“Supporting Inclusion and Combatting Racism in Ireland"
Opening Statement - Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D.
“A Cheann Comhairle, Deputies
Two weeks ago, I spoke of the horror I felt - that we all felt - at the tragic death of the late George Floyd. Since then, we have seen a global outpouring of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement and an increasing and very welcome focus on the vile problems of racism and discrimination.
While it may be that this moment was prompted by recent events in one State, the reality is that racism and racial discrimination are not unique to any one country or continent. Racism is insidious and is present to some degree in every society, including here in Ireland. Recognising this terrible reality is the first step in combatting it.
We need to face up to the fact that racism does occur in Ireland. We need to understand better how prevalent it is and what its impacts are. And we need to generate effective strategies for tackling it.
Both I and Minister Stanton will speak to you this morning about some of the extensive efforts being made to tackle racism in Ireland. I will speak to some actions in the criminal justice sector.
It is a sad fact that a small minority of persons in Ireland subject others to abuse or attack, due to their own prejudice or intolerance. I wholly and unreservedly condemn such actions, for which there is no excuse.
The Mission of my Department is delivery of a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland and in our policies and initiatives, we strive to deliver on that mission statement. For some time now, we have been working as a priority to develop new legislation on hate speech and hate crime.
As Deputies know, there is some existing law in this area:
- the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 which prohibits certain forms of threatening, abusive or insulting conduct;
- and in sentencing for criminal offences, a hate motive may be considered by the Court to be an aggravating factor resulting in a stronger penalty.
But it has been clear for some time that this has not been sufficient to deter or sufficiently respond to crime in which the victim is targeted because of a perpetrator’s hate.
In recognising that this legislation is both complex and sensitive, my Department has carried out comparative research on the effectiveness of different approaches to hate crime legislation. It is not enough to have legislation on the statue books – it is essential that the legislation is effective.
It was also very important to me that new legislation would be informed by the lived experience of those who suffer from abuse or attacks motivated by hate. For this reason that my Department has carried out a broad public consultation, including a public survey, and provided an opportunity for formal submissions. We have also had a series of independently facilitated workshops across the State. This comprehensive approach was taken because I want the resulting legislation to be robust, clearly understood and effective. My officials are now analysing all these inputs, to prepare evidence-based legislative proposals as quickly as possible.
If we are to ensure a fully inclusive Ireland, it is important that the criminal justice system represents and reflects all of Irish society. And An Garda Síochána is pivotal in this context and has been striving to become a leader in this field.
Garda recruitment campaigns have, in recent years, made significant efforts to attract candidates from minority communities, including though publication of videos and materials in multiple languages. The Commissioner also approved changes to the Garda uniform to allow the wearing of the hijab or turban to ensure the uniform didn’t act as a barrier to entry.
These developments are bearing fruit – for example in 2019 and 2020, almost 67 persons born outside the state, with 19 different nationalities, have attested and became Garda members. For example, in addition to Garda members who are British or EU citizens, we now also have Garda members who are nationals of Brazil, China, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa, among others.
A Garda Diversity and Integration Strategy has also been adopted. This is important for both organisational and operational reasons.
The Strategy reflects a commitment to further diversity in the Garda workforce. It contains a working definition of hate crime, to ensure Gardaí are alert to and appropriately record hate incidents. And it commits to proactive, respectful engagement with all members of society, including minority groups.
These undertakings are underpinned by the Garda Human Rights Strategy, the Code of Ethics and the wider reform process underway following the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing.
In the very brief time available, I hope to have conveyed a sense of the priority attached to fighting racism in the criminal justice sector.
Effective criminal legislation will be key in deterring and addressing hate-motivated crime; and a renewed Garda Síochána benefiting from ever-increasing diversity, engaged in all communities, will be a powerful force for integration and respect.
But these measures alone cannot bring about the change that we all wish to see in our society.
Addressing prejudice and discrimination is a mission for all of us.
I am confident that I am not alone in being profoundly moved by the poem recently composed by Imelda May, ‘You don’t get to be racist and Irish’. She reminds us of the piercing truth that our history - as a people who has experienced the torment of discrimination, exclusion and intolerance – means that we cannot be blind to the same terrible wrong being done to others. Our pride in our heritage and history must extend to taking pride in our fairness, our tolerance and our inclusivity.
I hand over now to Minister Stanton.”
Minister with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration, and Integration, David Stanton, T.D
“A Cheann Comhairle,
Minister Flanagan has already made clear that the Government condemns all forms of racism in our society and I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this important issue.
A key recent development in the fight against racism has been the formation of the Anti-Racism Committee, which has a mandate to develop a new Anti-Racism Strategy and Action Plan for recommendation to the Government. The purpose of the Committee is to develop an understanding of the nature and prevalence of racism in Ireland, including anti-Traveller racism, and to work towards achieving a social consensus on actions required, by State and non-State actors. Chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell of UCC, it will review current evidence and practice and make recommendations to Government on how best to strengthen its approach to tackling racism in all its forms.
The Committee will consult with stakeholders from a broad range of sectors. It will hold its first meeting tomorrow and will provide a preliminary report to Government within three months, with a full report due at the end of one year.
Central to our efforts to improve integration is the Migrant Integration Strategy, which I launched and have Chaired since 2017 and runs until the end of this year. It presents the vision of an inclusive society where all can fully participate and where diversity is valued. Racism in all its forms is a barrier to that vision being realised. Our work to date implementing this Strategy, and monitoring its progress together with our NGO partners on the Strategy Committee, has helped to build our understanding of where more effort is needed and what we need to do to ensure that everyone in our society feels like they belong and are valued.
Racism is not experienced by migrants alone. Travellers, Roma and other ethnic minorities encounter racism and prejudice in their daily lives.
The Government has worked actively to promote opportunities for Travellers and to recognise their rights and the landmark development has been the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority. Those members of Dáil Éireann who were present on the night of 1 March 2017 when the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D., made the statement recognising Travellers as an ethnic minority will agree that it was a truly memorable event, with all political parties united in support of the Taoiseach’s statement. Recognition of Traveller ethnicity has been a symbolic step forward in the State’s acknowledgement of the uniqueness of Traveller identity and culture and generates mutual understanding and respect between Traveller and non-Traveller communities. Recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority did not remove overnight all of the obstacles that have prevented them from experiencing full equality within Irish society. However, it has created a strong platform of respectful dialogue and pathway towards equality for Travellers. It also demonstrates the commitment of Government towards recognising the contribution that Travellers have made to Irish society and culture.
The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy has specific actions on combatting discrimination and ensuring equality for Travellers as well as actions around celebrating and promoting the richness of Traveller culture, which is an important part of our heritage as a country.
Last December, I reported to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on the actions that Ireland has taken since 2011 to promote equality and to combat racial discrimination, including measure to strengthen the human rights infrastructure so that it can challenge racism more effectively. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 introduced the equality and human rights positive duty, providing structural underpinning for action by public bodies on equality, human rights and the combatting of discrimination, including racism.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has been given a range of powers to challenge discrimination, including against ethnic minorities, and to seek legal redress for persons experiencing discrimination. One of its functions under the Act is to encourage the development of a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.
I believe strongly in the power of communities when it comes to bringing about lasting change. In 2017 I launched the Communities Integration Fund, which supports local initiatives by migrant and non-migrant groups to promote integration and most importantly, allow people to get to know each other. 124 organisations received funding in 2019 and projects are being funded which are explicitly intended to challenge racism at grass roots level. The 2020 call for applications for this fund will be officially launched by the Department this coming Friday.
I have also sought to strengthen the participation of communities in welcoming refugees to Ireland and was inspired by the community sponsorship model developed in Canada whereby local communities sponsor refugee families to settle in their towns and villages. I saw at first hand when I visited similar projects in the UK how the integration outcomes are improved for refugees when the communities and neighbours took part in the resettlement process. Following a successful pilot programme in Meath and Cork, I formally launched the Refugee Community Sponsorship Ireland in November last year.
Before I conclude, I would like to remind deputies that the majority of Irish society has been remarkably open and welcoming to migrants from across the world. Our diversity is our wealth. 17% of our population were born outside Ireland and many have been given the opportunity to acquire Irish citizenship. Ireland is one of 13 EU member states that provides citizenship if the person has been resident for 5 years and one of 16 member states permitting dual citizenship. Approximately 120,000 people have received Irish citizenship since 2011, which represents more than 2.5% of the total Irish population and our country is better and richer as a consequence.