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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 Three: Key Themes

Section contents:

Joan Harbinson, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission (NI).

Legal protection against racism
Eilis Barry, Legal Advisor, Equality Authority.
Donncha O Connell, Director, Irish Council of Civil Liberties.

Policies and practices against racism
Philip Watt, Director, NCCRI.
Catherine Clancy, Chief Superintendent, An Garda Síochána.

Education and awareness raising to combat racism
Senator Joe O Toole, General Secretary, Irish National Teachers Organisation.
Kensika Monshengwo, Training Officer NCCRI.

Information, communication and the media
Inez McCormack, President, Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Nuala Haughey, Journalist with the Irish Times.


Joan Harbinson, Chairperson, Equality Commission of Northern Ireland

I am Joan Harbinson, Chief Commissioner for Equality in Northern Ireland and was absolutely delighted to receive an invitation to participate in today’s events. There has been a very good relationship developed between the Equality Authority in the Republic and the Equality Commission in the North over the last year.

If any of you are here who are from the North and you want to know why I’m particularly happy to be part of a conference that is talking about Ireland against racism, I am ashamed to say that last night’s Belfast Telegraph gave me a very good reason for being here today.

A young Bangladeshi man, a taxi driver in our city, had his car almost wrecked and all the windows of his house broken just because someone didn’t like the colour of his skin. Needless to say he and his young wife are terrified. That shouldn’t happen in our society in the year 2000. It shouldn’t happen in any society in the year 2000 so that’s why I’m glad to be here.

This is the preparation for the preparatory conference in Strasbourg for the world conference in South Africa in 2001 and that is going to be a very important opportunity for us to influence the world agenda on racism and all the associated abuses of human rights and marginalisation.

It was only three years ago last month that race relation’s legislation was enacted in Northern Ireland. It took us twenty-one years after the rest of the United Kingdom because racism was not perceived to be a problem. In those three years we have learned differently.

You In Ireland have had to wait a further two years although you did, of course have the benefit of the work carried out by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. The NCCRI are our hosts here today and I would applaud the work that they have done and the support they gave us whenever we were established.

The fact is that in both jurisdictions the fight against racial discrimination and racial harassment through the medium of legislation has only just begun. How timely then that the world and European conferences are taking place now, for they will provide a golden opportunity for us to learn from others just as we have been learning from each other over the past three years and I would say that we did a lot of learning this morning.

I was delighted to hear Rose Brock talk about ‘tolerance’ if the chief executive in the old Commission for Racial Equality was sitting beside me, she would be saying ‘Listen, there’s someone that agrees with you’.

I have been fighting against that use of the word tolerance ever since the establishment of the Commission for Racial Equality three years ago. We had an education report published a short time ago in the North called ‘The Culture of Tolerance’. I immediately wrote to the Department of Education and said I really don’t think we ought to be teaching our children to tolerate other children.

But the challenge for us all is to ensure that our participation both in Strasbourg and then in South Africa is meaningful. I believe that this will only happen if those of us who are part of the official delegations have taken the time to listen to and learn from our colleagues in the non-governmental sector about the issues that matter and to members of black and minority ethnic groups.

Those of us who participated in the twenty-third special session on women, Beijing + 5 in New York in June know what an important part NGOs played there, but also in the preparation conference, so we can learn from those experiences.

The processes of listening and learning has already begun but today offers a wonderful opportunity to focus on the key themes of legal protections, policies and practices, education and awareness and information communication and the media. I would stress to all of you that what we want out of the workshops this afternoon is not just examples of the awful things that have happened but rather we want an agenda for the future. We want you to tell us what we ought to be saying is Strasbourg that ought to be the agenda for South Africa in 2001. What do we want to change internationally, nationally and locally? These are the things that you really ought to be focusing on with your groups this afternoon.

We want to see changes at all levels, the international, the national and the local levels. Changes at international level means that the behaviour of different countries, including our own comes, under international scrutiny, which is extremely important.

In the North, we now have experience under our belt of the operation of anti-discrimination provisions in our legislation. We do know the shortcomings of the law, some of which have been already pointed to in Great Britain arising from the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. We need to ensure that new legislative provisions are also extended to cover Northern Ireland. In the near future we will be presenting our recommendations for change to the race relations legislation to the Northern Ireland Assembly for their consideration.

The new statutory duty on public authorities, which is in the legislation in the North, will be of interest to this conference. . Under the statutory duty, all government departments and all those departments funded by government have to give due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity as well as to promote good racial relations between groups.

This duty is quite new, we’re only in the throes of implementing it, but we do believe that many public bodies and government departments are actually beginning to understand the ways in which their policies and practices can and do impact upon the lives of members of black and minority ethnic groups. We are certainly hopeful that through the development of their equality schemes that each of these bodies will have to develop such schemes.

Every policy will have to be impact assessed and that impact assessment consulted upon with all the affected groups under our legislation and that includes minority ethnic groups. We want to ensure that that consultation is real and meaningful and that will also bring about significant change. There has been a lot of talk this morning about the urgent need for education and awareness-raising to combat racism. This was brought home very strongly in the North with the publication of two research reports from the University of Ulster. One, ‘Racial attitudes and prejudice in Northern Ireland tells us that in the North we are more than twice as likely to exhibit racist attitudes than we are sectarian attitudes, which says a lot about the situation in the North.

The second part of the research was recently published and demonstrated the extent to which members of minority ethnic groups are subjected to harassment and bullying in our schools and our work-places and as was reported in the Belfast Telegraph last night, in your own home.

If anyone did need evidence for the need for education and awareness raising and strong legal measures and practices to support those and tackle racism, these reports graphically provide it. We can of course learn from some of the initiatives developed in the South, including the Citizen Traveller campaign, which we have watched with great interest and hope to learn from.

Last year we looked at how the print media reported black and minority ethnic issues. There was certainly room for improvement and we came to realise just how important the media can be in forming and changing public perceptions and attitudes as Martin Collins of Pavee Point referred to in his speech. But I think that the most important communication channel is with the black and minority an ethnic group themselves and we need to ask ourselves if the way we inform, communicate and consult is meaningful and effective both for them and for us.

Which brings me back to the cautionary statement I made at the outset. We must ensure that our participation in Strasbourg and South Africa is meaningful. We have a year’s work ahead of us to make sure this happens. When we come home after South Africa, we should not only have new information, new ideas and a new enthusiasm, but that we will have made a significant contribution to establishing a new world-wide agenda which at local, national and international level will be driven forward with commitment and resolve to bring about real change.

At the end of the day that is what will matter and that is what we are contributing to here today.

Legal Protection Against Racism

Donncha O’Connell, Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties


In this paper I propose to focus on a number of areas of legislation designed to combat racism other than the new equality code which my colleague, Eílís Barry of the Equality Authority, will deal with. I will start by examining the Prohibition on Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 which although well-intentioned has proven demonstrably unequal to the challenge of deterring some of those who indulge their racism through hate speech or providing a remedy for others who are the objects of such hatred. I will then examine the implications of the long overdue ratification by Ireland of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the potential of the Good Friday Agreement and the forthcoming EU Directive on Racism to improve the legal situation in this country.

Before embarking on a critical exposition of the current legal regime it might first be useful to explore some of the theoretical dilemmas faced by those tasked with framing anti-racism legislation. It is too easy to under-estimate such difficulties but by-passing the theoretical dimension to the debate will ultimately inhibit the effectiveness of the resulting legislation.

The organisation which I now work for (the Irish Council for Civil Liberties) actually opposed the Incitement to Hatred Act when it was being enacted not because it did not go far enough in prohibiting hate speech but because it went too far as a restriction on freedom of expression. We have since revisited this question and moderated our position in light of the disappointing experience with that piece of legislation to the extent that we now support the calls made by other groups such as Pavee Point for new legislation on hate speech which would bring us into line with the standard required by Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and which would include gender as a basis upon which hate speech is prohibited.

Arriving at such a revised position is clearly influenced by experience but it also involves compromise between a number of apparently conflicting theoretical positions. The classical libertarian stance is to view freedom of expression as a core norm and to view almost all restrictions on speech - even on offensive speech - as beyond the pale. Such a view can sometimes conflict with a desire on the part of society to promote equality and eliminate discrimination. Contemporary legal thinking - at least at the level of international law - seeks to couple (or reconcile) the right of freedom of expression with equality.

So what do we mean by ‘hate speech’ and what is the rationale for imposing legal restrictions on such speech? ‘Hate speech’ is generally taken to mean a whole spectrum of negative discourse stretching from hate and incitement to hatred; to abuse, insults and offensive words and epithets; to prejudice and bias. Justifications for restricting such speech by law include:

  • Intrinsic harm
  • Harm to identifiable groups
  • Harm to individuals
  • Harm to the market-place of ideas
  • Harm to the educational environment
  • "Psychic harm".

Others take the view that - notwithstanding the moral repugnancy of hate speech - it can have a limited instrumental value to society. For example, it has been argued that hate speech sensitises the public to prevailing currents of racism in society which may lead to a redoubling of efforts to eradicate it through educational and other initiatives. Thus, exposure to racist viewpoints challenges unthinking complacency. While such view are criticised for being too abstract they should not be lightly discounted.

Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989

The 1989 Act was an important gesture by the Oireachtas in that is signalled that all forms of speech were not harmless and that there were numerous bases upon which people could be subjected to discriminatory speech. It should be remembered that sexual orientation was included as one of the prohibited grounds and that this occurred at a time when the Irish Government had not yet responded to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Norris Case which found that the Irish legal prohibitions on homosexual activity between men were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The other grounds upon which incitement to hatred was prohibited by the 1989 Act were: race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins and membership of the Traveller Community.

The core provision of the Act is contained in Section 2 which states:

‘It shall be an offence for a person -

(a) to publish or distribute written material,

(b) to use words, behave or display written material -

(i) in any place other than inside a private residence, or

(ii) inside a private residence so that the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by persons outside the residence,


(c) to distribute, show or display a recording of visual images or sounds,

if the written material, words, behaviour, visual images or sounds, as the case may be, are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred.’

The same section then goes on to provide a defence for persons accused of incitement to hatred in the following terms:

if the accused person is not shown to have intended to stir up hatred, it shall be defence for him to prove that he was not aware of the content of the material or recording concerned and did not suspect, and had no reason to suspect, that the material or recording was threatening, abusive or insulting.’

Clearly this involves some form of shifting probative burden, i.e. in the absence of evidence of intention to incite the accused is required to prove a lack of knowledge as to the objectionable nature of the material or recording concerned or an absence of ‘recklessness’ as to the content of his/her speech. This has been the principal weakness in the 1989 Act and, arguably, arises from the fact that the offence is classified as criminal which means that intention (or mens rea) is an essential element of proof. It is almost certainly this requirement which has hindered the DPP in bringing prosecutions under the Act resulting in zero convictions.

The only prosecution to arise under the 1989 Act resulted from a speech by Fine Gael Councillor, John Martin Flannery, who, when speaking at a meeting of the Western Health Board, compared Travellers to cattle and dogs. The Councillor was acquitted and went on to enjoy an improved vote in the subsequent local election. There have been other incidents (involving Travellers and Refugees and Asylum Seekers) which have led to calls for prosecutions to be brought under the Act and one unsuccessful attempt was made by Pavee Point to initiate a prosecution arising from an article by Sunday Independent columnist, Mary Ellen Synon.

The Act is now being reviewed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It was disappointing that the UN Human Rights Committee refrained from commenting on its efficacy in their most recent Concluding Observations on Ireland’s second Periodic Report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but this reflected their general silence on freedom of expression issues. The Committee did, however, raise concerns about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland and tangentially alluded to the growing problems of racism and xenophobia. Following the visit to Ireland of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression a report was published in March 2000. Again this report made no mention of the Incitement to Hatred Act in its recommendations but it did call for the ratification by Ireland of CERD.

In any review of the 1989 Act the requirement of proving intention will have to be addressed as will the somewhat narrow bases upon which incitement to hatred is prohibited. I do not propose to provide definitive answers to the very real and practical questions faced by those charged with carrying out such a review but I would like to pose some of those questions:

  • Should the offence of incitement be re-classified, or classified additionally, as a civil rather than a criminal offence?
  • Is there scope for greater protection under the Constitution as currently worded or as revised at some stage in the future so as to give greater centrality to the right of equality (at least in the sense of freedom from discrimination)?

It could be argued that the level of incitement to hatred would be much greater in Irish society without the 1989 Act and, to that extent, the legislation has been a somewhat effective deterrent. This is impossible to prove or disprove. It will almost certainly be argued that the practical difficulties of regulating this area are so great as to be insurmountable or, indeed, objectionable on freedom of speech grounds. In response to this disingenuous argument I would simply point to the disgraceful defamation laws which are stubbornly maintained by those with the power to change them and who, of course, have the greatest vested interest in their being maintained.

Likely impact of developments in EU law and ratification of CERD

Article 13 of the EC Treaty (post-Amsterdam) provides:

"Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation."

This very positive development of the founding principles of the European Union has resulted in a package of Directives and a draft Community Action Programme which provide a potentially rich source of anti-racism measures. Now that the Anti-Racism Directive has been adopted it will apply to Ireland by 2003 regardless of the provisions of the Equal Status Act and irrespective of whether we proceed to ratify CERD.

Ireland has delayed the ratification of CERD on the basis that our domestic equality/anti-discrimination legislation was inadequate as its scope of application was insufficiently comprehensive. This has now been remedied by the passing of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 which, taken together with the Prohibition on Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 and the constitutional guarantee of equality, provide a comprehensive (if inadequate) corpus of laws. Although we have signed CERD it has yet to be ratified but a commitment to ratify, hopefully before the end of 2000, has now been given. There is simply no longer an excuse for delaying the ratification of this very useful UN treaty and the imperative for so doing is clear to anyone with even the slightest awareness of racism on Irish streets and in Irish homes which, regrettably, has been fed by denial and moral equivalence at official level. A welcome break with this pattern of official indifference was the statement by Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs, Liz O’Donnell, T.D., at the Third Annual NGO Forum organised by the Human Rights Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in early July.

When Ireland has ratified CERD we will be subjected to regular periodic examinations by the relevant UN body and the possibility of individual complaint mechanisms with all of the attendant publicity which such procedures attract. Recent controversies regarding the performance of the Australian and UK Governments demonstrate the potential of such instruments for groups working in the non-governmental sector on anti-racist platforms. The tone of the debate on refugees and asylum seekers in this country would definitely have been moderated if some politicians had felt the need to temper their excessive rhetoric for fear of being named or referred to in a critical report by UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Impact of Good Friday Agreement - new institutions and incorporation of ECHR

The fact that new equality infrastructures and Human Rights Commissions are being established in both parts of Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement is a very positive and, arguably, underestimated spin-off of the settlement. It is imperative that these developments are not viewed as meaningless reciprocal arrangements in this part of the island and their potential for tackling racism must not be overlooked or undermined by inadequate resourcing in human and financial terms.

Although not expressly stipulated as an obligation under the Agreement the European Convention on Human Rights is about to be incorporated into domestic law in the Republic. The likely mode of incorporation is by ordinary legislation. Thus, in a given case, if a provision of the ECHR conflicts with a provision of the Irish Constitution the latter will prevail.

The Convention will certainly supplement some of the rights already guaranteed (expressly or impliedly) by the Irish Constitution but there are tensions within the established jurisprudence under the ECHR which amply demonstrate the difficulty of reconciling freedom of expression with other rights such as equality and democratic values. Article 17 of the ECHR provides:

‘Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention.’

The potential for conflict between this provision and the freedom of expression guarantee contained in Article 10 is self-evident and has given rise to some interesting decisions by the Strasbourg organs in which the values of Article 17 have prevailed over those of Article 10. The potential for cross-fertilisation between CERD and the ECHR was seen, albeit disappointingly, in Jersild v. Denmark. The prohibition on discrimination contained in Article 14 - soon to be enhanced by the Twelfth Protocol - should also be borne in mind.

There are, of course, other Council of Europe instruments - such as the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities - which could yet prove effective in combating racism. This Convention was ratified by Ireland in May 1999 and came into force in September 1999. The Council has also done important work through non-judicial organs like the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

Concluding Remarks

It has been argued that the struggle against racism is a constituent element of European identity. In this country national identity was for a long time based on what we perceived ourselves to be struggling against - British colonialism. ‘Irishness’ frequently meant ‘non-Englishness’ or ‘anti-Englishness’. We are now supposedly ‘young Europeans’ but it would be difficult to argue - based on recent experiences in this country - that the struggle against racism is a constituent element of that part of our identity.

While identity is inevitably based on positive and negative elements it must never become fixed or exclusive. We need to be less ‘Irish’ in the negative sense and more ‘young Irish European’.

Putting in place legal mechanisms to combat racism is only part of the picture. On the political side a whole new type of leadership is required which is open to the influence and supervision of international bodies and which is not smug and defensive.

Legal Protection Against Racism

Eílís Barry, Legal Advisor to the Equality Authority.

In this paper I will examine how equality legislation in Ireland addresses the issues of racism and discrimination.

I will look at two pieces of legislation, the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 in the light of the new European Council Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. Ireland has to implement these provisions by July 19th, 2003.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 only came into effect last October, it prohibits discrimination in employment.

The Equal Status Act, 2000, is due to come into effect in October 2000, and will prohibit discrimination in relation to provision of goods and services, accommodation, education and clubs.

The scope of the Directive is broad. It applies broadly to matters covered by both pieces of legislation, including:

  • All persons, as regards both the public and private sectors, including public bodies
  • Employers, vocational training
  • Social security and health care are specifically included
  • Social advantages and education
  • Supply of goods and services including housing

These are matters to a large extent covered by the two Irish Acts. However, the Directive does not cover difference of treatment based on nationality and is without prejudice to the provisions and conditions relating to the entry into and residence of what are called third country nationals and stateless persons.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 prohibit discrimination on nine specified grounds. There are the more familiar grounds of gender, marital status and family status and the newer grounds of sexual orientation, religion, age and disability. Two of the specific grounds are relevant to this discussion, ‘the ground of race’ and the separate distinct ‘Traveller Community’ ground.

The description of the ground of race is ‘as between any two persons, that they are of different race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins’.

‘Traveller Community’ is defined in the Equal Status Act, 2000 as meaning ‘the community of people who are commonly called themselves Travellers and who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland’.

As stated earlier, the Directive does not cover differences based on Nationality and is without prejudice to the provisions and conditions relating to the entry into and residents of third country nationals and stateless persons and to any treatment which arises from the legal status of third country nationals and stateless persons.

The scope in this regard is narrow. Provisions that would have huge relevance for third country nationals, such as dispersal and direct provision as administered by the Department of Social Welfare may well be exempted under the Directive though may be covered by the Equal Status Act, 2000.

Irish legislation is broader in scope in that the definition of the ground of race includes nationality and there is no reference to third country nationals. However, there are important exemptions particularly in the Equal Status Act, 2000, which curtails the scope of the protection afforded. These are considered later

Common Concepts

Firstly there are concepts that are common to both pieces of legislation and the Directive.

All have provisions on direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination under the 1998 Employment Equality Act, amounts to less favourable treatment i.e. where on any of the nine discriminatory grounds one person is treated less favourably than another is, has, or would be treated, for example, if someone was denied access to work because he/she was English.

The definition of direct discrimination in the Directive is similar in wording. It is ‘less favourable treatment in a comparable situation on grounds of racial or ethnic origin’. However, the definition of direct discrimination in the Equal Status Act, 2000 is much broader and worth considering particularly in relation to what is called the ground of race and the Traveller Community ground. Direct discrimination under the Equal Status Act, 2000 includes discrimination by imputation and discrimination by association. This definition is worthy of consideration at EU level.

Indirect discrimination

The Acts and the Directive have provisions on indirect discrimination as well. In the Employment Equality Act, there are different standards in relation to different grounds in relation to the provisions on gender - the discriminatory practice or requirement which has the disproportionate negative impact has to be objectively justified. (Section 22)

However, in relation to the non-gender grounds including the ground of race and the Traveller Community ground the offending practice only has to be reasonably justified (Section 31). The indirect discrimination provisions under the Equal Status Act, 2000 only also have to be reasonably justified (Section30). In the Directive the practice or criterion which would put persons of a racial or ethnic origin at a particular disadvantage would have to be objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

The indirect discrimination provisions of the Directive are more stringent and it is likely the indirect provisions on the ground of race and the Traveller Community ground in the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 will have to be accordingly amended.

Positive Action

The two Acts and the Directive have provisions on Positive Action, Article 5 of the Directive provides ‘with a view to ensuring full equality in practice, the principle of equal treatment shall not prevent any member state from maintaining or adopting specific measures to prevent or compensate for disadvantage linked to racial or ethnic origin’. It is regrettable that these provisions aren’t stronger.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 has measures on positive action in relation to the promotion of equal opportunity for:

  • Men and women
  • Persons over the age of 50
  • Persons with a disability
  • Members of the Traveller Community

There are no specific provisions on the ground of race. Perhaps the Directive will provide the necessary impetus to bring forward such measures.

The provisions on positive action in the Equal Status Act, 2000 are vague but definitely broader. Positive action measures are permitted for what are called disadvantaged persons and measures which cater for the ‘special needs of persons are also allowed. These provisions are broad enough to Ireland to adopt specific measure in relation to disadvantage linked to racial or ethnic origin as envisaged by the Directive.


In the Directive harassment is deemed to be discrimination - it constitutes discrimination when an unwanted conduct related to racial or ethnic origin takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

However, the Directive allows the Member State to define the concept of harassment. Both the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 have provisions and definitions on sexual harassment and harassment. The harassment provisions borrow heavily from the sexual harassment provisions. Prior to the Employment Equality Act, 1998 the Equality Officers and the Labour Court (who are the quasi judicial bodies who hear and decide cases on sex discrimination) had used a subjective definition of sexual harassment in the absence of a statutory definition. The High Court in the case of the Health Board -v- BC and the Labour Court (1994/ELR27) approved of the definition of sexual harassment contained in the EC Commission’s Code of Practice ‘on the Protection of the Dignity of Women and Men at Work’ (90/C157/02). This Code of Practice defined sexual harassment as follows:

"Sexual harassment means unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men at work. This can include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct (para 2.1). Thus a range of behaviour may be considered to constitute sexual harassment (para 2.2).

The essential characteristic of sexual harassment is that it is unwanted by the recipient, that it is for each individual to determine what behaviour is acceptable to them and what they regard as offensive. (para 2.3)" (my emphasis).

It is regrettable that the Acts have effectively reduced to an extent the provisions on sexual harassment and consequently harassment by introducing an objective element into the definition. Harassment is defined as any act or conduct including spoken words, gestures or the production display or circulation of written words, pictures or other material. These would constitute harassment if the action were unwelcome and could reasonably be regarded as offensive humiliating or intimidating.

The definition mirrors the provision on sexual harassment by incorporating a mixed subjective and objective test. Definitions are crucial. Prior to the Act it is no exaggeration to say that Ireland was at the forefront in Europe in relation to protection against sexual harassment. Unfortunately these amendments have consequential effects on the definition of harassment. One challenge at a European level would be to come up with a strong definition.

The Equality Authority has not been in existence for a long time, but insofar as there are common themes emerging on all the nine grounds, harassment and sexual harassment emerge consistently. The EC Commissions Code of Practice on sexual harassment could assist in drafting a definition of harassment.

Vicarious Liability

There are significant provisions on vicarious liability in the Employment Equality act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 which are crucial in relation to harassment on any of the specified grounds. These provisions on vicarious liability provide that employers and service providers will be liable for the discriminatory acts of their employees, clients, customers, even if they are unaware of what was going on.


It is a defence for a service provider or employer to show that he/she took all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination occurring. These provisions provide a great impetus for employers and or service providers to have policies and practices on harassment in place. The Irish caselaw precedent on sexual harassment, which is quite advanced, will be relevant to a discussion on harassment on the race ground or Traveller Community ground. Liability is imposed on employers who don’t have proper policy procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment. Those policies and procedures have to be properly applied.

Both Acts contain broad prohibitors against discrimination on nine grounds followed by detailed exemptions.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 - the scope of the Act is wide and covers both public and private sectors and sectors covered by Directive. The Act applies to employers in relation to:

  1. access to employment
  2. conditions of employment
  3. promotion
  4. training

It also applies to collective agreements, advertising, employment agencies, vocational training, trade unions and professional associations.

With regard to membership and benefits, the Act provides for Equal Pay for like work. There are specific exemptions on most of the discriminatory grounds. The relevant exemptions to this discussion are as follows:


  • Residency requirements.

  • Citizenship and proficiency in Irish are permitted for employment in the Garda Siochana, civil service, and Defence Forces and local authorities.

  • There is a requirement of proficiency in Irish language for teachers in post primary schools. (This requirement currently provides a potential bar to employment of teachers from Northern Ireland or the UK.)

  • Specified educational, technical or professional qualifications, which are generally accepted in the State. Vocational training bodies can provide different treatment in relation to fees for admission or attendance at courses by persons who are citizens of Ireland or nationals of another member state of Europe or the allocation of places on courses to Irish citizens or European nationals.

There are also exemptions in relation to sponsorships, scholarships, "which assistance is reasonably justifiable, having regard to tradition or historical considerations".

Occupational Qualification

There is also an occupational qualification exemption in relation to the age ground, the disability ground and the ground of race.

A relevant characteristic may be taken to be an occupational qualification for a post on the grounds of physiology or authenticity for the purposes of entertainment.

There are also exemptions on grounds including the ground of race and membership of Traveller Community in relation to employment in private households. Occupational qualifications have to be strictly construed. The Directive allows for difference in treatment where a characteristic related to racial or ethnic origin constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, in very limited circumstances. The objective has to be legitimate and the requirement proportional.

At the very least, Ireland will have to provide information to the Commissioner justifying its exemptions and it may be that some of the exemptions will be in breach terms of the Directive.

The Equal Status Act, 2000

  • It applies to:
  • Disposal of goods,
  • Provision of services available to public generally,
  • Disposal of premises and
  • Provision of accommodation
  • Educational establishments and
  • Clubs


It allows difference in treatment on grounds of gender, age, disability and ground of race in relation to sporting events, dramatic performances and other entertainment.

The most serious exemption contained in the Equal Status Act, 2000 is that it does not apply to anything required by act or statute. The provision would appear to be in breach of terms of the Directive. The Equal Status Act, 2000 on the face of it, applies to State and public services.

Many of the matters relating to state and public services are laid down in statute. The Equal Status Act, 2000 may have to be amended so that anything required to be done by statute is not excluded, in so far as it relates to the ground of race and the Traveller community ground.

It is interesting to note that the provisions on dispersal and direct provision are not explicitly provided for by the statute and may be open to challenges when the Equal Status Act comes into force.


The Directive requires that rights are defended whether by way of judicial and/or administration procedures. There are several obvious barriers to enforcement such as the lack of information about the rights, assistance in bringing claims, enforcement mechanisms themselves can prove problematic or deficient.

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 established the Equality Authority with the aim of the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities. It also established the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations (ODEI), a quasi-judicial body which hears and decides claims under the Acts.

There is a difference in treatment in the Act in relation to the various grounds. Gender employment cases can go to the Circuit Court where there will be no limits to the compensation payable. This is as a consequence of the European Court of Justice in the Marshall case, which outlaws ceilings on compensation award in sexual discrimination cases.

All other non gender claims under the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 go to the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations (or the Labour Court if it is a dismissal). There the compensation payable is limited in employment dismissal cases to

  • Two years salary is maximum

  • Cases under the Equal Status Act, 2000:- maximum compensation £5,000

The compensation payable for all claims on the ground of race and the Traveller Community ground is limited. The Directive requires that sanctions imposed by Member States must be ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive’.

The £5,000 limit may have to be amended and the ceiling on compensation in employment cases may have to be reviewed as well in relation to claims on the ground of race and Traveller Community ground.

Burden of Proof

There are interesting provisions in the Directive on the burden of proof. If the claimant can establish facts from which it may be presumed that there has been discrimination, the onus shifts to the respondent to prove that there has been no breach. Both Acts would have to be amended in this regard to make this provision clear. This is a significant development in easing burden in proving claims.

Bodies for the Promotion of Equal Treatment

The Directive allows Member State designate body or bodies for promotion of equal treatment on grounds of race or ethnic origin. The bodies can provide assistance in pursuing claims, conducting surveys concerning discriminations publish independent reports and make recommendations on any issue relating to such discrimination.

The Equality Authority has all those powers at the moment in relation to all of the nine grounds. It has specific additional powers and functions that may be useful to consider at European level.

Equality Reviews

A new power afforded to the Equality Authority is in relation Equality Reviews and Action Plans. These involve an audit of equality provisions in employment or service providers in relation to the nine grounds. This can be done from a human resources and customer service focus. Goals are established and action plans prepared. The Equality Authority is currently working on a template and handbook. These Equality Reviews have a huge potential. A further additional power is in relation to Codes of Practice. The Equality Authority is involved in preparing work on Codes of Practice on the basis of widespread consultation. If approved by Minister they can be used in evidence in cases.

The potential of Equality Reviews and Codes of Practice is something that could be reviewed at European level. One matter that has to be acknowledged is that queries to the Equality Authority and cases being brought to the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations on the grounds of race and membership of the Travelling Community are low.

Between January and July, 2000, only one case on the race ground was lodged with the ODEI. This may be due to lack of information, fear of dealing with official bodies or it may be that the Equal Status Act, 2000 will prove more relevant. The challenge will be to develop strategy to ensure that the rights that are provided for are enforced.


It is obvious that adequate legislation is crucial. It is important how the grounds are defined, how discrimination itself is defined. Also important are the provisions on i.e. harassment, burdens of proof and positive action.

There is a clear and acknowledged need for an independent body which can be involved in educating, informing and research and which can assist in bringing cases. The bones of all these are in the legislation at present but there will need to be amendments.

The following are some matters which could be looked at a National and European level:

  1. The definition of discrimination in Equal Status Act, 2000 which encompasses discrimination by association and imputation, it could be adopted in the domestic employment legislation and EC Directives.
  2. The indirect discrimination provision in Employment Equality Act, 1998 and The Equal Status Act, 2000 in relation to grounds of race and Travelling Community will have to be amended in line with the Directive.
  3. Positive Action measures in the Directive could be strengthened. Both pieces of Irish legislation could be amended to provide explicitly for measures or racial or ethnic origin.
  4. Both pieces of legislation will have to be amended to deal with burden of proof.
  5. In relation to harassment the EC commissions could give a lead in terms of definition. Experience in sexual harassment cases are worth looking at. Provisions on Vicarious liability could also be examined.
  6. Remedies

  1. The requisite bodies are in existence - Equality Authority, Office of the Director of Equality Investigations.
  2. Ceiling on compensation in employment cases may have to be removed and the remedies under the Equal Status Act, 2000 - ceiling of £5,000 may have to be removed in relation to claims on the ground of race and membership of the Travelling Community.

  1. The exemption in The Equal Status Act, 2000 in relation to anything provided by statute will have to be amended in relation to the ground of race and the Traveller community ground. This could have a profound effect in the area of health care and welfare.
  2. The exemptions in the Employment Equality Act, 1998 in relation to occupational qualifications will have to be explored and/or amended.
  3. It is worth examining and exploring current provisions of The Equality Authority in relation to Equality Reviews and Codes of Practice.

Policies and practices against racism

Philip Watt, Director, NCCRI

When President Clinton launched a programme to tackle racism a few years ago, he pointed to the contradictions on which that the United States was built. He stated:

‘We were born with a Declaration of Independence, which asserted that all were created equal and a constitution that enshrined slavery. We fought a bloody civil war to abolish slavery and preserve the union, but we remained a house divided and unequal by law for another century. We advanced across the continent in the name of freedom, yet in doing so we pushed native Americans off their land, often crushing their culture and their livelihood. Our statue of Liberty welcomes the poor, tired and huddled masses of immigrants to our borders, but each new wave has felt the sting of discrimination.’

Ireland is not the United States, however it is evident that contradictions have also been a feature of in Ireland’s recent history:

  • Despite the long history of emigration from Ireland and the well-documented racism experienced by Irish emigrants, it is only in very recent times that legislation has outlawed similar discrimination and racism in Ireland.
  • For many years Ireland has been recognised internationally as making an important contribution to development aid and education to developing countries, yet at the same time our immigration laws are among the most restrictive in European and are badly in need of revision.
  • The concern by the State to secure equality of rights for all citizens in Northern Ireland over the first twenty years of recent political conflict can be contrasted with its hostility, silence or indifference towards the Traveller community during the same period.

Despite these and other contradictions, there has been significant progress in the development of policies and practices to address racism in Ireland in recent years. From a position of having virtually no policy 10 years ago, there is now a range of policies in place that provides the basis for effective action.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, we have also witnessed a resurgence in racism and the development of new forms of racism that challenges any complacency we might have that existing policy and practice is sufficiently effective.

It is important to make note of the progress that has been made to date, many of which were mentioned by the Minister in his opening address, including:

  • The introduction of Equality legislation through the Employment Equality Act (1998) and the Equal Status Act (2000). These landmark pieces of legislation have laid the foundation of protection against discrimination both in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services. The setting up of the Equality Authorities will ensure that this legislation will be effectively implemented.
  • The establishment in July 1998 of the NCCRI as a specialised body to provide advice and expertise has been an important initiative that has the potential to impact on racism. It is the primary responsibility for the government to address racism but one the most important outcomes of establishing the NCCRI is the acknowledgement that governments alone cannot tackle racism. There is a need to build a strong consensus across all key sectors in society in the fight against racism
  • The Belfast Agreement has also potential to impact on racism in the North and South. The Agreement makes specific reference to the inclusion of minority ethnic groups. Further the Agreement has resulted in the establishment of Human Rights Commissions North and South and made provision for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic legislation, North and South.

Other important initiatives which have the potential to impact on racism and to promote a more inclusive society include:

  • Commitments towards equality and interculturalism in recent education policy.
  • The on going work of the Human Rights Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Equality Division in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
  • The on going implementation of the Task Force on The Travelling People.
  • Policies aimed at promoting the integration of refugees.
  • The recent initiatives by An Garda Síochana to address the challenges on policing in an intercultural society.

These policies have all been put in place over the past five years and should be acknowledged as a considerable achievement by both the present and the previous administrations. The effectiveness of these initiatives would be enhanced if they were brought together with additional and new measures in the form of a national action plan to address racism. Such national action plans are consistent with the Political Declaration being proposed by the Council of Europe at the forthcoming European Preparatory Conference.

There could be three key components to developing such a national action plan.

  1. The enhancement of existing legislation

We should be seeking to both enhance existing policy and practices and to identify gaps in our present responses, including the area of legislation {See inputs by Eilis Barry and Donncha O Connell in this report}

  • The issue of racially motivated violence is one area which the NCCRI has advised there is a growing need for additional measures to address such crime. These measures could including the monitoring and close analysis of where, when and how often such crime takes place and the consideration of redefining racially motivated attacks as an aggravated form of assault with increased penalties following conviction.
  • The increasing use of emotive and/or racist language directed at minority ethnic groups in Ireland is an area of further concern. It is to be welcomed that the Government have announced a review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred legislation.
  • The need to review and update the Equality legislation in the light of recent EU legislation and the consideration of best practice from other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland.

  1. The enhancement of policy measures.

Other existing policies and practices could be significantly enhanced to impact on racism, including:

  • The proofing of policy to ensure that new policy will not have outcomes that will discriminate against Black and minority ethnic groups. This is of particular importance since such discrimination in unintentional or unconscious.
  • The specific inclusion of the needs of minority ethnic groups in broader measures to address inequality and social exclusion, including the National Anti Poverty Strategy and the Local Development Programme.
  • The improvement of services to minority ethnic groups through such initiatives as the Strategic Management Initiative, the Government’s vehicle to renew public service in Ireland.

  1. The development of new measures to address racism.

The government’s announcement of a major public awareness programme is an example of the type of new and additional measures needed to address racism. The planning, implementation and review of new and additional measures needs to be done in a participative way involving the development of partnership, involving minority ethnic groups in the process.

However, tackling racism is on its own an inadequate response. A key challenge over the next few years will be to develop our thinking on what needs to be put in place to build a more inclusive and intercultural society, where cultural diversity is seen as a strength rather than a weakness. The NCCRI will be making proposals to the government on this issue.

To achieve meaningful participation in the development of future anti racism and intercultural policy and practice, the community groups representing minority ethnic groups need to be adequately resourced and supported.

European Context

The challenge to overcome the contradictions to develop effective anti racism is equally apparent at European level.

We commitments in the Amsterdam Treaty and the recent European Council Directive to tackle racism provide the legislative basis for effective action across the European Union. However there is a need for this approach to inform other policy being developed at EU level. The EU is currently considering proposals on the harmonisation of immigration and asylum policy. If such harmonisation contributes to the creation of a ‘fortress Europe’, it is likely that the progress made under the anti racism legislation will be considerably undermined.

Notwithstanding such inconsistencies, the European preparations for the Global summit provides an important opportunity for Ireland to impact on the development of policy and practice to address racism, and in particular to highlight the need for positive action and institutional change. A key theme in this approach is the mainstreaming of anti racism and intercultural approaches, making these issues central to the design, implementation and review of public policy.

Policies and Practices.

Catherine Clancy, Chief Superintendent, Garda Community Relations Section.

This paper is intended to highlight the development of policing strategies by An Garda Síochana to meet the challenges of a multi cultural, multi ethnic Ireland.

The recent changes in the ethnic and cultural make up of Irish society are well know to all of you and I do not intend to explore this issue to any great extent in this paper, except to say that developments in terms of the expansion of the ethnic, cultural and religious minority communities in Irish society has presented us as a national police service with a vast array of new challenges in terms of how we approach this new policing paradigm. We are in now in the process of identifying and meeting these challenges.

Let me outline for you our organisational journey to today’s conference. In 1997 Sergeant David Walsh undertook a masters degree programme in Trinity College, Dublin. As the thesis requirement for this programme he set out to examine the need for Anti racism and cultural diversity training in our organisation. His research was both quantitative and qualitative and explored the internal and external working environments of An Garda Síochana. The internal focus researched current ethnic minority membership of our organisation as well as the attitudes and perceptions of our broader membership. The external research focused on Irish society and in particular the experiences attitudes and perceptions of the members of minority ethnic communities in Ireland. Walsh’s research highlighted the need for us to move to meet the challenges of policing interculturalism and this need was identified not only in the external environment but also by our own membership.

In 1999, An Garda Síochana, Dept of Justice Equality and Law reform and the E.U jointly hosted the "Providing a police service in a developing multi ethnic and multi cultural Ireland conference" in County Wicklow. This was our first exploration of the issues raised by ethnic and cultural diversity.

In April of this year we again joined with the E.U and the Department of Justice Equality and Law reform to host a bigger second conference entitled " Intercultural Ireland, identifying the challenges for the police service". This conference was part of a five part programme which is currently ongoing in an Garda Síochana and whilst we will be completing this particular programme in the not to distant future our work in this area of policing will most defiantly be continuing. As I said there are five aspects to the current programme and I will briefly explain these to you.

1. An exchange programme with police services, government agencies and non-government agencies in the E.U.

2. A conference entitled Intercultural Ireland, identifying the challenges for the police service.

3. The production of a training video for our members.

4. The development of an education strategy for Garda members.

5. The establishment of an ethnic relations forum.

This is what we have set out to do, as part of our agreed programme with the E.U. and what I will do now is to try and give you some idea as to where we are at with each different aspect of the programme.

1. In relation to the exchange earlier this year a number of our members visited Austria, Holland, the U.K and Germany to examine best practice in other E.U models and to learn from other experiences. These exchanges were invaluable to us not only because of what we learned but also because of the network that has been opened up to us at European level. Representatives from each of the countries visited attended our conference to help develop Garda strategies. A number of the representatives presented papers to us Renius Visser from Holland presented a paper on the Rotterdam charter; Michael Spranger from Austria presented a paper on ‘Volkshilf’ (peoples aid), an Austrian NGO and their work on police and race relations training in Austria. We also had a presentation from two police Colleagues in Bristol, on their initiatives on policing of ethnic minorities. As result of this exchange programme we are now in a position to tap into help at European level.

2. Our conference was held in Dublin Castle from the 4th to the 6th of April this year. There were over a hundred delegates in attendance for the conference representing our own membership, Government and non-government agencies, E.U delegates as well as academics. We had an action packed few days and the work undertaken by everybody at the conference was intense. We had presentations from police, ethnic minorities, Travellers and academics. Over the course of the three days we ran a series of workshops, each with a different theme i.e. education, operational challenges and senior management training. There was lively debate at each of these workshops and each one was worthwhile for the amount of challenges identified to us. This was the first occasion that we as the national police service and ethnic minorities and their representatives had gathered in such a forum. It was a learning experience for all and provided an opportunity for us to listen to the others point of view, I can assure you it will not be the last time we will meet to develop this area of policing.

3. The production of our training video is now at an advanced stage and we hope to have it completed in the near future. The video is aimed primarily at Garda members across all ranks and will be used as a teaching aid in the education of our members. As suggested at the conference we have consulted with ethnic minority representatives and the NCCRI for their assistance with this project.

4. As I said earlier the conference set out to identify policing challenges around the intersection of policing and interculturalism. In order to meet some of the challenges identified to us it will be necessary to change current structures, change some of our practices and procedures and develop current training programmes. In order to move the education process forward, we held a meeting on the 1st of June this year, which was facilitated by Dr Robin Oakley. At this meeting we established a Garda working group to examine each of the challenges identified and to develop opportunities for dealing with each. This working group has amongst its membership, representatives of the Garda College. The working group is currently in the process of developing an education strategy, which will compliment the training video. We recognise that to develop a successful education strategy we must provide training for all of our members from the top down and that the training must be delivered by both Gardaí and ethnic minority representatives, this recognition is central to our work in this area.

5. Apart from the above working group I am currently in the process of developing an external advisory group to assist us. I see the functions of this group as not only including helping us to develop future strategies but also as a communications link to Government and Non Government agencies as well as minority ethnic communities. I intend to develop on this advisory group structure to help develop links with minority ethnic groups at local level across the state.

At our conference the Commissioner, Mr Byrne announced the establishment of a Garda office to deal with the issues raised by interculturalism. This office is currently being developed at our Community Relations Section .The brief given to its staff is to "advise, monitor and co-ordinate all Garda activity in the area of policing ethnic and cultural diversity" (Byrne, 00). Staff at the Garda Racial and Intercultural office are currently engaged in establishing links with the various groups involved in activities centering on race, cultural and ethnic issues. They are also currently developing our crime recording system to monitor and record racially motivated crime. In this sense we have yet to define racially motivated crime and are examining the possibility of adapting the U.K definition where an incident is deemed to be racially motivated if identified as such by the victim, the investigating officer or any other person.

We are also currently working on an initiative to participate in the forthcoming anti racism in the workplace programme being run by the Equality Authority, The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and IBEC. We will be using a "Challenge it" theme in our initiative, which, will involve a poster campaign highlighting the unacceptability of discrimination based on race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, religious belief or membership of the Travelling community. We also intend to use this ‘challenge it’ theme in other initiatives dealing with the same issues. Our participation in this programme is challenging in that the work place for policemen and women is obviously Garda stations but it is also every location where we are required to deal with any incident, so in this sense we will be asking our members to challenge discrimination in both the internal and external environments as described by Walsh in his research.

Before I conclude I want to thank the NCCRI the opportunity to be with you today and I want to thank you for your attention. As the person responsible for the operation of the Garda Community Relations Section, I am very conscious of the need for dialogue, consultation and partnership in any police/community relationship, but more importantly I know that we have to listen. Listen to you, the members of our minority ethnic and Traveller communities and the spokespersons for groups representing minority ethnic and Traveller communities. But even then I know that we have to act on your concerns and to develop, in conjunction with you, policing practices and strategies, which reflect your concerns and accommodate diversity.

I was asked to present to you on the policies and practices of An Garda Síochana in dealing with racism. In the first few passages of this paper I explained to you some of the initiatives in which we are currently involved. From a more long term, strategic perspective we have decided to focus on the contents of the Rotterdam charter to assist us. The charter highlights the need for the police to " use the law to its fullest extent to combat acts motivated by racism and xenophobia". It also speaks of the need for "The Police to work in a proactive manner to prevent such actions, and to assist ethnic and social interaction" (Rotterdam Charter, 4, 1996). I hope I have emphasised to you through describing the work that we have already undertaken, our absolute intent to remain proactive in this area of policing. In his address to our own conference our Commissioner Mr Byrne dealt with the issue of the performance of our own members when he said " I expect that each member of An Garda Síochana to approach his or her daily duties in a fair, equitable and non prejudiced fashion" (Byrne,00). He also promised change in our own structures where necessary to meet the challenges of policing multi culturalism. The charter also addresses the need for the " active involvement of persons from all of the diverse ethnic communities and especially those from minority groups in the development of strategies" (Rotterdam Charter, 6. 1996), again it is my intention that our advisory group will help us achieve this position.

The charter will be the framework on which we will hang our work in this area in the future, however it is only a framework, the strategies, practices and policies, which must be developed around that framework, are our responsibility and our challenge. I look forward to working with you on that challenge, thank you.

Education and Awareness Raising to Address Racism

Senator Joe O’Toole, General Secretary INTO, Vice President ICTU.

There is a huge burden of responsibility on us to present this diversity of cultures, through education, legislation and persuasion as an adornment, an enrichment and an embellishment of our society.

The racist reaction of many Irish people in recent times to discovering that our booming economy had attracted hundreds of non-Irish citizens to our country has reminded many of us in the Education world of our duty to educate against racism. Those public representatives who were loudest and most indignant in their demands a short few years ago for a better deal for illegal Irish emigrants in the United States were strangely silent about the identical problems of our foreign immigrants in Ireland. We need, regularly, to remind ourselves that we for many years have been the spongers of Europe and have historically the lowest intake of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Can we adapt at home to what we did abroad for centuries? On a pro rata basis more Irish people have settled in other countries than almost any other race of people. During the last century, most of the Irish emigrants arriving at Ellis Island in the U.S. or at Gros Isle in Canada were apprehensive, uneducated, unwelcome and forced to live in horrific overcrowded conditions They were resented by all except by their own ethnic group and struggled to find work, to gain acceptance and to achieve an acceptable standard of living.

Even today we can still feel angry when we hear of the ‘No Irish Need apply’ type of attitude they faced all those years ago alone and afraid in a foreign country. Only a decade ago we read horrific stories of illegal Irish in the U.S. being exploited. We demanded fair treatment for them.

Ireland today has a small number of immigrants and refugees each year. Many of them are from countries to which we sent missionaries and aid workers over the years. We were proud of that. We were also proud when Irish people were the highest per capita contributors to ‘Live Aid’. We must as teachers remind ourselves and the younger generation of this. Schools will be the first place where the children of immigrants will experience Irish attitudes. They will be from another culture, they may speak with a strange accent or their English may be poor. They may have a different skin colour. Their parents may not be able to communicate in English. They will be apprehensive. We must never forget that these were our Great-Great Grand-parents and Uncles and Aunts arriving in North America from Irish Gaeltachts and Galltachts more than a century ago.

There is a huge burden of responsibility on us to present this diversity of cultures, through education, legislation and persuasion as an adornment, an enrichment and an embellishment of our society. There are worrying indications that this might be difficult. There seems to be a ready market for the most sensationalised media presentation of immigration issues.

Racism is a function of an incomplete education.

It was Newman who said that ‘Tolerance’ was the first quality of an educated person. On this island at the moment, acceptance of difference, parity of esteem and the accommodation of different cultures is universally acknowledged as being the path to peaceful neighbourliness. Can we extend it also to immigrants?

A pluralist and inclusive society can never be in a passive state. There must be catalysts for increasing interaction and integration. This requires and implies proactive policies of learning through enrichment by other ethnic groups and thereby creating a context for the greater appreciation and development of one’s own culture. There must be in any civilised society arrangements ensuring the protection of and development of minority groups.

A healthy society is like a precious stone, multi faceted and formed by different attitudes, directions and reflections and developed over generations of maturation. Ireland now has the opportunity of focusing its learned tolerance towards creating just such a community.

There are stages of development in a multicultural society. These stages are determined by the maturity of the community. The strongest, most innate and primeval instinct of any tribe or nation is that of self-perpetuation. The first and historical reaction to those who are different is to fell threatened and to reject them. Nowadays, this stage would be manifest regularly by fascist football supporters. The mature society quickly moves on from this savage state.

Firstly, there will be tolerance of difference.

At this stage difference is no longer seen as threatening. It is a move onwards from the time when it was felt necessary to reject, ostracise or at least ridicule those with different skin colour, beliefs or religious practices. This is the ‘some of my best friends are .......’

Secondly there is the accommodation of difference stage. It manifests itself in worthy , well intentioned initiatives at local level. Ecumenical ceremonies would be a good example. A closer examination of them usually proves that they are regularly driven by pragmatic necessity and that it is a joint or common approach to an event that was going to take place anyway with or without the churches . Weddings and funerals are good examples.

Secondly, there is inclusivity, which is the stage after tolerance and accommodation of difference.

This is the stage where the community pro-actively provides space for and promotes those outsiders who are different. It manifests itself in issues such as the establishment of schools and churches. The images of official support will also be there so the President opens the Muslim school and we are all pleased at our sophistication as a society that contentedly includes ‘others’.

But whereas this eventually can open the way for a pluralist society it cannot of itself be described as ‘pluralist’. It is still merely inclusive. The analogy would be to a mixture of oil and water. No matter how long you leave them apparently mingled in the same glass they will still remain separate, unmixed and in the same hierarchical order each restricted to its own space. Nothing changes.

Pluralism and inclusivity can never be achieved by separating groups or by reinforcing difference. A society which merely creates its own space for each and every ethnic or cultural minority is not of itself pluralist. In fact too rigid an application of separateness is in fact no more than a benign apartheid.

The final stage is a pluralist community which must always be greater than the sum of its parts.

Pluralism will be defined and identified not just by the numbers or sum of its subcultures, religions or ethnic groups but more crucially by the quality of integration and interaction among and between them.

The clearest identification of a Multicultural and genuinely pluralist society is the manner in which it is enriched by the normal societal interaction among people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs, practices, language and colour. In such a society minorities will be respected and included rather than preserved and separated. They will also be assimilated in a celebration of ethnicity rather than swallowed into the dull uniformity and anonymity of the monolithical objective of some social engineers.

Nationalism and liberalism are each in its own way, a threat to pluralism.

The Nationalism of the dominant group seeking to exclude or demean the minority groups is well documented. Difficulty is also created however by the Nationalism of members of minority groups who seek to remain always aloof from the majority and who will cry "assimilation" at the slightest attempt to bridge cultural differences or to lead them into the mainstream of the community. Adjustment to the norms of the society in which we find ourselves is a perfectly normal part of the dynamism of living in community.

Pluralism is and must remain quite distinct from the ‘Liberal agenda’

‘Liberal’ is a mark of a pluralist society only in the sense of that society being open, tolerant and free . Seeking to create a society where everyone shares the same so-called ‘liberal’ views on the issues of the day is the very antithesis of Pluralism. Similarly, in a true pluralist society, those Liberals who sneer at or mock Conservative Catholics must be treated with the same anathema as those who ridicule the culture of immigrants.

Pluralism is the full spectrum whereas Liberalism is only a segment of the spectrum.

In fact a good test of the Pluralist society is that it provides a supportive environment even for those to whom the very notion of pluralism is anathema.

Education and Awareness Raising

Kensika Monshengwo, Training Officer NCCRI

In December 1998, an Interdepartmental Working Group on Integration was set up by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr John O’Donoghue T.D., ‘to formulate a strategy for implementing the Government’s policy of responding positively to the needs of persons granted refugee status or leave to remain.’

The Interdepartmental Working Group on Integration identified in its final report the establishment of a Public Awareness Campaign as being one of the measures to banish discrimination and prejudice in relation to refugees in Ireland and promote a more inclusive society. It also recommended that the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism should assume a central role in undertaking public awareness initiatives. In March 2000, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism was asked to prepare an evaluation to develop a national Public Awareness Programme to Address Racism and to Promote a more inclusive, intercultural and anti-racist society.

The general perception, when speaking about a Public Awareness Campaign, is one of a media campaign. While this visible part of the campaign is important, it would be very misleading to focus solely on this aspect. In fact, for an awareness to be raised, a combination of approaches is needed. Given the fact that racism is defined as the mixture between prejudices and power supported by a sentiment of superiority, there is a need to tackle the origins of the formation of these prejudices, power and superiority complex through the public awareness campaign. A public awareness campaign is only one element of the holistic approach necessary to combat racism and to make Ireland a more inclusive, intercultural and anti-racist society.

Racism is a very subtle phenomenon. It can manifest itself in a covert or overt manner at different levels, namely institutional, cultural and individual. Racism receives its influences from education, religion, family, the political structures and many other strands in society. A public awareness campaign constitutes at the same time a remedy and a warning measure which aims at preventing the growth of racist sentiment in a given society.

Some key principles

A public awareness campaign on racism must be established in a way which allows itself to be sustainable in the long run. This implies that structures and processes should be put in place or promoted during the campaign to address issues related to racism and interculturalism.

To secure sustainability, interventions can involve re-examining laws, regulations, access to goods and services, administrative decisions, health services, education systems, and so on.

Any strategy supporting a public awareness campaign to combat racism should set up initiatives which take into account certain core principles such as consultation with the different bodies and institutions in society that are directly or indirectly involved in the issue of racism, partnership with the key groups or bodies including political parties and it should ensure that the implementation of its different programmes generate a multiplier effect. When developing or implementing any public awareness campaign to combat racism, it is imperative to ensure that minority ethnic groups participate and that their views are taken on board. For an overall programme to take place, all the different sectors of society must be involved and work in partnership. The campaign should be cross political. The issue is too serious to be used as a political tool.

This not only means that the campaign should be placed in the mainstream, but also that it should establish links and work to complement existing and to build on past initiatives on similar issues. There is no miracle remedy to run an anti-racism campaign. Creativity is therefore encouraged. It is the combination of all these principles that will create an overall impact in society.

A many sided programme

Such a campaign requires the mobilisation of many sectors of society. It necessitates the involvement of the education system, the media, the statutory and non-statutory bodies, the political parties and their leaders, the community sectors, etc.

1. Institutional change

Racism is about inequitable distribution of power and ultimately the abuse of power. The structures or processes emanating from that campaign or being promoted by it should aim at eliminating practices and ideas which results in the exclusion of minority ethnic groups from the power structures in society. The outcome should outlive the campaign. Concretely, this can mean legal reforms, litigation and in-service anti-racism training, etc.

An example of a recent institutional change is the setting up of the new Garda Racial and Intercultural Office to respond to the challenges of a more and more culturally and ethnically diverse Ireland.

Nowadays, people are learning to think as Europeans. It also means being part of a multiethnic society. Forty seven thousand five hundred (47500) individuals immigrated into Ireland in 1999, among those, twenty five thousand nine hundred (25 900) Irish returning home, seven thousand nine hundred (7 900) from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, six thousand eight hundred (6 800) from the rest of the EU and four thousand (4 000) from the rest of the world. On top of that, seven thousand seven hundred twenty-four (7.724) individuals came to seek asylum in Ireland. It would be very hypocritical to welcome the economic benefits of Europe and at the same time to refuse to see its implications in terms of ethnicity.

2. Education

One of the main sources of our prejudices is education. The formal and informal sectors of education inculcate racism in us. Racism is therefore learned.

The recommended education system to achieve a more inclusive society is one that is referred to as Intercultural education. This implies listening to and valuing the history of other civilizations. History tends to focus on exploits rather than on the human costs. Many history books, for instance, commence African history with the story of slavery followed by colonisation and finally the conditions of the poor third world countries, for which money should be sent to help the so-called Black babies...

Slavery not only denied Africans their humanity, but also destroyed the family and the economic structures by taking millions of Africans away. Colonisation, while considering Africans as savages and sub-humans, introduced forced labor in order to produce goods for the metropoles. The legacy of history also has to be taken into account, if an awareness should be raised. These violent forms of oppressions are based on power and racism.

The education system has consequently instilled racism in its curricula and materials, hence the need to change or adapt the organisation of materials to secure equality in the delivery of curricula and a balanced portrayal of all minority ethnic groups. History, because of the way is taught, is tainted with ethnocentrism and is cultivating prejudices and stereotypes about other people or countries. The promotion of different perspectives in history teaching is vital to eradicate prejudices and stereotypes.

In its submission to the Expert Advisory Group on the Content and Duration of Post-Primary Teacher Education, the NCCRI highlighted the potential of Education Policies in promoting an inclusive society:

‘Education policy and programmes could contribute to the fight against racism and this potential should be utilised.’

Education is essential to the development of a society. Furthermore, an anti-racist and intercultural education is essential to the development of an equitable and more inclusive society, where cultural diversity is valued and respected. Moreover, The White Paper on Adult Education reaffirms the idea of interculturalism as one of the core principles that should underpin adult education. It considers the following:

‘the need to frame educational policy and practice in the context of serving a diverse population as opposed to a uniform one, and the development of curricula, materials, training and in-service, modes of assessment and delivery methods which accepts such diversity as the norms.’

Not only should we monitor the needs of minority ethnic groups, but also we should engage in a process of self-monitoring of our attitudes. Since one learns how to be racist, one can also learn how not to be racist. The only way forward is therefore to challenge existing barriers to equality and interculturalism in the education system, in order to overcome our learned racism. In terms of concrete interventions, this might mean developing specific guidelines and materials for schools, for example.

An Intercultural society is one that not only accepts the principles of equality in rights, values and abilities, but also develops policies to promote interaction, collaboration and exchange with people from different cultures and deal with racial discrimination. Furthermore, an intercultural society views difference as a strength rather than a weakness. This should appear in all education and should not be treated as a specific subject in isolation. It should permeate the curricula of the informal as well as the formal education from pre-school to PhD.

3. The media

The media can easily be a source of prejudice and racism. There is a need to raise awareness about the way minority ethnic groups are depicted in the media and about the subliminal messages that are sent to the majority group. This leads to the mechanism of social scapegoating of minority ethnic groups in society. A practical intervention could consist in setting up or resurrecting good practice guidelines in relation to the coverage of minority ethnic groups in the media, for example.

4. Statutory bodies

As well as being aware of the issues around racism, the statutory sector needs to acquire the necessary awareness to understand and meet the challenge associated with an emerging intercultural society. Some of the interventions can entail encouraging statutory bodies to adopt policies or action plans to combat racism and promote Interculturalism or undertaking anti-racism training. However, in order to implement that idea of Interculturalism, we need to challenge our own attitudes and prejudices, to dismantle the myths and labels attached to minority ethnic groups, to prosecute racism and other forms of discrimination and finally to challenge the systems of control of power, which result in inequality. Anti-racism should become embedded in the ethos of the statutory bodies, in order to transpire into the society as a whole.

5. Political parties

The campaign should be above politics. The different political parties and their leaders should be aware of it and take ownership of it. More importantly, the campaign or the race issue should not be used as a political football to attract voters. The protocol for political parties initiated by the NCCRI is an example of an intervention aiming at reducing or eliminating the danger of using the race issue to gain votes.

5. The voluntary and community sector

A community development approach should be adopted at national, regional and local level. The various interventions will try to rest on existing structures or initiatives. This can be done through the provision of grants, through building capacities or in partnership with the local groups or communities on the ground. It is also important to maintain a platform for a dialogue between the governmental and non governmental organisations.


Generally, when referring to a public awareness campaign, the picture that springs to people’s minds is that of a media campaign with posters, badges, packs for schools or youth groups, slogan and television or radio advertisements. However, the impact of such approach often proves to be ineffective in the long run, if done in isolation. More often, the campaign ends when the media campaign ends. That is one of the reasons why the NCCRI proposes an innovative holistic approach which focuses on long-term sustainability. Drawing on the experience of programmes undertaken in Ireland and abroad, the NCCRI tries to bring together a broad range of projects and policies to develop a many-sided programme.

Education has indeed an important role in the fight against racism. It is in fact one of the necessary requirements to achieve a more inclusive, intercultural society. Education is about acquiring the necessary information to understand how the society operates in order to take part in it. People have to be aware of what is happening in the society in which they live. In this instance, the society in which they inhabit is becoming more and more multi-ethnic. The problem of racism in Ireland is not solely limited to refugees and asylum seekers. There is a need to go beyond the refugee issue and address the problem of racism in society in all its ramifications.

Ireland’s cultural diversity is more and more being acknowledged. Travellers, who are an indigenous group, have been and still are experiencing the scourge of racism in their own country. A part from the Traveller community, there is a long established Jewish community, a growing Islamic and Asian community, refugees, asylum seekers, Black Irish people and other EU and non-EU citizens who are now living in Ireland for various reasons.

What we mean concretely when we talk about education and awareness raising to combat racism is the implementation of a set of initiatives which will bring about change in society at all the different levels. Let us not forget that everybody has the responsibility to tackle racism, because it is a problem that affects the society as a whole.

Information, Communication and the Media

Inez McCormack, President, Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states:

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’

‘Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’

Information and communication are the means by which we make the policy, law and practice based on these principles into usable tools of right for those who need them to change the lived reality of their exclusion and to construct a culture based on such standards, structures and remedies. A culture fit for all of us to live in.

Our way in to this discussion is to ask why is this a problem for us? In doing so we need to remember the full title of the conference for which we are preparing. " The World Conference against, Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance." This discipline takes us outside the narrow view of a ‘problem’ to the real issues of the exercise of power and responsibility. . A society that seeks to recognise the richness of difference, and to respect its many manifestations in the people that constitute that society, is a truly healthy one.

What is it that an Ireland, prosperous and peaceful for the first time in its history, finds so difficult about these principles? Why do we approach them as if they are thorny problems rather than wanted cornerstones on which Irishness is to be based in this new millennium?

Why are the Travellers, a small indigenous nomadic people, experiencing these principles by their absence in lack of equal treatment and respect?

Given our history as an emigrant nation, why do we find extending their practice to the economic emigrant and the asylum seeker such a threat to Irishness?

Why do the media, leaders and popular culture find it so permissible to headline criminal and racial stereotypes that are a flagrant breach of international law and standards?

Why cannot we make the connections with the lack of the application of these principles too many groups in Irish society, such as women, those with disabilities, and with differing sexual orientation?

Why are we not able to make connections between the huge economic and social inequalities caused by the absence of these principles in many of the societies people are fleeing from to their absence of application to the increasing social and economic disparities in our own society?

Context: Fear of the ‘other’ - Action for change:

Mary Robinson and Nelson Mandela give us a generous and visionary context to deal with those questions and to set a framework for our information and communication in their Declaration, entitled "Tolerance and Diversity - A Vision for the 21st Century".

They say with an extraordinary mixture of deep understanding and stern resolve that while fear is ineradicable, its consequences are not ineradicable. They recognise that the persistence of discrimination is rooted in fear: fear of what is different, fear of the other, fear of the loss of personal security. They then state that racism; racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance must be confronted and measures taken against them

I support the view that our strategy for information and communication should be expressed in the context of understanding of what causes fear. (It certainly helps us understand how we as a society have turned from poacher to gamekeeper in less than a decade).

I am arguing that the primary role of information and communication is to make visible, viable and usable, "a declaration and plan of action that provides standards, structures and remedies that puts these principles into action, in essence, a culture of rights" and inclusion in practice and on the move.

We need immediately to give a public commitment as a people and within our difference spheres to seek "that conversion of minds and hearts over the coming year", talked about by Mandela and Robinson.

However those who need the change will only be impressed with that laudable approach if it is translated in a public commitment from today into methods of information and communication which express the hard details of good practice.

Way Forward - Making the change:

As someone with a lifelong involvement in human rights and trade union activism I have seen too often how power under pressure redefines change within the limits of its own comfort. Shiny new processes, procedures or paper can be used to give the illusion of change while the practice of power remains unaltered.

So we start by enabling the involvement of those who need the change as equals in setting targets and timetables in all decision-making processes to change the reality of exclusion. Strategies of information and communication need to be developed which mainstream these into agendas at all levels and in keeping them under review. Resources for outreach and input have to be made available at each level to make these commitments into a reality of change.

Those who require the change therefore have a sense of ownership of the process of information and communication rather than being the objects of a process which claims to have their exclusion as its centre, but merely excludes them once again from the decision making process.

Our methods of information and communication must reflect that authentic voice at early and every stage. In the review of any process, it is our information and communication from those voices that is the vital determinant in the measuring and monitoring of effective change.

A Comprehensive Agenda – Learning by Doing.

Strategies for information and communication need to make a very explicit connection between the anti-discrimination and equality agendas and the economic agendas. . Discrimination and inequality are often made manifest in a society by denial of social and economic rights. There is a growing understanding that civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are all interdependent, that, in combination they underpin any democratic society and those they need to be accessible and enforceable.

This means our strategies on information and communication must express practical processes that place tackling inequality at the mainstream of decision making. Mainstreaming means changing how power is exercised. Information and communication on proofing policy after power has spoken or at the edges doesn’t cut it.

The argument for specialisation is too often used in a specious way to sideline these issues by economic and social power from where the action is really taking place at the cabinet table or the board table. We therefore need strategies of information and communication that open up decision making by a dialogue of equals between the powerful and the powerless

The first lesson to be learned is that information and data on which to construct an effective programme of change usually doesn’t exist in a coherent form. Invisibility is thus first practised in the non-collection and analysis of data. The involvement by affected groups, at early and every stage on how and what information is gathered and assessed, is crucial to the beginnings of change.

The second is that unless rights of access and enforcement underpin this dialogue by the powerless it either doesn’t happen or it happens at the speed of change that suits those within not those without.

The key concepts here to promote in understanding and use through strategies of information and communication are impact assessment and participation. The UN have urged governments to use ‘human rights impact assessments’ along the lines of environmental impact assessments. On this island the trade union movement was among those who successfully argued that these concepts should be given legal expression through the equality provisions in the Good Friday Agreement.

Important and groundbreaking models are, at this moment, being developed in the North that are relevant here but are also a focus of much wider international interest.

An innovative edge to this work is the alliance of groups representing different dispossessions that is being supported by trade union and human rights groups. They have produced an understanding of participation, which allows people to become agents of their own changes. None of this is easy and all of it is producing problems. But it is learning by doing and it is groups asserting their rights in the context of the rights of others. We need to publicise, report and review this work to learn what does and, equally importantly, what doesn’t produce change for those who need it.

Ripples of Right

We need to underpin participation by making visible and accessible our commitment to equal treatment through information and communication on how to use legal rights and policy mechanisms. Participation is not a matter of permission from above but comes from right as a human being.

We need to understand and use the expressive function of law in this whole area. . Opposing wrong only when it is acceptable to do so is to support continuing injustice Taking cases that publicise and dramatise the issues of discrimination through the courts is not only important as an assertion of right. Strategies for information and communication can enable a sea-change in what is acceptable in policy and practice if such cases are reported, publicised and disseminated.

Models of good practice that reflect rights based approach to participation and inclusion in decision making should also be disseminated for discussion, use and review by others. A culture of learning by doing and in the open is then on the move.

A human rights culture on the move

Our strategies for information and communication thus move us to where we should be - far beyond the legal and policy discussions on non-discrimination to direct pro-active strategies that address inequality.

We need to come here in a year’s time and review with each other what has worked and what hasn’t in producing measurable change.


Our strategies of communication and information need to

a) repeat and express the principles expressed in the Universal Declaration

b) be based upon a realisable plan of action to put the principles into practice

c) have the clear aims of providing standards, structures and remedies.

There needs to be a public commitment at all levels to an implementation of targets and timetables worked out in consultation with affected groups. The groups need a sense of ownership of the process of information and communication. Such strategies need to place issues of equality and inclusion at the mainstream of policy and decision-making at every stage. It is our information and communication from those voices that is the crucial determinant in the measuring and monitoring of change. Our strategies need to make an explicit connection between the anti-discrimination agendas and the economic agendas.

Therefore, communication and information must go hand in hand with participation. Such a strategy places legal and policy discussions at the service of a positive vision of equality, with practical and measurable outcomes.

Information, Communication and the Media

Nuala Haughey, Irish Times journalist

If we have a problem racism in our society, it is natural that the phenomenon will be played out in some way in our media, which monitors, reflects and forms public opinion, as well as covering and commenting upon events and attitudes in society.

Journalists have responsibilities when it comes to covering race issues, and duty of a free press in a democracy is an ethical one. Indeed the very first rule in the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) Code of Conduct, which its members are bound by, is that ‘a journalist has the duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards’.

On a daily basis, many of the stories that Irish journalists cover are driven by a moral or ethical desire to unearth wrongdoing, duplicity and double standards in public life or highlight injustices. These are among the more noble of journalists’ endeavours.

When it comes to racism, the ethical issue is pretty clear cut. Our union stands full square against it. Journalists have a duty to not be racist, just as we have a duty to not be sexist -- in our reporting. The NUJ code of conduct and guidelines on race reporting tell us to think carefully about the words we use, not to sensationalise race issues and only to mention a person’s age, race, colour, creed, disability, mental status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation if this information is strictly relevant. It states that ‘a journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.’

The guidelines on reporting race relations actually go even further than this, by encouraging members to actively seek through their work to ‘expose the myths and lies of racist organisations and their antisocial behaviour’. We also have specific guidelines on the coverage of stories involving Travellers which say journalists should strive to ensure that nothing they write could lead people to the view that Travellers are less than full citizens of the State.

Now guidelines and codes of conduct are great things to have, but they are pretty useless if they are not implemented. Unfortunately, sections of the Irish media have been consistently flouting best practice in their coverage of the asylum/refugee/’race’ issue in the past few years. While I use the word media to encompass all its forms, my focus today will be on the print media as this is the area I, as a print journalist, am most familiar with.

We have seen, and are still seeing, ill-informed, unbalanced and sometimes inaccurate reporting as well as sensationalist and careless headlines. But we are also seeing well-informed, balanced, accurate reporting with measured and careful headlines.

The failure of some sections of the media to live up to the standards set by their union and expected of them by society are well documented by now, so I won’t dwell too long on examples. But here are a few of the more alarming and alarmist -headlines:

‘Refugee tried to bite me to death’. This was the headline on the front page lead story of The Sunday World in February 2000. This exclusive story was about a young Irish mum whose refugee husband from Kosovo attacked her like a wild animal. This headline, and the accompanying story, attempted to dehumanise the refugee husband, much in the same way as other tabloid headlines dehumanise sex offenders by turning them all into beasts.

The Irish regional press too has been found wanting on the issue. On 29th July 1998, The Wexford People, after the arrival of 47 Romanians in a freight container in the port of Rosslare, carried a front-page editorial claiming the ‘latest influx’ of asylum-seekers had brought public services in the town to ‘breaking point’. The editorial also peddled the usual urban myths about worries that young male asylum-seekers would deliberately impregnate local girls to get residency status here and that the new arrivals were dressed in designer clothes.

A colleague of mine at The Irish Times, Andy Pollak, carried out an interesting study which concentrated largely on coverage of the asylum/refugee/’race’ issue in 1997 by the Independent Newspapers group which dominates the print media market. For those of you who may be interested in reading it in full, it was called: ‘An Invitation to Racism? Irish daily newspaper coverage of the refugee issue’. It was published in a collection of essays entitled Media in Ireland: The Search for Ethical Journalism. Open Air. Dublin 1999.

The Independent group’s titles include the largest circulation national daily newspaper, The Irish Independent, the only Dublin evening paper, The Evening Herald as well as The Sunday Independent and The Sunday World. The group also has a major share holding in the only home-grown tabloid, The Star, as well as a minority share in The Sunday Tribune.

Andy examined the output from some of these papers during 1997, an election year when the refugee story began to take off as the numbers of people claiming asylum here began to grow significantly.

He noted how, from the outset, The Irish Independent’s emphasis was on an alleged link between bogus refugees, criminals, welfare fraud, prostitution and begging. Most of the stories on this subject were and still are, written by the paper’s security correspondent and most rely on Department of Justice or Garda sources.

In May 1997, a year when the total number of asylum applications topped only 3,883, The Irish Independent was reporting "growing fears" by immigration officials that "the country is on the brink of a major refugee problem".

Other headlines in 1997 documented by Andy include:

‘Floodgates open as new army of poor swamp the country’, from The Sunday World in May.

‘Crackdown on 2,000 "sponger" refugees’, in The Irish Independent also in May.

‘Refugee Rapists on the Rampage’, The Star, in June, in a story in which ‘top Garda sources’ warned Dublin women to stay away from refugees after a spree of sex assaults by rapacious Romanians and Somalians.

The same story appeared in The Irish Independent on the same date. Both reports were based on the comments of an unnamed police officer in Fitzgibbon Street Station in Dublin.

‘Dublin now main target for gangs trafficking in people’ and ‘Shopkeepers say theft by Romanians is snowballing’. Both these headlines come from The Irish Times in 1997 in what was an inexcusable and unbalanced lapse by a newspaper which has largely treated the issue with sensitivity and balance.

In his study, Andy made a very vital, but not very a sexy, in news terms, point. This was that the real problem in the asylum area in 1997 was administrative paralysis in government, not excessive numbers. This paralysis was noted by a Trinity College Dublin academic, Rosemary Byrne, in a book on discrimination and refugee law.

Byrne’s theory was that the government failed to deal efficiently and fairly with applicants for refugee status in a reasonable time frame. She noted that it had allowed those with no valid claim for refugee status to remain in the State, thereby fuelling misinformed intolerance towards the broader community of asylum-seekers and refugees.

To avert attention from this shambles which was substantially of its own making, the government went on the offensive. I believe that politicians and civil servants have deliberately played up the numbers game, talked up the accommodation crisis, allowed asylum-seekers to queue chaotically for hours on the streets of Dublin and dispersed people to totally unprepared host communities. All of this has contributed to a climate of resentment, and served to leech public sympathy from asylum-seekers.

The screaming headlines we can all point to and deplore. But what I personally find more worrying are the less sensationalist stories which nevertheless bolster the ongoing government-inspired agenda of presenting the increase in the asylum-seeker population as a security-driven problem which could any day overwhelm the State.

The stories which newspapers like The Star and The Irish Independent regularly carry about ‘bogus’ asylum-seekers ‘flooding’ the State are based on information from powerful sources, usually from the Department of Justice or the Garda Síochana.

While journalists using irresponsible and racist language must be held accountable, the usually unnamed officials who feed sensationalist stories to their favourite hacks should also be challenged.

Politicians and journalists know the importance of language, yet both can be careless about how they use it.

Take for example, the inaccurate use of the term ‘illegal immigrants’ as a generic term which includes asylum-seekers. Asylum-seekers are not illegal immigrants, they enjoy the protection of the State while it is deciding on their claim for refugee status, but calling them ‘illegals’ is a subtle way of suggesting they are not deserving of our resources, our support, our sympathy.

Then there’s the statement that four out of five asylum-seekers are not genuine. This statistic is repeated mantra-like by government politicians and their spokespeople.

Yet we don’t hear the same politicians drumming up statistics like, for example: four out of five self-employed people are tax cheats, four out of five social welfare claimants are dole fraudsters, four out of five banks overcharge their customers or four out of five inmates in Irish prisons come from socially deprived areas. We wouldn’t hear such phenomenon boiled down to bite-size morsels, because it does not suit the governing parties to do such calculations on those sorts of issues.

It does suit them, however, to cast asylum-seekers in the role of the undeserving outsiders in our midst. The language politicians use to set the narrow boundaries of the asylum debate is passed on, through the media, to the public.

Small wonder then that when Department of Justice officials visited towns and villages this year where they proposed to disperse asylum-seekers to, they were faced with fierce resistance from some host communities based, in part, on their own hostile propaganda.

And all the while the Taoiseach, who is supposed to show leadership on such vital issues, remains silent. His only intervention in the asylum debate was his controversial comment in Australia that detention centres were food for thought. He later ruled out their use in Ireland.

But back to journalism. There are positive examples among many media organs of stories which attempt to grasp, and deal fairly with, the complexities of the asylum/refugee/race situation, and to highlight racism. But how can we improve the overall situation, remembering as we must that journalists do not work in sociology departments and that they strict deadlines to keep and often have to make snap decisions on angles or tones of stories?

There are various possibilities and I’ll outline them briefly:

Complaint handling

Complaint handling is an area where there would certainly be scope to address readers’ concerns on an ongoing basis, so that the sort of discussions we are having today could become part and parcel of a media outlet’s daily dialogue with its consumers.

The newspapers which are members of the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), including the main dailies and Sundays, have in-house readers’ representatives. These are supposed to provide quick and easy access for readers to voice their complaints and obtain remedies such as corrections, retractions or apologies. They work, it has to be said, with varying degrees of success.

Such an internal system for dealing with readers’ complaints clearly cannot provide the same degree of public accountability as an external independent adjudicator.

An external complaints handling system could address complaints about press standards which have been made to the newspaper itself, but which cannot be resolved by it. This could take the form of the appointment of either a press ombudsman or a press complaints commission to enforce an agreed code of practice.

The NUJ favours a non-statutory media ombudsman funded by media owners and answerable to a media council drawn from the social partners. This person would deal with complaints as well as having an educational role.

The NNI favours the establishment of an independent system of press complaints, or self-regulation, also funded by the industry. The commission would be made up of a commissioner would decide in a particular case whether the code had been upheld or breached, would try to resolve complaints, and could make recommendations and require the newspaper to publish his or her determination on whether there has been a breach of the code.

Self-regulation, instead of a form of regulation imposed by the government, is obviously likely to get more support from the industry. It would also recognise the fact that responsibility for newspaper ethics lies with journalists and publishers rather than the government.

So if the journalists’ union and the newspaper industry’s body are in favour of an external complaints handling mechanism, why isn’t it happening?

Basically, the answer is that the industry wants libel reform, and says the setting up of a press complaints body is contingent on changes to our archaic libel laws. Since 1991, when libel law reform was first recommended by the Law Reform Commission, nothing has changed. We are still awaiting the heads of a bill on libel reform which the Taoiseach said would be ready in winter 1999. The latest I heard was the it was on the way, but that’s a bit like saying the cheque is in the post.

There are other steps which could be taken which don’t require legislation. They include:


Journalists, like everyone else, need to be educated on ‘race’ issues. We need our employers to invest in training us. We need to ask questions, have open minds and be prepared to have our opinions challenged. We can do this informally or formally and at local and national level.

We also need to employ journalists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds in our news rooms. I could count on one hand the number of NUJ members from ethnically diverse backgrounds. I don’t know of any Traveller journalists working the mainstream media.

Ideas which could be discussed include the National Newspapers of Ireland joining together with the NUJ for a joint initiative on racism. I think the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism could play an important role in lending its expertise for some sort of training initiative.

Empowerment of Minority Ethnic Groups

Often reports on the race/asylum/refugee area lack input by the people affected by the stories because the journalist does not have any contacts in the refugee community who can supply a sound bite on the topic of the day.

Because of the reliance by many journalists on powerful sources for information and stories, there is no real pressure on them to change this situation. But if help was offered to minority groups to develop a media profile and appoint articulate spokespeople, they could make an impact in the news agenda. I strongly feel that members of refugee and ethnic minority lobby groups should be funded to allow them to equip themselves to join in public debates through the media, to challenge policy, set agendas and to allow their experiences to be heard.

Concluding Remarks

The NUJ’s Irish organiser, Seamus Dooley, has pointed in the past to a factor which is outside the control of our individual members. That is the impact of the market on the decisions of media managements on how they treat news and features. Seamus has said the NUJ is gravely concerned at the influence of market forces on the quality of news and current affairs coverage and the seemingly unrestrainable drive to satisfy the lowest common denominator in terms of populist sensationalism.

I’d like to quote Seamus from an earlier conference where he said: ‘The NUJ is firmly opposed to the treatment of news and current affairs as a just another marketable product which can be bent and shaped to fit the demands of the consumer society. Indeed if there is a responsibility on individual journalists to educate themselves on the handling of race-related stories, there is an even greater responsibility on media owners to resist the temptations of market share to sensationalise.’

So the responsibility extends from media owners to individual journalists, politicians and policy-makers, trade unions, NGOs, the churches and the public, including minority ethnic groups. We each have a role, and an obligation to fulfil it.

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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