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The National
Consultative Committee,
26 Harcourt Street,
Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 4785777
Fax: (01) 4785778

National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism

Report Contents:

Executive Summary
Section 1: Contexts
Section 2: Racism/Ireland
Section 3: Key Themes
Section 4: Conclusions

Towards the Global Summit on Racism and European Preparatory Conference; Report of the Ireland
Preparatory National Conference,
November 2000

Section Two: The Challenge to Address Racism in Ireland

In this section of the Report, four speakers address the challenge to address different forms of racism in Ireland.

Tania Kaur McFarland representing the EU Migrants Forum and the India Club, speaks of the issues facing migrants.

Martin Collins is a Traveller who works as a community worker for Pavee Point, the national Travellers centre in Ireland, and is a member of the Board of the NCCRI, outlines the circumstances of Irish Travellers and the form of racism they experience.

Dr Jean Pierre Eyanga is a member of the Congo Solidarity Group and a refugee, looks at the racism experienced by refugees and asylum seekers

Rose Tuelo Brock is originally from South Africa and now living in Galway where she is a member of Galway One World and Women from Minorities in Europe, speaks from the perspective of the racism experienced by Black people in Ireland, irrespective of their legal status.

Tania Kaur McFarland, EU Migrants Forum/India Club

This gives me great pleasure to addressing you today, and also to be representing the Indian community in Ireland, within the contact of the EU Migrants Forum.

Like the Irish, we Indians are a very dispersed people, and also like the Irish we have suffered from hardship and racism wherever we have settled. Many countries in the world have significant Indian community, largely as a result of direct or indirect effects of British Colonial rule. For example, there are significant numbers of ethnic Indians living in South Africa, Kenya, Middle East, West Indies, Malaysia and of course the United Kingdom.

A more recent development in the movement of people has been the increase demand for highly trained Indian professionals, particularly in the Information Technology and Medical fields.

Perhaps a few words on my own background. I was born in Malaysia, to Sikh parents. My parents settled in Malaysia during the period of British rule. I was brought up and educated in Malaysia as member of an Indian community, which comprises approximately 15% of the total population of Malaysia, which is essentially a multi - ethnic society.

In 1986 I married an Irishman and was immediately granted Irish citizenship. I then spent about 8 years travelling and working in countries most of which have clearly defined policies towards the treatment of foreign workers and migrants.

Some of these countries have vigorous and strict rules and regulations. In fact some of the practices and enforcement of these practices make the current and proposed Irish/ EU legislation indeed seem insipid in comparison.

I want to make the point that it is essential that there is a clear distinction between those Migrants that are considered to be transient migrants, i.e. people who may be coming to study or work for a short time and have no initial plans to be considered for permanent residence, and those who arrive with the primary intention of seeking full citizenship. These I will refer to as ‘Stake-holders’.

My experience in the Middle Eastern countries is that there are a large section of non-nationals who are essential to the economy of the country but are not given citizenship under any circumstances and may only be granted very limited rights and privileges.

Some of these countries are largely dependent on foreign workers, which is not yet the same situation in Ireland. But we are finding there is a significant need for additional people to fill the job vacancies. So obviously on the one hand the state must have an efficient system for facilitating the short-term entry to the work force of many different ethnic people while at the same time ensuring that there is an equitable and just system for helping those migrants who wish to become permanent residents (Stakeholders).

Again in my experience, when people work abroad on a temporary basis they are often willing to tolerate an observance of local or state rules and regulations which would be considered draconian by nationals of any country (for example, re-entry and exit visas, work permits, restrictions on property purchase etc). We should not forget that many migrants are here for essentially economic reasons, just as several of the middle-eastern countries are host to a large population of westerners, so I do not think that Ireland should be afraid of developing and implementing legislation. It goes without saying that such laws should be clearly seen as being just fair and just.

Speaking on behalf of the Indian ethnic group who are currently working in Ireland I have recently carried out a survey of a representative Indian group consisting of 50 people. These people are currently employed in the IT Sector.

Some concerns expressed by the migrants are:

Re-entry Visa: It is required of every non-EU migrant to obtain a re-entry visa before leaving Ireland for a visit abroad. It is very difficult to see what useful purpose this procedure serves. Non-EU migrants need a residential permit to stay in this country anyway and that can be entered into the passport. Would this not be sufficient for a returning migrant to prove his/her bona fides.

Residence Permit: This is required on an annual basis, and is understandably used to monitor migrants living in the country. But in the Irish case it is required irrespective of the duration for which the migrant might have lived in this country. Even if one has lived here for the last 25 years he/she must have the Residence Permit. As in some cases there are Indians who have lived for a longer time in Ireland than they have lived in their own motherland! This is an area that can be further examined.

Visa for Spouse: Recently we heard of many cases in which young men are employed here under contract. This contract may be for six months or even two years. The employer would have the necessary work permit, as well. For reasons unknown when they ask for a visa for their spouse to join them the Department refuses.

The unfortunate perception is that what appears to be petty regulations come across unfortunately, as a type of institutionalised discrimination.

Due to the obvious sensitivities involved, both of the Irish people and Migrants, it is vital that all issues under discussion should have a high degree of transparency and be subject to public debate. The average Indian Migrant to Ireland is well educated, fluent in English and capable of appreciating the painful process of adaptation to a multi- ethnic society which must inevitably come to Ireland.

To summarise I feel that we should have two objectives. First, the introduction and implementation of wide ranging laws to prohibit any action or activity likely to create racial hatred or intolerance and second, changes to our education system which would reflect the needs, both moral and material, for our changing society.

Both of these require a high degree of leadership by our elected representatives, journalists, educational bodies and the other state elements, e.g. An Garda Síochana, Immigration Dept, the churches and other socially active bodies.

One thing that I have found living in Ireland is that when some national crisis occurs there is a great tendency to look back and seek guidance from the past. Unfortunately the World does not stand still and the past may not provide any useful ideas for moving forward. What we need now is to have a vision of what our society should be like in the future. It appears that the world is moving towards a high degree of racial and ethnic integration and Ireland cannot escape that reality.

So let us look forward and grasp this opportunity for Ireland to show an example to the world by establishing the most optimum conditions for harmony and tolerance.

Martin Collins, Pavee Point

On behalf of Pavee Point Travellers Centre I very much welcome today’s conference organised by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism in association with the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

This conference gives us a good opportunity to develop Ireland’s agenda for the European preparatory conference in Strasbourg in October and ultimately towards the UN Global Conference on Racism in August 2001 in South Africa.

On a personal level as a Traveller myself, which is Ireland’s largest ethnic minority I am glad to have this opportunity to highlight the reality of racism as experienced by my own community.

We Travellers are a small indigenous ethnic minority who have been a part of Irish society for centuries. We have a long shared history, customs and traditions making us a group, which is recognised by ourselves and the majority population as distinct. This distinctive identity and culture is based on a nomadic tradition, which sets us apart from the majority population.

Travellers over the years have had to fight hard to resist a policy of assimilation and absorption, which were designed by the majority population without any input from Travellers or Traveller organisations.

We continue to be amongst the most marginalised and excluded community within Irish society and fair poorly on a wide range of indicators used to measure disadvantage including poverty, social exclusion, health status, infant mortally, life expectancy, literacy, access to decision making and political representation, access to services, accommodation and living conditions.

These circumstances resulted in the Economic and Social Research Institute concluding ‘the circumstances of the Irish Travelling people are intolerable no humane and decent society once made aware of such circumstances could allow them to persist" (ESRI ’86).

More recently ‘Citizen Traveller’ which is a government funded information and public awareness campaign commissioned a major research project on the attitudes and feelings of the majority population towards the Travelling community this research revealed:

  • 42% of Irish people hold negative views towards Travellers
  • 44% would not accept Travellers as members of their communities
  • 93% would not accept a Traveller as part of his. /her family
  • 73% would not accept a Traveller as a friend.
  • 40% of people would be annoyed at the possibility of an official halting site being established in their neighboured while 75% of those with very unfavourable attitudes towards Travellers would be annoyed at the prospects.
  • 3% or 80.000 Irish people have attempted to get Travellers to move on..

It revealed half of the population 42% is negatively disposed towards the Traveller community. Yet 65% of Irish people have no contact with Travellers.

These statistics vividly illustrate how much work remains to be done in confronting negative attitudes and prejudice towards our community.

Travellers share a nomadic tradition with Gypsies and Roma, and unfortunately we also share a long history of persecution rejection and social exclusion.

The Minority Rights Group Report ‘Roma, Gypsies a European Minority’ (1985) says policies towards Roma Gypsies have always consisted in one form or another of a negation of the people their culture and their language. Past policy’s can be broadly grouped into three categories exclusion, containment and assimilation

I refer to these various reports to illustrate that there is a substantial body of evidence both at a national level and at international level to support our claim that the experiences of Travellers Roma Gypsy’s right throughout Europe is one of persecution and exclusion.

There’s no doubt Travellers have and are continuing to endure a long history of discrimination and exclusion on many levels both at the institutionalised level and the individual level. Discrimination occurs when Travellers are refused access to public places or services such as shops, pubs, restaurants, laundrettes and so on. The most public manifestation of the Anti-Traveller racism arises in the area of accommodation where you have the NIMBY syndrome - not in my back yard.

At the institutional level Travellers experience discrimination when services and policies are designed without regard to their potential to have a negative impact on Travellers. This can happen both intentionally or unintentionally. In our case what this means is services are designed by the majority population for the majority population. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry also known as the McPherson report did offer in my view a very good definition of institutionalised racism. It is defined as:

‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice ignorance thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.’

In my view the most effective way to address institutional racism to ensure that all decision-making processes and policy design and implementations are equality and race proofed. It’s about placing equality considerations in the centre of decision-making and administrative procedures in government departments and other organs of the state.

The strategy that emerges form today deliberation and the forthcoming European and world conferences, needs to bear in mind that racism does not just occur at the individual level but also at the institutional level. It’s very convenient for us to conjure up images of groups of skinheads of extreme right wing groups and so on without taking on board the effects of institutional racism.

The Minister in his speech emphasised the importance of the media. It is true that the media have an important role to play in combating racism. It has to be said that some sections of the media have been totally irresponsible when dealing with minority ethnic groups and the whole issue of racism and I am encouraged to hear the Minister announce that there will be a review of the Incitement to Hatred Act, because I know that Travellers organisations and indeed other groups have been campaigning for quite some time to have this act reviewed.

I do understand and appreciate the sensitivities on this issue. Pavee Point and other groups campaigning on these issues, support the right to free speech, but this in my view should not entitle anyone to freely incite hatred, particularly journalists and reporters who are in privileged positions, positions of power and who sometimes use this platform to articulate what is in effect their own racism. We have to strike a balance between the right of free speech and the rights of ethnic minorities not to have their cultural integrity undermined or devalued.

Recommendations for Future development

  • There should be actions to promote greater solidarity between Roma and Travellers and between Travellers and other groups who experience disadvantage.
  • It should be recognised that Travellers, Roma, Gypsies are not homogenous groups. Internal differences within the groups (gender, sexual orientation, values, etc) must be acknowledged and catered for.
  • Resources should be made available to NGOs, and in particular those working with Roma, Gypsies and Travellers so that they can engage in processes to address the issues they face and to engage with statutory and other bodies on these issues.

I hope that in terms of any future strategy that is agreed both here today; at the European regional preparations and at the third UN global conference in South Africa, there will be a number of core principles reflected in the final strategy, including

  • Recognition of the role in the NGO section in combating racism. Quite clearly the NGO sector has been taking the lead in combating racism and that this role has to be recognised.
  • The respect of the independence of NGO’s in the development of partnership.
  • When the NGO sector is engaging in partnerships with the statutory sector in the fight against racism their autonomy and independence should be fully respected.
  • The specific racism as experienced by Travellers and Gypsies needs to be addressed.
  • For example in respect of the enlargement of the European Union the European Commission should work with the Council of Europe to improve the human rights situation of Gypsies and Travellers in the applicant states who are seeking membership of the European union. People who are directly affected by racism must be centrally involved themselves developing and implementing and evaluating any policies or programs that are intended to address the problem of racism. I know that as part of European year against racism that the European commission stipulated this as a requirement, but this principle was only adopted by some EU counties involved in the year. In this regard I would like to compliment the NCCRI from its very outset in ensuring the participation and involvement of people from the minority ethnic groups.

To conclude, there are three types of strategy. One is education/public awareness campaigns which have a role to play in informing people and in trying to challenge and change attitudes. Secondly there is the whole area of legislation - unless we have strong, effective legislation I don’t think people’s behaviour will change. Thirdly and finally, I think what we really need to challenge is the whole ideology that underpins racism. This ideology encompasses a set of beliefs and values, which suggest that white settled society is superior and that Travellers and other ethnic groups are inherently inferior.

Dr. Jean Pierre Eyanga, Congo Solidarity Group.

I would like to thank the NCCRI in the name of refugees and asylum seekers who have been facing racism and xenophobia for years here in Ireland. But what do we mean by racism? Where does it come from? How does it manifest itself? Who are the authors? Why racism and xenophobia? Is there any way to tackle the plague of racism?

I will try to answer these questions in respect of refugees and asylum seekers here in Ireland. It will not be an academic talk but rather a practical and realistic one.

Racism and xenophobia are prevalent in each country on planet earth. That’s why conferences and meetings are organised throughout the world on the issue, however the most important question is do Irish people and the government really want to tackle racism and xenophobia?

Hundreds of conferences and meetings will not lead to a good outcome if the will to eliminate this plague on society is not genuine. I express here all my trust and confidence in what NCCRI are doing but at the same time I would not like to be considered as a guarantee that policy makers may have a quiet and satisfied conscience in that they have done a good job just listening to me.

Tangible actions are necessary. We have noticed that racism and xenophobia can be applied by individuals or by groups of people, which may be occasional or permanent. Occasional groups may be for example, a group of fans coming from a football match, or drinkers in a pub. Permanent groups may be private, for example restaurants, pubs, cinemas or Institutional for example government departments, Gardaí, schools, hospitals, etc.

It seems to us that racism and xenophobia come from selfishness exacerbated by ignorance and feelings of insecurity by either people who paradoxically think that they are strong, superior or those who feel insecure because of their weakness. Every government should manage selfishness by appropriate procedures and mechanisms such as laws, contracts, rules, agreements and conventions, to sustain survival since selfishness can lead to human conflicts from a simple domestic quarrel to a world war.

Selfishness and therefore racism and xenophobia are the non-granting of mutual personhood to another. They dehumanise human beings involved, both victims and perpetrators.

In a real democracy the majority rules the country but minority groups are fully protected by the legislation and institutions or organisations that are supposed to apply and enforce that law. If asylum seekers and refugees are not protected from racist abuses then a completely justified question comes directly to our minds: Is Ireland a real and complete democracy or not?

Personally I will answer yes it is but some people don’t properly do their job or they abuse their power. Only Irish people who chose them have real power over them, especially during elections. Racists may be ignorant people or well-educated people. If we can understand the first category, we find that the second category is the most dangerous because racists of this category attempt to justify intellectually their concepts. They can be lecturers, policy makers, members of political parties and even teachers.

In Ireland we have been victims of two forms of racism: The active form and the passive form. The active form is met mainly through verbal and physical assault of refugees and asylum seekers perpetuated by people especially living in tough areas. The passive form is mainly practised by institutions and clever people who, in doing nothing to stop racists, push them to act and react badly to others, foreigners. This form is not easy to find out as it is deeper in society.

Here are some examples: in one school, a young girl was assaulted for months by an Irish boy in the same school because she was Black. The principal was informed of this but he never stopped the boy. One day when the girl was doing sport, all her clothes were put into the toilet bowl so she couldn’t put them on. The only reaction the principal had was to say "I am sorry" but he never punished the boy. The only solution the girl found to protect herself was to fight the boy and the problem ended.

A further example is something that happened to me. I was in an area in Dublin I one evening when I was kicked by a group of young children. I also received hate mail calling me a ‘nigger’, a ‘bogus refugee’ etc. etc.

I lodged a complaint with the Gardaí. They asked me why I chose that area. ‘We cannot control those people’ they said. I never received a reply to my complaint. Finally my only solution was to leave the area as I realised that I was not properly protected thinking that if five-year olds can act in this manner, what about the parents and other adults?

In another example, a refugee who was in a bus at 9pm, going back home to Dublin 8. Somebody entered the bus and started to assault him verbally. He stayed quiet while the abuser strongly mocked him.

The victim asked the driver not to open the door and to call the Gardaí. The driver called the Gardaí but opened the door to let the man go. The most shocking thing is that none of the ten or twelve people present reacted to the assault and all of them didn’t want to confirm the attack when they were interviewed by Gardaí.

Accommodation is the area where racism and xenophobia are a daily experience for many refugees and asylum seekers. When making a phone call to landlords and landladies, because of the names and foreign accents the answer is nearly always the same. ‘It’s gone’, ‘We are full up’ even if the place is still available.

So we can say that refugees and asylum seekers face racism and xenophobia everyday and almost everywhere, in the existence of professional activities, in gaining access to a job or post, in social welfare, in education, in training, in accommodation, in the participation in common cultural, social and political activities.

To tackle racism and xenophobia in Ireland a few conditions must be fulfilled. The first one is that all the decision and policy makers of the government political party, trade unions, churches and all major institutions should make a clear and strong statement expressing perfectly their real will and commitment for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, especially racism and xenophobia from Ireland. This would be the most important step of this battle.

The second condition would be a clear commitment of the Irish government to join the international community in the struggle in ratifying the international UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination and we welcome the sentiment mentioned today by the government by the Minister of Justice on the intention to ratify this Convention.

The recruitment and incorporation of members of ethnic minorities in state administration professions such as Gardaí, civil servants, teachers, etc., would be a sustainable solution to the problem. The NCCRI would gain a lot in running research to find out the different layers in the causes and manifestation of racism in Ireland. We are ready to bring in our modest contribution.

Some days ago, we got news about the Immigration Bill coming into force. Many refugees and asylum seekers in this country find this legislation unfair to them and there is a concern that it may be seen by Irish people as a signal that Ireland does not welcome these foreigners. We hope that the Irish government will adopt the same urgency when it considers introducing further measures to protect the community against racism and xenophobia.

The Department of Education should be a main pillar of a national campaign against racism in this country. A strong and sustainable commitment and involvement of this department will guarantee a successful outcome of any policy or action.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should itself act and react as a sword against all racists. It should apply justice and equality which are the very purpose of its existence.

To conclude, refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland are confident in Irish people who are in the majority frank, friendly and welcoming. This evening, when you leave this venue will you please transmit to each Irish person you meet all our feelings of gratitude for the warm welcome and effort made for our welfare in this country. To those who feel themselves abused, neglected and abandoned, will you please tell them that we are all on the same side.

Rose Tuelo Brock, Galway One World Centre/Women from Minorities in Europe.

Now that, Ireland has been dragged kicking and screaming to proceed towards ratifying the UN Convention by putting into place legislation on equality, anti-discrimination and anti-racism, there is still a lot of work to be done.

The public, the Gardaí, the teachers, and the politicians themselves need to be educated and familiarised with the details of the legislation and the expectations and hopes of what the legislation is supposed to achieve.

This is essential because, out there, on the streets, young black men still get beaten, some experience harassment from individual members of the Garda Síochana; black women still experience verbal rape; foreigners still get abused both verbally and physically, and from politicians we continue to hear terms such as ‘bogus’, ‘floods’, and ‘hordes’ in regard to asylum seekers.

The legislation is to be welcomed, however there is a real danger that victims of racism may feel inhibited from taking any action under the legislation. There is a need for education and training of teachers, civil servants, members of the Gardaí, etc, in not only understanding the legislation but also in being encouraged to put it into practice. Legislation should be more proactive than reactive. Reactive legislation, which targets a small group, can make for bad legislation.

The introduction of re-entry visas, for every visit outside the country no matter how short, to people who already have valid residents’ permits is one such legislation. Inviting workers from different parts of the world to come but restricting the entry of even their spouses, is, in my mind, a recipe for breaking up families. Is this what such legislation is intended for?

Whilst I am very much encouraged by the formation of the new Garda Intercultural Unit and related initiatives, there is still a great need for education and workshops on racism and anti-racism behaviour both in the Gardaí and other public services. We all need to examine our own views and question our beliefs and prejudices and open ourselves to learning skills of treating other people, different from us, with respect, affirmation and acceptance.

I think that there is an opportunity for the school system to take antiracism on board. This can be started from early on in the school. When I arrived in this country some twenty-one years ago, I was shocked and demeaned by what I call: ‘The Black Baby Syndrome’. It looked to me as if the children looked at me as the black baby for whom they had had to give up their pennies for her to survive. Today, as I walk around, I am still not sure if the children do not still think like that.

In the early years, at school and in the home and through children’s television programmes, it is important to see pictures of children from different parts of the world and to learn about their different ways of life. This can be a way of introducing young children to difference and to associate difference with acceptance and affirmation, rather than derision.

It is important also that young children learn that the fact that people are different does not mean that they are stupid or threatening. They should be given the opportunity to see people in different parts of the world acting as teachers, nurses, doctors as well as labourers and not always as victims.

In secondary schools, special courses can be introduced through the civic classes and/or during Transition Year which might go some way towards explaining phenomena such as regional wars, the need to flee and why some states remain poor even when they have rich natural resources. The role of developed countries and multi-nationals should be included in such studies.

In this morning’s presentation, the Minister told us about education being one of the four main themes of the forthcoming European preparatory conference and that this theme will seek to promote the concept of ‘toleration’.

I have a problem with this word ‘tolerate/tolerant’. For me the words smack of negativity. In my opinion, when you tolerate something, it is because you are uncomfortable with it, uneasy and threatened. People who are of a different colour are human and no different. They might look different and have some different cultural practices some of which we might find peculiar but being black is not an aberration. We are like this because of a concentration of melanin, which we all have except that mine is more than yours. This melanin is only in our skin, and does not exist in my brain. I am normal and have dignity and integrity and therefore, I do not want to be tolerated. I want to be affirmed and accepted because, I have the right to be.

Presently, there is a tendency for selective reporting which gives the negative characters and happenings and glossing over positive facts.

It is important that there should be a concerted effort to report happenings factually the way they happen without putting an emotive slant. Where a letter about a particular group is allowed to appear in a newspaper or radio or TV programme, the group which is being talked about should be given an opportunity to respond at the same time without feeling that they are being threatened. To do this effectively, they would have to be made aware of the attack or negative report ahead of inviting them to appear on a programme or respond to a letter.

The media should take care with the language used. Derogatory, defamatory terms ought to be shunned in talking or writing about particular groups; and generalising characteristics, especially negative characteristics should be avoided. Let us always keep in mind that corruption, greed, dishonesty etc, are failings of human being and not of a particular group of people; that criminals and cheats are in all parts of the world.

The way that the ‘Third world’ is presented in the media also has implications for minority ethnic groups in Ireland. If the ‘Third world’ is represented or referred to consistently in a derogatory way, then this will have implications for how many people from minority ethnic groups will be perceived in Ireland.

We ought to have representatives of different communities working in the media. By now, there should be more black, Asian etc reporters and programme presenters and actors in RTE as well as in the newspapers. It would be encouraging to see the media giving opportunities to members of minority ethnic groups to take active part in reporting, writing, and discussion groups.

Let us bear in mind that people in these groups have mouths and minds and do not need always to be talked about and on behalf of them, when they are capable of doing so themselves.

The ‘does he take sugar’ mentality ought to disappear. It is so demeaning, so disrespectful that it always perplexes me that it is still such a common practice in this day and age. You see it everyday everywhere. If you are in a campaign about debt or some such campaign, the photos of celebrities or known members of the church or some such thing will be the ones whose utterances and pictures will appear in the newspaper and very few of the ordinary people are interviewed, even if they are so willing and active and always there.

To conclude, let me emphasise this: There are Black people who are Irish and there are Irish people who are Black. And. might I add that they are not all footballers or actors. There are many who are normal everyday people with their own various talents and abilities. It is high time that the politicians, the public and the constitution be aware of this and acknowledge this. Black people should not always have to explain their Irishness.

Consultation, involvement, co-operation and participation in assessing things and in forming policies and working out problems, are very important features of the fight to address racism Please use adopt these methods with the black people with the refugees, with the asylum seekers, with migrants and with all the ethnic minorities in Ireland.

Summary of points raised at the first plenary

Shalini Sinha, an anti-racism and equality trainer and who lectures on the Women’s Studies at UCD, welcomed the development of and interest in anti racism training However, she stressed the need to develop full policies and programmes for ongoing training that will impact on organisations and challenge them to adopt a strong policy on addressing racism. Shalini stressed the fact that black people in Ireland are very disenfranchised and very isolated and that in a time when racism is gaining more and more public attention. A number of groups are organising a conference to bring together black people to help to create more momentum and break the isolation.

Mohammad Haji of the Association of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ireland (ARASI) stated that the days when the racist had a skinhead are largely gone but now we have more subtle forms of racism, or people denying that racism exists when we hear people say that ‘I’m not a racist because I have a black friend’ and ‘I’m not a racist but I don’t want a Traveller site on my doorstep’. Mohammed further contended that we need to avoid a cosmetic approach to racism - there has to be radical changes in the mentality and the thinking that generates racism.

Gertrude Cotter of East Cork Area Development Partnership agreed that there are wonderful ideas around to tackle racism but questioned where the resources to fund these initiatives where to come from. Geraldine contended that there is only so much that can be done on a voluntary basis and groups badly need the resources to develop anti racism strategies particularly at local level.

Colm O’Cuanachain of Comlamh/Le Chéile anti-racism project welcomed the Minister’s reference to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racism but stressed that Ireland is one of only twenty-five countries in the world not to have ratified the Convention and the only European State. Ratification, he contended, should be an absolute priority in our preparations for the world conference. He further contended that despite recent developments in education policy, there is still not a comprehensive anti-racism programme in schools. The SPHE programme in primary schools, he contended, is a very limited module and there is no provision of training for teachers in anti-racism education.

Rory Ahern of Trinity College Student’s Union. supported the point made by Gertrude Cotter and stated that if you look at the surplus that exists today in the national exchequer we should ask why isn’t there more money going into these programmes? Rory further contended that the attacks on the streets of Dublin and of Ireland against blacks and people of different nationalities is due to the racism of individuals but we have to look at where that racism is coming from, including the role of some politicians in helping to create the conditions where such racism can exist.

Josephine Olusala commended the Minister and NCCRI in organising the conference but to stress the urgency to promote an initiative for the public, through education and through awareness around racism. Josephine further stressed the need for ‘strong leadership from the top’ to address racism, working with the people at the bottom- those experiencing racism. She emphasised the fact that asylum seekers and refugees are open to assaults and abuses on the streets and the need for politicians top be careful in their use of language and tone when discussing issues related to refugees and asylum seekers.

Carlos Medina of the Spanish-Irish society of Ireland. contended that some Europeans are experiencing xenophobia in Ireland, including Italians, Portuguese and Spanish people. That there are some shaming the Irish through their racism and xenophobia. Carlos emphasised the historical and contemporary connections that unite Ireland and places such as Spain and to take seriously the need for the government to broaden and speed up the processes that allow people to live here as immigrants or visitors or students.

Rosaleen McDonagh of the National Traveller Women’s Forum stated that resources need to be put in place to address racism but the obstacles to tackling racism are not always about money. Rosaleen further stated that that there is a need for a gender dimension to be also included ‘up front’ in the development of the anti racism policies mentioned by the Minister in his opening address. She further emphasised the need for policies to recognise and allow for diversity within ethnic minorities, including disability and sexuality.

Piaras Mac Einri of the Irish Immigrant Support Centre in Cork commented that the Minister needs to make the same comments at Fianna Fail ard fheiseanna. Piaras contended that the moral authority of politicians, much as we may spend a lot of time criticising them, is such that we cannot get away from their central role in tackling racism. Piaras contended that we need to reform the education system and to look at all kinds of action against racism but in the end the role of senior politicians is incredibly important and it’s a role he felt they were not playing.

Top of the Page

Report Contents:

Executive Summary
Section 1: Contexts
Section 2: Racism/Ireland
Section 3: Key Themes
Section 4: Conclusions

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