Toxic racism has entered our politics – Ryan
Racism should not be allowed to take root in our society.
It is not inevitable and we must take action to stamp it out, especially in our politics.
Our equality laws prohibit discrimination of employees or customers on the basis of several grounds, including race.
The level of formal reporting of racist discrimination is not high, but it would be a mistake to believe that means there is no racism in Ireland.
On the contrary, if you talk to organisations like the Migrants Rights Centre or NASC, it is very clear that many people experience casual racism as part of their experience of living in Ireland. In particular, people who are Black, or women who wear a Muslim headscarf, are more likely to be singled out for verbal or physical abuse.
However, unfortunately, too many people have become used to experiencing low level abuse and they do not routinely report this to the Gardaí or other authorities.
It is suggested that some minorities do not have confidence in public authorities to deal seriously with these incidents, which is something we need to address.
We have the iReport website, which allows people to report racism, but it cannot give us anything like a full picture of what is going on.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has detailed statistics on racist incidents, and we should provide whatever resources are necessary to make sure the Gardaí develop the same detail in our own official crime statistics, so that we can target responses to the areas most affected.
Several reports have made it clear that racist incidents – including violence against ethnic minorities – is a real problem for our society.
For example, Reports of Racism in Ireland was published by the Irish branch of the European Network Against Racism last year. It documents 256 incidents over a six-month period, including 23 assaults, 35 cases of ongoing harassment and 113 cases of online hate speech.
This is the second highest level of incidents since they began collating data in 2013.
Dr Lucy Michael, lecturer at Ulster University, has found that a pattern in Ireland that is the same as other countries in terms of “extraordinary violence against minorities”.
From 1998 until 2008, we had the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. However, the government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party cut all funding to this agency, leading to its closure.
We have perhaps been too complacent that we did not seem to have the problems of racism and the far-right that we see in other countries around Europe and elsewhere.
But we clearly do have a real problem of racism and it is about time that we took that more seriously.
One way to improve the situation, and to better hear the voices of the people directly affected, would be to restore some kind of publicly-funded organisation to promote interculturalism and to challenge racism.
The old National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism received €562,000 of funding in 2007.
If that modest level of funding could help make a difference, we should re-establish a similar body, drawing on international best practice for this kind of work.
Migrant workers play an essential role in our economy and our public services.
Unfortunately, many of those working for low wages are foreign nationals.
There are groups of workers in agriculture, fisheries and food industries, and in hospitality, who are often employed on vulnerable contracts where their right to work is tied to a single employer. This means that they may not report abuse for fear of losing their right to work and live here. It is well known that in some industries individuals are blacklisted if they speak out.
This is an issue that the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland among others have documented over time.
Labour regards the exploitation of migrant workers are an example of institutional racism, and as a society we cannot turn a blind eye to sections of our economy where the large majority of workers are migrants.
If we are serious about stopping racism, we must end the exploitation of migrant workers.
One in eight people living in Ireland today was born in another country, and they are now part of our society.
One in seven of our children and young people has one or both parents from another country, and one in 20 are visibly different, from an African or Asian background.
But we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that everyone who looks a bit different is automatically a migrant.
We have second, third and fourth generation Irish people, who just happen to have an ancestor who came from elsewhere, just as millions of people around the world have Irish ancestors.
Ethnic diversity is a permanent feature of modern Ireland and it is something we should celebrate alongside our ancient traditions.
My own constituency of Dublin Fingal has a wonderful variety of people from all over the world. The mix of cultures and traditions makes a positive contribution to our society and our modern Irish culture.
Politicians from all parties need to take a leadership role in relation to diversity.
But sadly, a new toxic racism has entered our politics.
We had a presidential candidate making disparaging comments about Travellers.
Some protests against asylum seekers have been orchestrated by small groups of activists rather than local people.
We now have genuinely far-right political parties and individuals spreading all kinds of lies and misinformation that is toxic, racist and totally unacceptable.
Outrageous claims have been made such as that Islamists have training camps in the Dublin Mountains. But these obviously false claims act as a smokescreen to cover up other lies, such as that all Muslims support Islamic terrorism, which just as outrageous a claim, but it is one that sticks in the minds of some people.
The recent by-elections have made it clear, I hope, that the public does not support racism entering our politics.
Some countries have successfully avoided the rise of far-right racist parties in their political systems. It is not inevitable and it can be stopped. But it is much harder to get rid of these parties if they gain a foothold.
The answer is simple. If every political party in the present Dáil is genuinely opposed to racism, then we have to agree two simple things:
Firstly, zero tolerate of any racist candidates in any of our parties.
And secondly, we will not co-operate with or normalise any political party or independent politician who trades on racism or xenophobia.
As public representatives, we have to show leadership on the issue of racism, diversity and interculturalism.
And the best way we can do that is by freezing out all politicians who seek to bring racism and racist lies into our politics.