Spring 1999 Newsletter (ISSUE No. 1)
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Welcome to the first issue of the quarterly newsletter of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. The aim of the newsletter is to highlight issues related to the aims and remit of the Committee, including up to date information on major policy developments, at a time when racism is becoming increasingly recognised as an important issue in Irish society. This issue outlines the role and approach of the Committee some of its current work, our small grant fund and how we can be contacted. Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson.
The National Consultative Committee On Racism and Interculturalism
In July 1998 John O Donoghue TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, reaffirmed his Department's commitment to the development of a partnership approach to addressing racism through the establishment of an advisory body, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism.
The overall aim of the Committee is to provide an ongoing structure to develop programmes and actions aimed at developing an integrated approach against racism and to act in a policy advisory role to the government. The development of such an approach goes hand and hand with the promotion of a more participative and intercultural society, which is more inclusive of Black and minority ethnic groups.
The National Committee is a partnership of twenty government and non-government groups and builds directly on the work commenced by the National Co-ordinating Committee of European Year Against Racism (1997).
The approach of the National Committee will be of a strategic focused nature, with the emphasis on developing a sustainable approach to address racism and to promote the positive inclusion of minority ethnic groups.
Three levels of action will be pursued:
A key part of developing an effective, sustainable approach will be the enhancement of existing and proposed policy, including legislation, with the potential to impact on racism; the development of an anti-racism/intercultural dimension to current public policy initiatives and paving the way for new initiatives in this area. Many national and European policies and programmes in areas such as employment, education, the administration of law and the European structural funds could contribute positively to the fight against racism.
There following is a brief summary of some of the main issues which have been prioritised by the National Consultative Committee since it was established.
The integration refugees and asylum seekers
The Government is currently developing policy on the integration of refugees through an interdepartmental working group. The Committee has been working closely with the organisations with a remit of working with refugees and asylum seekers to contribute to the development of such a policy (see page 2)
Legal aid service for asylum seekers
A further issue of concern of the Committee is the development of an effective and fair legal aid support for asylum seekers. The National Committee recently organised a roundtable on the need to develop effective monitoring mechanisms for the new legal aid service for asylum seekers and the Department of Justice have announced the establishment of a Monitoring Committee to undertake this role.
The forthcoming Equal Status Bill, outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services, will shortly be resubmitted to the Oireachtas for consideration. The National Committee is currently undertaking research to consider the possible implications of recent developments in Britain and Europe on this legislation, in particular the implications arising out of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry for policing and the administration of justice and the implications of the forthcoming EU Equality legislation on domestic law.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and law Reform has recently announced a review of the Incitement to Hatred Act (1989). The National Committee has also commissioned research on how this legislation can be made more effective.
The outline legislation establishing a new Human Rights Commission has recently been published. The National Consultative Committee has followed up on a seminar it organised on the Commission with a submission to the government focussing on the independence, powers and approach of the Commission.
'Proofing' policy against racism.
Major government policy initiatives should include an anti racism/intercultural dimension, where appropriate. For instance each government department produces a strategic plan and a customer action plan. Such key policy initiatives should be 'proofed' to ensure that they actively include minority ethnic groups and to ensure services do not discriminate, even where this discrimination is unintentional. (this subject will be covered in the next issue of the newsletter)
Political support against racism
The first debate on racism in the Oireachtas occurred in December 1997 with all political parties with members of parliament condemning racism. There are at present no significant political parties that espouse openly racist views or policies. However, political parties could be more proactive in developing clearer policy on this issue. The National Consultative Committee will seek to support further cross party initiatives on racism.
Initiatives at EU Level and North/South dimension
The Director of the new EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, Dr Beate Winkler, met with representatives from the National Committee and minority ethnic groups in December 1998. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a roundtable discussion on racism in Ireland and to further develop the links between the national Consultative Committee and the EU Monitoring Centre. The National Committee will become the Irish contact point for 'RAXEN', which will be a pan European data base on issues related to racism. Uniform indicators will be developed as part of this initiative.
There will be a strong North/South dimension to the work of the Committee beginning with the potential of the new human rights commissions, North and South to address racism. Potential areas for joint work will be developed over the next few months.
Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
The National Committee will also be developing a major initiative on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers to follow up on the European conference held in Louvain, Belgium in January 1998 during the European Year Against Racism. (Copies of the report of this conference are available)
Women's Experience of Racism
The intersection of gender and racism was a particular concern during the European Year Against Racism when a number of seminars were organised with minority ethnic groups. It clearly emerged from these initiatives that women's experience of racism needs to be addressed, for example, health, language, and their experience of statutory services
The National Committee will also be working on education, employment and training issues, the media, issues related to migration, development aid and education and research. These issues will be addressed in future newsletters.
2. National Committee Proposes Task Force on the Integration of Refugees and Asylum Seekers
The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism has proposed the establishment of a Task Force on the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. The role of the Task Force would be to advise on policy and to develop a partnership approach to integration issues involving both government and non-government organisations. The National Committee has further proposed that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should consider adopting the guidelines on integration published by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (see insert).
In its review 'The State of Refugee Integration in the European Union', ECRE (the European Council on Refugees and Exiles) concluded that within the European Union, integration varies considerably from one member state to another, depending on factors such as an individual country's attitude to diversity and immigration; individual country's approach to welfare and social protection and an individual country's approach to participation and national membership.1 Some countries such as France; United Kingdom; Germany; Netherlands and Sweden have a long history of receiving refugees and or migrants. Other countries including Ireland; Spain; Greece; Italy and Portugal have become refugee receiving countries more recently, or in smaller numbers. The ECRE report acknowledged that while Ireland has not developed a comprehensive integration policy to date, its attitudes towards immigration, social welfare and diversity compare quite favourably with other European countries.
1. ECRE. The State of Refugee Integration in the European Union. P9. October 1998
In Ireland, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have established an Interdepartmental Committee on the Integration of Refugees, which recently invited submissions from a range of organisations working with refugees and asylum seekers. As a result the National Consultative Committee arranged a roundtable discussion with a range of such organisation and on the basis of these discussions drew up a submission, the following policy options were proposed:
Summary of Options proposed
ECRE Guidelines on Integration (summary)
3. The New Human Rights Commission
One of the outcomes of the Good Friday Peace Agreement was the decision to establish Human Rights Commissions in Ireland, North and South. Both of these Commissions have the potential to impact on discrimination and to promote human rights, including the potential to develop a strong anti racism/intercultural dimension to their work. This article focussing on the Commission to be established in the Republic of Ireland
The legislation, in the form of heads of bill, to establish a Human Rights Commission in the South was approved by the Cabinet on February 10, 1999. The new body, equivalent to the Northern Ireland Commission, will be an independent body established to review the effectiveness of relevant legislation and practices and to promote awareness of human rights.
The two most crucial and sensitive areas for consideration in the establishment of the new Commission will be the guarantees of its independence and the proposed Commission's powers and approach to pursue human rights abuses.
The key international standards for international human rights institutions are The Paris Principles, drawn up by the UN Commission on Human Rights which have been endorsed by the UN General Assembly (Res. 48/134) in 1993.
These principles sets out what amounts to be a terms of reference for national human rights institutions including principles which should inform their overall role and composition. The role of NGO's in national human rights bodies is emphasised within these principles, as is the need for such bodies to be pluralist in composition:
'The composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members, whether by means of an election or otherwise, shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civil society) involved in the promotion and protection of human rights'
Professor Brice Dickson, prior to his recent appointment as Chief Commissioner in Northern Ireland, highlighted the importance of a pluralist composition to the then proposed Commission in the North and suggested three categories of membership:
According to the published Heads of Bill, the Human Rights Commission in the South will consist of a 'President' and not less than four, nor more than eight members. There are three categories of membership proposed: First, those who are judges in the superior courts. Second, those have experience of being a barrister or solicitor and a third category of people with other relevant experience, qualifications or training.
The government has not stipulated that experience in human rights should be an essential qualification of a Commissioner. However, as was the case in the North, the government still has the power to make the actual appointments on the basis of track record. It is interesting to note that the Commissioner's posts were advertised in Northern Ireland and prospective commissioners were interviewed for the posts, which are part-time. The Heads of Bill make a commitment to appointing men and women.
The powers and duties of the Commission build on those outlined in the Good Friday Agreement which are:
Powers which were not mentioned and which are the feature of Human Rights institutions in other countries, include:
There may also be a weakness in the way that human rights are defined under the terms of the legislation. Under the proposed legislation, human rights are defined as the protections guaranteed under the constitution and international instruments that Ireland has ratified. There are, however, no specific references to protections against racism in Ireland's constitution and Ireland has still to ratify the UN Convention o the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. Although it is likely that the Racism Convention will be ratified in the near future, this example serves to highlight that other human rights may be excluded from the remit of the Commission for similar reasons. One of the first jobs of the Commission should be to identify what these gaps are and to see how they can be addressed.
A further weakness in the way human rights are defined in the legislation is the omission of the concept of the protection of the human rights of groups in addition to individuals. This prevents 'class actions' being taken to protect the rights of groups of people experiencing discrimination.
The overall approach of the Commission will also be important factor in determining its effectiveness to protect and promote human rights. Adopting a programme of work approach, rather than adopting a 'wait and see' approach, would considerably strengthen the potential impact of the Commission to impact on issues such as racism.
In conclusion, key tests of the independence and strength of the new Commission will be:
4. Review of Departmental Customer Action Plans Identifies Omissions on Racism
The National Consultative Committee has published a research paper to review the progress made in incorporating an anti racist dimension in the Customer Action Plans of Government Departments since the European Year Against Racism (1997).
The full text of this document is on the Government page of the website and a summary is contained below:
The role of Customer Action Plans is to give full effect to the principles of 'Quality Customer Service', a key strand of the Government's Strategic Management Initiative, which is the most important action programme to deliver better government into the new millennium. The development and effective implementation of an anti racism dimension to Customer Action Plans would have the potential to make a major contribution to tackling racism and promoting the positive inclusion of Black and minority ethnic groups, including Travellers, into the planning, delivery and review of public services. The National Consultative Committee has published the research paper as a resource to Government Departments to help achieve this goal.
The key conclusions and recommendations of the research were as follows:
Customer Action Plans studied under the review fall significantly short of what was proposed in the guidelines developed under the Quality Customer Service theme of the Strategic Management Initiative. This is particularly true where these guidelines seek to have a focus on the rights of minorities in the Customer Action Plans through promoting "the provision of appropriate training" and linking this to a "necessary supportive culture" within Government Departments.
It is important that the current review of the Customer Action Plans being undertaken by the Governmnet, and the further expansion of the Quality Customer Service approach beyond Government Departments would address this deficiency. To this end it is recommended that:
The Principles of Quality Customer Service published in May 1997 make particular mention of the rights of minorities. The principles included that of "respect(ing) the rights of minorities at all times in the delivery of services". This principle is not reflected within the Customer Action Plans. It is recommended that Customer Action Plans would be required to include a named commitment to designing and implementing an intercultural dimension within policy making and service provision.
The review raises questions as to the nature of the commitment and approach to equality within the Strategic Management Initiative. Such a concern was suggested by the National Economic and Social Forum in its opinion Partnership 2000: Development of the Equality Provisions which stated that "equality should be an explicit principle underlying the Strategic Management Initiative as a whole". This review clarifies that equality from an anti-racist and intercultural perspective is not adequately emphasised by the SMI. This is particularly evident from the Departmental Strategy Statements. This is a contradiction of the equality framework committed to in Partnership 2000 which embraces not only women and people with a disability but also Travellers and, more recently, other minority ethnic groups.
It is important that this deficiency is rectified. To this end it is recommended that:
The recently approved poverty proofing guidelines would be promoted through the SMI with particular attention to the required focus on inequalities leading to poverty and the emphasis on Travellers and other minority ethnic groups in this regard.
5. Small Grant Fund
The Small Grant Fund is a rage of grants from £250- £800 which are available to non government organisations which wish to undertake anti racism/intercultural projects.
Funding has been provided by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There are two closing dates for completed grant applications:
The outcome of applications will be decided by an appraisal committee. The criteria for assessing applications will include:
The Appraisal Committee will also ensure that there is an adequate regional focus in the spread of grants.
The following are indicative of the types of proposals that will be considered for funding:
Application is by a (short) application form which elaborates on the criteria and is available by writing to the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, 26 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2. Please enclose a self addressed A5 or A4 size envelope, in order to receive the application form.