welcome and we seek their guidance on how we might do so.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh na cuairteoirí ar fad atá sa Ghailearaí. It is great to see such a multicultural gathering in the Gallery. It is unfortunate that the membership of the House is not as multicultural in nature but perhaps it will be at some point in the future.

I welcome this very important motion. As someone who is involved in quite an amount of work with people and groups from different cultural backgrounds, what strikes me most are the practical and current examples of racism in Ireland. Probably the most profound aspect of a very recent and moving presentation on direct provision in Galway related to the videos made by three teenagers in respect of their experiences of direct provision in the city. The teenagers in question referred to the attitude of other people towards them and the names they are called simply because they return to a hostel each night. They went on to describe how this makes them feel somehow lesser than other individuals. What we are discussing here, in a general sense, is the cultural issue of racism. However, there is also an issue with regard to State-bred racism and the direct provision system is an example of this. People, including the teenagers to whom I refer, are being put into that system - which was invented by Fianna Fáil and which the Government has, as yet, failed miserably to dismantle - and are subjected to racist taunts, comments, etc., as a result. That is completely unacceptable.

It is not good enough for us to simply wring our hands in respect of direct provision. We need to take action in respect of the system of direct provision which, like the Magdalen laundries in the past, is a scandal. As I have stated previously, it is being allowed to continue on this Government's watch. I hope the new Minister for Justice and Equality, who has previous experience of working with children, will look more favourably on reviewing the entire system and having the issues that arise in respect of it addressed.

The system we have in place also discriminates against members of other groups. I welcome the representatives from the Traveller community who are present in the Gallery. From my work with that community, I am aware that its members have encountered systemic issues which breed racism in Ireland. Some of those issues relate to the education system. For example, the cutbacks relating to education for Traveller children has had a huge impact, particularly in the context of how they relate to other children in their schools and communities as a result of the opportunities open to them.

On work opportunities for people from all sorts of different cultural backgrounds, there are those who find it much more difficult to obtain employment as a result of the colour of their skin or their ethnicity. That is simply unacceptable. A number of groups have brought to my attention the experiences of people of African ethnicity who are constantly harassed by the police. Even if they are speaking with a male of a different ethnicity, officers assume that a business transaction is taking place. Many instances of activity of this type have been recounted to me. For example, I am aware of the circumstances of a man who is living in a direct provision centre and who has a car and a driving licence. That individual has been informed by the police that he has no right to drive because he is an asylum seeker. He was asked how he can afford a car and told that if he can afford it, perhaps he should go back home.

As Senator Barrett indicated, we received a very good presentation from a garda earlier today on the subject of racism. However, there is a great deal of work to be done by the new Garda Commissioner, whomever he or she may be, in order to ensure that racism among members of the force is properly dealt with. At numerous meetings of joint policing committees in Galway city and county, I have repeatedly inquired about figures relating the reporting of racist incidents. Such figures are simply not available because they are not recorded. That matter was covered during the presentation to which I refer. I refer, for example, to circumstances where a member of the Traveller community might be attacked and where this would be recorded by the gardaí involved as an assault as opposed to a racist incident. There are serious misgivings about this matter among people other varying ethnic backgrounds and we are not obtaining a true picture of the nature of the racist incidents that are occurring. Up to now, the Garda has not had the will to record the type of figures to which I refer. We, as parliamentarians, and the Government must ensure that it does so in the future because we need to be in a position to gauge what is happening.

Another area of concern is that which relates to the use of labels and terminology. I have witnessed incidences of such labels and terms being used in this House. I am not trying to be sanctimonious but there have been occasions on which Members have used language which was not respectful to the members of ethnic minorities. When describing people, the media, politicians and professionals use terms such as "bogus", "illegal", etc., and this automatically presents a picture of individuals from different backgrounds not being as good as Irish citizens per se. This is a practice which must be challenged.

I welcome the call from the Immigrant Council of Ireland for Senators to support the motion. Sinn Féin certainly supports the motion but we are of the view that, if anything, it does not go far enough. We also support the call to the effect that there should be a national awareness campaign - based on those run by the Immigrant Council - in partnership with the National Transport Authority, etc.

Sinn Féin did well in the recent elections and received quite an amount of support from people of all ethnic backgrounds. We invited two ladies who are living in direct provision in Galway to come and celebrate with us on the evening of the elections. One of the women has been in the city for eight years and she informed me that it was the first occasion on which she had been out in a pub there since her arrival. That tells us something about the welcoming nature of Galway, which we would all say welcomes many people. The fact that people are isolated in the way I describe leaves a great deal to be desired. When the two ladies accompanied us into a local bar, I was very conscious of the reaction of other patrons. There is no question but that heads did turn and people did look. That is something which is not going to be easy to tackle and we need to do more work in our schools, etc., in respect of it.

I again welcome this important motion. As already stated, action is required in respect of this matter. There is no point in the House engaging in a debate on racism every six months while nothing changes. The incitement to hatred legislation must be buttressed and strengthened. The funding for many of the groups which work with people from ethnic minorities has been cut. This means that those who work to support such individuals are finding it difficult to cope and to continue to deliver services, which is simply not acceptable The Government must address this matter.

If on the one hand we say that we need to combat racism, we need on the other to make sure that we fund the organisations that are doing the vital work on the ground such as those represented by the people in the Gallery. An méid sin ráite, fáiltím roimh an rún. Tá aiféal orm go bhfuil an leasú molta ag an Rialtas agus ní bheidh muid ag tacú le sin ach leis an rún atá curtha síos ag na Seanadóirí. Tá súil agam, faoi cheann sé mhí, go mbeidh muid ag caint ar an dul chun cinn atá déanta seachas a bheith ag caint faoin mhéid atá le déanamh.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Those in the Gallery are also very welcome. I welcome the motion and commend Senators Mac Conghail, Zappone and others on raising the issue. It is a subject that is worth debating and taking the time to reflect on. Ireland has changed greatly in its demography in recent years and has become a much more diverse place. This fact should be celebrated yet, as other Senators have expressed, racism is unfortunately still rife in this country. A debate such as this is therefore absolutely worthwhile and I hope that it will allow us to give more consideration to finding ways around racism.

The motion rightly points out that the programme for Government has a stated ambition to "promote policies which integrate minority ethnic groups in Ireland, and which promote social inclusion, equality, diversity and participation of immigrants in the economic, social, political and cultural life of their communities". If we focus on the political aspect of that, we see a marked rise in the number of people from minority ethnic groups in Ireland who participated in the recent local elections. That is most welcome. We had a girl who ran for Fine Gael in my own area who came ninth in an eight-seat district, so we were very sorry that she did not succeed in taking a seat at local level. We certainly need more voices to represent the many ethnic communities that are in Ireland. I am sure that she will be successful on the next occasion.

Socially and culturally right across this city, we have seen diversity being promoted more than ever. A great many literary and cultural festivals are now taking place, promoted particularly by Dublin City Council. That is fantastic and can only enhance Irish society and culture. It is certainly one much more gentle way to try to dissuade people of their beliefs or behaviours when it comes to racism.

The motion rightly references the 2011 report of the UN committee on the lack of legislation around racial profiling by the Garda Síochána, particularly when it comes to Border controls. Down through the years, we have heard a number of reports about people who were startled by the blatant racial profiling which took place on Dublin to Belfast train and bus services, where individuals seemed to be singled out for no reason other than race. This, too, needs to be highlighted and consideration should be given to putting legislation in place.

There is no question that the reporting of racist incidents and the mechanisms to deal with them are inconsistent and unco-ordinated. Senator Ó Clochartaigh has made reference to this. It is easy to understand, because in any situation, even if one is the subject of sexism, it is difficult in practice to fight that fight on a daily basis and to report it every time that it occurs because sometimes it would seem trivial. I know from my own experience that a great many racist incidents simply go unreported and far too many are shrugged off or sometimes dismissed with "banter", which is a catchall word. It is exactly the same with sexism. Incidents seem minor, but if one is subject to racism on a daily, weekly or monthly basis it is very difficult to fight that fight and to report such incidents every time they occur.

An incident which took place last year highlighted the type of racial abuse that people have to endure all too regularly. The woman in question, Úna-Minh Kavanagh, who spoke about the incident on her blog and to the media thereafter, was waiting for a friend outside a hotel on Parnell Street when she noticed a group of about seven teenagers walking towards her. As they passed her, one of them shouted a racial term at her and then one of the youths grabbed her face and spat at her. It was a dreadful experience for her. During the months that followed, she documented online the process of reporting it to the Garda and how it dealt with it. All told, the experience is something that I would not want anyone to go through, and nobody should go through it, but I applaud Ms Kavanagh for her bravery in reporting it, and then speaking about it so honestly and openly. It highlights again how difficult it is to deal with such incidents as an individual.

The motion singles out the excellent work of the Garda Racial, Intercultural & Diversity Office, and I wholeheartedly agree. Although we are in financially difficult times, I can only hope that the resources that this office needs are kept in place so that the job it does remains effective. I hope also that the data collection of the Irish Network Against Racism can continue, along with the quarterly publication of iReport.ie. Many people across the country are playing their part in combatting racism, and it all starts with individuals like us having the courage to start a conversation when a racist remark is passed, saying: "Hang on. Why would you say such a thing?" We need to fight that fight with each occurrence.

Further, the motion calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 - Senator Ó Clochartaigh has referred to this - in order to introduce provisions to deal with racist crimes including definitions of 'racial hatred' and to consider ratification of European Conventions on Cyber Crime to ensure a robust response to online racism. These are modest proposals with realistic and achievable aims which should be looked at by the Minister over the coming weeks. I again commend the Senators in whose names the motion is tabled on raising the issue and thank the Minister. I know that we on this side have a counter motion, but I gather that it is practically identical.

We Irish should be the least racist people in the world, primarily because of our huge diaspora and because of our culture, going back over hundreds of years and sadly right up to the present day, of exporting our people. In America, some 40 million people claim to be Irish and some 60 million or 70 million Irish people - it is a phenomenal figure - have settled worldwide. I, too, was among that number when I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I emigrated to London seeking work. I rarely encountered any racism directed towards me personally, although I was aware that there was an underlying anti-Irishness at that time - it was the late 1960s and mid-1970s - primarily because of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is because of all those experiences that I say that we Irish should not be racist people, yet figures indicate that, as a result of the entry of people of different cultures, different faiths and different colours during the past 15 years, those who are charged with monitoring racist offences and racist attacks point to an ever growing and concerning level of such attacks.

I applaud the Taioseach's nominated Senators for putting their name to this motion. We need to debate issues of this nature more regularly in this House and in Parliament generally. I was struck by the first part of the motion, which states that, "tackling racism and promoting diversity is not just the responsibility of Government: everybody in Irish society, including individuals ... have a responsibility to address racism and its impact on the people who experience it".

I was chairman of the human rights committee of the Council of Europe until 2007. As chairman of Leitrim County Childcare Committee, I have promoted diverse multicultural activities involving parents and children of those who have settled in our county, primarily but not exclusively the Kurdish population, under Programme Refugee. I remember standing for the council and promoting the view that we in Leitrim, along with other parts of Ireland, should welcome families of Programme Refugee, who at the time were coming from Kosovo

As a result of this I received a considerable amount of hate mail.

It would perhaps be surprising to this House, in the context of the remarks that Senator MacSharry made earlier in his contribution, that I stumbled and fell into this cesspit of racism while making remarks on a taxi regulation Bill, where in attempting clumsily to ask questions about why there was not more training of taxi drivers in Dublin I used language which was wrong, stupid and grossly offensive to those of a different culture to mine. I apologised at the time and I apologise again, considering the background that I outlined. One of my brothers, who lives in France, is part of a multicultural family. I would be the least likely to be accused of being racist but I was so accused. For an uncomfortable but brief moment - brief being a few weeks, which did not feel brief at the time - I came to somehow understand what it must be like to be the subject of racist abuse and attacks because I was attacked, vilely in many cases, and accused of the most outrageous attributes, which were totally alien to me then and remain so now. My experience of this abuse came through social media and because a political party represented in this House decided to make political capital out of my misfortune by publishing on YouTube an edited selection of what I had said in the House. I received a great deal of vile abuse as a result of that activity, including dozens of messages to my personal e-mail account. By the way, I replied to every one of these messages. I tried to undo the damage I knew I had done. Within hours I apologised but it seems my apology was not sufficient. This raised its own issues about those who are most liberal sometimes being the most intolerant.

I make these remarks as a brief example of what it must be like for somebody to suffer the sort of racism we are discussing today. I experienced it from a different perspective but in the same context. I was taken by the survey by Integration Centre Ireland and other bodies that monitor racist attacks, which found it 22 times more likely that racist incidents would be reported in England and Wales than in Ireland. The centre's public affairs director, Helena Clarke, has said that the under reporting of such incidents is a worrying problem in Ireland because it is obvious that racism is not 22 times more likely in England or Wales than in Ireland. The figures collated by the Garda appear to be in stark contrast to the data collected through a hotline which recorded 60 specific attacks nationwide over a three month period, compared to the Garda's figure of 19 incidents over the same period. To its credit, the Garda suggests that the discrepancy probably arose through incidents being recorded in other categories, such as assaults, where motive could not be initially established. I welcome that the Garda has appointed 322 personnel to act as ethnic liaison officers covering every district in the State. Uniquely in Europe, Ireland does not have legislation allowing crimes involving racist, religious or homophobic motivation to be considered as an aggravating factor in sentencing. That issue is dealt with in this very well worded motion.

A common theme running through several Members' contributions is the importance of education. Good manners dictate that I should have welcomed the Minister of State earlier, and I ask her to forgive me for failing to do so. A study carried out in England found that based on a sample of English educational institutions, racist attitudes and behaviours are common among both pupils and teachers. Most of the teachers surveyed had received little or no education on tackling racism or promoting race equality while training or teaching. Many considered that the best approach was to adopt a colour blind position of ignoring difference and attempting to treat all children the same. The study found a lack of evidence that the majority of institutions had made a serious attempt to embed race equality and highlighted the need for widespread training, including in-service training to empower educators with the skills and knowledge required to consider issues of race equality in lesson planning and delivery, value and acknowledge differences and similarity amongst their pupils, tackle racism and create an environment of openness in which young people can develop positive attitudes and a critical awareness of the world.

Ultimately, however, it is what happens in the home that frames young people's attitudes. As parents, we have that responsibility. I welcome and applaud this motion.

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House and commend my Independent colleagues for tabling this motion and facilitating a debate on this matter. I understand the Minister of State will give consideration to a number of the issues raised in the motion, including the proposal for establishing a centralised database and the relationship such a database could have with PULSE. Late last year and early this year we were presented with a number of reports documenting an increase in racist incidents and behaviour. This matter was raised in the House on numerous occasions by my colleagues and I found the reports very disturbing. A key statistic provided by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, ICI, is that almost one in five cases of racial abuse is committed by people under the age of 18 years. I was shocked by that finding. The annual racist incident statistics for 2013 from the ICI found that school holidays were a peak period for racist abuse. In March, the ICI reported that it had been notified of 44 cases of discrimination and racism for the first two months of the year, representing an increase of 39 cases on the same period in 2013. Most worrying is that many of these cases occurred in the reporting individual's local community or home. Many people in society will condemn racist behaviour and acts of discrimination but, unfortunately, we continue to hear the comment: "I am not racist, but". Some people still begrudge the payment of social welfare benefits to immigrant families or people of a different ethnicity, race or religion. If people are entitled to such benefits, we should not begrudge them.

I thank Senator Mac Conghail for the briefing session he arranged in advance of this debate, although I apologise for being unable to attend it. A member of my staff attended the briefing, however, and was very impressed by it.

We have no idea of the experience or background of the immigrants who seek to live or are currently living in Ireland. I am aware of many individuals who wish they could return to their home countries but are unable to do so because of persecution, war or other valid reasons. During my time as a teacher, I dealt with a number of students who were very upset because they were at risk of female genital mutilation if they returned home. It was a major issue to ensure they could remain in Ireland. Many individuals who seek to build a new home in our country have been victims of unimaginable atrocities and witness to unbelievable horrors.

There are many resources at our disposal to deal with the reported increase in racial abuse. One of the most powerful tools is education but the Garda racial, intercultural and diversity office, relevant NGOs and the cross-departmental office for the promotion of migrant integration, to name but a few, also have a part to play. I am aware of the excellent work done by the Garda racial, intercultural and diversity office and, by extension, the trained ethnic liaison officers in providing a sensitive and co-ordinated monitoring function in communities across the country.

These officers connect with sections of our society that, at times, can be overlooked or feel uncomfortable in reporting racially motivated behaviours or actions. The Garda racial, intercultural and diversity office, GRIDO, and ethnic liaison officers play an important role in our diverse society. It would be useful to see their work enhanced, given the increases evidenced in the 2012 CSO figures. NGOs and various partners have been excellent in promoting awareness and working with the Garda in ensuring that cases of racial abuse are reported.

The Department of Justice and Equality's office for the promotion of migrant integration is cross-departmental in its policy development and co-ordination and monitors trends in racist incidents. One of the office's functions is the provision of funding to organisations that work with the migrant community. In 2013, €1.78 million was spent on initiatives that promoted integration and anti-racism measures.

This House could do more to provide a proper platform for minority groups and allow their voices to be heard more clearly. This suggestion could be investigated further in terms of Seanad reform. It would provide the House with a necessary and new perspective on the important issues being faced.

We all search for the happiest lives that we can provide for ourselves and our families. Families from other cultures, countries, religions and backgrounds are no different and should be embraced and included in our country's vision. We need to hammer home the idea that it is not "us" versus "them". Unfortunately, some people in our society still need to shake off this mentality. It is crucial that we continue to debate and remain vigilant on this issue. If it ceases to be a topic of discussion, I fear that we will end up discussing a much larger problem.

Like others, I know that no one is perfect. I most definitely do not fall into that category. It was brave to point out that, if this happened to any of us, we would hide it and not want it mentioned. Equally, it was brave to admit that we can all be unfortunate sometimes in the words we choose.

We must be more considerate and tolerant of one another.

I thank Senators Mac Conghail and Zappone and their colleagues for tabling this motion. I am attending on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who Senators are probably aware is taking the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill 2014 in another part of this building.

Racism has no place in our society. It denies people not only their human rights, but also the respect and dignity they deserve. It is based on notions of superiority that are contrary to all right thinking. Listening to Senator MacSharry, it struck me that we do not want to fall into the camp of being patronising either. People from different backgrounds who come to live in this country want to be treated with respect and equality, but this does not mean that there can be no disagreements on how to proceed. Being able to disagree on an action is actually a mark of respect. Above all else, we must treat people with the respect we expect of them.

People coming to a different country can find themselves isolated. When the Irish went abroad, they usually travelled to countries where they spoke the language. Typically, they stayed together and supported one another to become prosperous. It did not happen for everyone, but it did for many.

My daughter, a postwoman and a tiny person, loves her job, finishes early and goes home to her babies. She once told me a story about a family to which she delivered a letter once every two weeks. It was such an occasion that the family members waited for her. She was the only person from Ireland with whom they spoke in all of that time. On the one hand, this is a significant plus for An Post but, on the other, it marks us down in terms of inclusion.

Therefore, this motion addresses an issue that goes to the core of our sense of ourselves in the context of the new Ireland that has emerged in the past decade or so. The data collected in the 2011 census showed that 12% of our population were migrants who had come to work, live or study here. Ireland has become a much more diverse society and has remained for the most part a nation of welcomes. This is reflected in a relatively low level of reported racist crime. I will deal with this point later, as I have taken Senator Mac Conghail's comments on board. In 2013, 92 such crimes were reported while figures for racist incidents released by the Immigrant Council of Ireland last December, which include incidents not amounting to a crime, reported 142 such incidents in the year to 7 December 2013.

For many generations, our citizens have sought opportunities in foreign lands. Many have prospered in doing so. We now find ourselves in the position of others coming to our shores seeking to avail of the opportunities that this State can provide. We benefit greatly from those skills and the cultural diversity such migrants bring with them just as other countries have benefited from the skills and culture that Irish emigrants have brought to their shores.

Successfully harnessing and managing this diversity is a key opportunity, and a key challenge, for everyone. Ensuring that racism has no place in our newly diversified society will be an important part of that endeavour. We cannot be complacent in this regard. Every citizen has a moral responsibility to help protect those in our society who are subject to actions on the part of others that are offensive or insensitive and to challenge such behaviour.

I will address some of the important issues raised by the motion. In the programme for Government, the Government committed to promoting policies that integrate minority ethnic groups and promote social inclusion, equality, diversity and the participation of immigrants in the economic, social, political and cultural lives of their communities. This is a commitment that the Government is and will continue to take forward. A key initiative in this regard is the cross-departmental review of Ireland's integration strategy, which is being led by the office for the promotion of migrant integration of the Department of Justice and Equality. That review, building on work already under way across the Government, will provide the basis for a new and updated integration strategy. It is important that the new integration strategy should be geared to current and expected future conditions and drive integration work forward at local and national levels, thus responding to the needs of a diverse Irish society.

A public consultation exercise has already resulted in approximately 80 submissions being received. A number of face to face meetings between officials and parties who have provided material for consideration will take place in the coming weeks and months. Promoting intercultural awareness and combating racism and xenophobia will be an important element of the work of the cross-departmental group. Proposals for better addressing the problem of racism are also among the many issues addressed in the submissions that have been made.

I am aware of the work undertaken by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality as regards integration, multiculturalism and combating racism. I look forward to its report on these issues so that it can feed into the work of the cross-departmental group.

I welcome the acknowledgement that effective action to tackle the problem of racism cannot be taken by the State alone. I also welcome the acknowledgement of the important work being done in this regard by the Garda intercultural and diversity office. GRIDO has responsibility for co-ordinating, monitoring and advising on all aspects of policing Ireland's diverse communities and monitors the reporting and recording of hate and racist crime on a continual basis. GRIDO also supports the work of Garda ethnic liaison officers who are in place throughout the country and works with minority communities at local level. Garda ethnic liaison officers work in partnership with minority groups and representative organisations to encourage tolerance, respect and understanding and to help prevent hate and racist crime.

I would also point to the important role that will be given to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to support programmes of activities and projects for the promotion of migrants and other minorities and respect for diversity and cultural difference. As I said, that Bill is currently being debated in the Dáil.

The issue of strengthening the law to combat racism is raised in the motion. This is also an issue raised in the submissions made arising from the review of integration policy. It is important to remember that we have in place a comprehensive legislative framework on racism and discrimination which is, and will continue to be, informed by relevant international conventions and EU legislation. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 is directed to addressing the issue of incitement. This Act makes it an offence, inter alia, to use words, publish or distribute written material or broadcast any visual images or sounds which are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended, or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred. In addition, offences which are committed with a racist motive can also be prosecuted under the general criminal law, and in this case the principal Acts that can be relevant for this purpose include the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and the Criminal Damage Act 1991. The relevant offences under these Acts are relied on where criminal offences such as assault, criminal damage or public order are committed with a racist motive. It is important to remember that in sentencing a trial judge can take aggravating factors, including racial motivation, into account. There is also the possibility of an appeal against the sentence in any case where the Director of Public Prosecutions believes it to be unduly lenient.

Defining common offences of a racist or xenophobic nature as specific offences or introducing aggravated sentencing would have wider implications for criminal law which would need to be carefully considered before changes are made. None the less, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has indicated her commitment to reviewing and strengthening the legislative framework where possible, including in relation to the 1989 Act. The Minister believes this issue should be considered in the framework of the reviews now under way and will return to this Chamber later in the year to update Senators on this matter. I know Senators are anxious to have a timeframe in this regard and I will do my best to get it for them following this debate.

Legislation to enable enactment of the Council of Europe convention on cybercrime is at an advanced stage in the Department. When enacted, this legislation will open the way to ratification of the convention. It will then be possible to consider ratification of the associated protocol on racism and xenophobia. I understand that, subject to confirmation by the Office of the Attorney General, it is likely that existing legislation would allow ratification of the protocol without any further legislative change.

The national action plan against racism was designed to provide strategic direction towards developing a more intercultural and inclusive society in Ireland, and is also integration-driven. Under the plan, support was provided towards the development of a number of national and local strategies promoting greater integration in our workplaces, An Garda Síochána, the health service, our education system, the arts and sports sectors and within our local authorities. The national action plan, therefore, continues to inform ongoing work. Against this background, the Minister will be happy to consider how work begun under the previous national action plan against racism can now best be taken forward, and consideration of this will be informed by the ongoing cross-departmental review of Ireland's integration strategy, to which I have already referred.

The office for the promotion of migrant integration of the Department of Justice and Equality, in consultation with An Garda Síochána, the Central Statistics Office and other relevant bodies, including NGOs, continues to monitor trends in racist incidents. Statistics on racist incidents and information on where to go to report a racist incident continue to be made available on that office's website. The Minister is also aware of the work being done by non-governmental organisations such as the ENAR Ireland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the NASC and others in encouraging the reporting of incidents and in providing support to the victims of racist incidents. It is my hope, however, that racism will not be a silent crime, with victims afraid or unwilling to come forward, as it is only through the reporting of incidents that authorities can, as stated by Senator Mac Conghail, take action to ensure that individuals who engage in unacceptable actions are tackled. The Minister is committed to implementing whatever measures can be taken to improve the situation in this regard, including measures directed to improving and, where possible, centralising the reporting and recording of racist incidents in order to ensure the most complete possible picture of the situation. As stated, current reporting and gathering of this type of information and statistics are not good enough. I should, however, stress that the data contained in the Garda PULSE system refer to crime incidents which meet the recording requirements of the Irish crime classification system. PULSE is neither intended to be nor is it suitable as a database of racist incidents generally. Again, the Minister is happy to return to this Chamber later in the year to discuss progress on this front.

It will be clear from what I have said that the Minister is supportive of many of the ideas which inform the motion before the House today. In proposing an amendment we have sought to incorporate those ideas, while taking account of the work now under way on the different aspects of the issue, particularly in the context of the reviews now under way at Government level and in the Oireachtas. All issues raised by Senators, including the need for a strengthening of the criminal law, ratification of the convention and protocol on cybercrime, taking forward the work begun under the national action plan to combat racism and the reporting and recording of racist incidents, will be further considered and taken into account in the work now under way.

Three central issues have been raised by Senators: the gathering and recording of information; the need for that process to be centralised; and the need for further training of gardaí to whom these crimes are being reported. We have all been present at or witnessed various incidents. In the two incidents I witnessed, I would put money on it that the persons being racially abused at the time, despite having the support of those around them, did not report them. We need to undertake research into the reason a person would consider it not worthwhile to report abuse. The other issues raised relate to legislation, which I heard loud and clear and will bring to the Minister's attention.

As stated, I will seek from the Minister a timeframe in respect of when she will come to this House to update Senators on this matter.

I also thank the Minister of State for her very kind remarks.

I will be brief. Like others, I thank the Independent Senators for bringing this motion before the House. I would like to make a couple of comments based on my personal experience in the area of housing. First, I believe we can also have racism by omission. It is important to remember in the context of access to proper information and advocacy that a person, on the basis of his or her race, can be denied information in the right context, format and language. We need to be very aware of this.

Through my work on the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, I dealt with a number of cases of anti-social behaviour in respect of which it was very difficult not to conclude that there were racist motivations in the bringing of some of those actions. We need to be conscious when examining the law that the experiences of people in some cases which would appear to be benign can actually be disturbing. I was struck by a recent report in the Irish Examiner in which Denise Charlton from the Immigrant Council of Ireland stated: "...worryingly, 40% of the reported incidents so far this year relate to attacks on the family home or in a person’s local community."

We must be aware that people need to feel safe in their own homes. We also need to look at all of the legislation, across the board, to proof it for racism.

I want to ask the Minister of State about the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2012. It is my experience that racism can sometimes be very difficult to prove because we have failed to include other grounds for discrimination. For example, I was privy to some recent reports in Belgium where research was being done on racial discrimination in access to housing. Belgium has equality legislation which prohibits discrimination on economic grounds. In other words, one cannot be discriminated against on the basis of one’s source of income if, for the sake of argument, that is a social welfare payment. The research found that where people do not have that type of protection, persons are discriminated against on a racial basis using other grounds for discrimination, such as their source of income.

In Ireland - this is my current experience - it is very difficult to access housing, particularly in the private rental sector. It is my view that people are being discriminated against on a racial basis because we do not have legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s source of income. I ask that we consider changing the Equal Status Acts to bring in that ground - in other words, to provide that one cannot discriminate on the basis of the source of a person's income. In many cases, people are being discriminated against on the grounds of race in terms of access to housing. They are being discriminated against because they wish to access housing by means of a social welfare payment. I want to take this opportunity to ask the Minister of State to consider making that particular legislative amendment. It would make an important difference in the manner in which housing can be accessed in this country.

I, too, acknowledge Senator Mooney's personal statement earlier. He showed great courage, and long may that continue in the House.

I also welcome the Minister of State here again. I have a huge amount of respect for her and am a great admirer. However, I cannot help but think - not of her personally - that her speech was completely kidnapped by the Department. It has been completely drowned in sentiment, though not sentiment that she expressed, in fairness. She stated: "Ireland has become a much more diverse society and, I believe, has remained for the most part a nation of welcome. That is reflected in a relatively low level of reported racist crime." This was accompanied by figures. Everyone in this House has questioned the veracity of those figures. I am not being discourteous to the Minister of State because I have great admiration for her. However, I have issues with statements she made about certain measures.

I know the Minister of State cannot commit to the timeframe, but the Government took the sense of our motion and cut and pasted it into its motion. We are waiting for some kind of commitment, particularly on the two basic issues of data collection and legislation. First, we have all accepted the motion. I would love the Government to give a commitment today to establish a centralised partnership across NGOs and Government regarding data collection, once and for all, and we should also be given a timeframe.

Second, I accept that there might be some technicalities associated with legislation. The Minister of State spoke about defining common offences of a racist or xenophobic nature as specific offences. Clearly, there was no provision for the racial motivation of a crime to be considered as an aggravating circumstance during sentencing in a trial. That is a fact. We must depend on some judges having empathy towards the case. We need to look at the matter. Racism needs to be explicitly recognised as a crime.

I accept the interjection made by Senator Bacik on race crime versus race speech. The challenge is to develop a legislative framework to effectively deal with issues experienced on the ground. There was an infamous incident whereby Andy Cole travelled to Ireland and England, where he was racially abused by two Irishmen. If he had travelled to Ireland and it had happened the other way around there would have been no arrest or imprisonment. That is just the basic difference between Irish and UK legislation. There is an urgency about this matter, but I did not hear this in the cold amendment and the fact that there is no timeframe. Terms such as "whatever measures" were used, and that caveat appeared throughout the speech. Again, I qualify that these were not the Minister of State's words. I understand that she has empathy towards the issue and appreciated the wonderful story about her daughter.

Is the Government committing to anything more than is already happening? Are we conflating the issues of integration and racism? They are completely different issues, although probably not within a holistic approach. The Government must try to achieve some modest but crucial developments in two ways. The first is to do with data collection, which is a no-brainer. Second, we need a commitment to review the legislation. That is what we are looking for. I accept the issues with regard to polls. If I were to press for a vote then I would have to accept that if our motion was rejected the Government would have to come back and address the matter.

I am disappointed with the Department's lack of urgency and clarity in what it considers to be elemental in combating racism. How can one begin to implement a policy without centralised data collection? How can one do so without a centralised understanding of qualitative and quantitative levels?

In terms of legislation, we need clear definitions of race crime and racial hatred. The Public Order Act 1986 in the UK, which preceded the 1989 Act in Ireland, was able to provide both definitions. We should have a debate on the matter within this timeframe. There was no sense of urgency and no commitment given to achieve that goal in the Minister of State's speech, which, in fairness, was not drafted by her.

Is the Government amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 16.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Sheahan, Tom.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 16.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Sheahan, Tom.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.