WHEN IRELAND WENT through a period of increased immigration and prosperity in the mid 1990s, it appeared the future was bright for all those who entered the emerald isle. However since the economic downturn, things have grown darker.
Recent preliminary figures released by the Immigrant Council of Ireland show a disturbing 85% increase in reports of racist incidents in the republic for 2013. But how accurate are these figures and whats the reasons behind them? Are more people willing to speak out about abuse they have encountered and how have reporting systems changed?
Speaking with Luke Bukha of the Anti Racism Network (ARN), he clearly sees a correlation between economic issues and immigration tension. Luke’s organisation, The ARN — a grass roots organisation of migrants — continues the good work carried out by the late Pat Guerin and others in the nineties through to the present day. Up until his death earlier this year, Pat Guerin worked closely with perhaps the most alienated community on the island, the Roma.
Luke explained why he thinks racist incidents are on the rise:
“I think it is happening because of the economic crises, there is no doubt that this has contributed a lot to it. Many people thought that this (recession) would only be for a short time but over the last four or five years many people have been very seriously affected”.
He continued, “If you look on a personal level people are losing their homes, homelessness has risen, the cuts in social welfare even for people with disabilities, lone parents and for pensioners all of this has created so much anger and that anger is going everywhere and in many cases it is people like us, the immigrants, whom are the easiest to be targeted”.
A new phenomenon?
The pattern of austerity measures causing anger and violence towards immigrants is one consistently repeated across Europe. However, racism is not necessarily a new problem in Ireland.
Una-Minh Cavanagh is an Irish woman who was adopted from Vietnam when she was six weeks old. Una is from Co Kerry and has lived in Dublin this past four years. She is a journalist and – unlike most – speaks fluent Irish. She spoke of her experiences growing up:
“It is so frustrating having to prove all the time that your Irish and that some people don’t accept that because you’re not white or you don’t look like a stereotypically Irish person that you pretty much don’t belong here or you’re not Irish and that’s something that I face a lot. I know so many people that are of Asian or African decent and they’re as Irish as anyone else but I feel like we have a certain block on that still and that some people are still unaccepting of that fact”.
An institutional problem?
Unfortunately, the problem of racism could be rooted more deeply in society. In 2011 Darren Scully, then Mayor of Naas in Co Kildare, said that he would no longer “represent Black Africans” . He resigned almost immediately, but after some soul searching and “reflection” he realised that he shouldn’t have said all Black Africans just “certain people from a certain part of Africa”. Scully was welcomed back into the Fine Gael party in November and the next local elections are this month.
Perhaps the most high profile case of perceived institutional racism involved the removal by Gardai of two Roma children, from two different families, in the midlands and Dublin. In late October Gardai — acting on a tip off that a Roma family had a blond blue eyed child posted on Irish TV journalist Paul Connolly’s Facebook page — went to the home of the Roma family in Tallaght, Dublin and removed the child into custody. The distraught parents produced both a birth certificate and a passport but were not believed. They then had to provide DNA samples to prove that the child was indeed theirs. The child was returned to them when the DNA test proved positive.
Strong anti-racist sentiment
Shane O’ Curry is the director of the European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR) and co-author of a recent report entitled Reports of Racism in Ireland. It is the first quarterly report conducted by the group and covers the period July until September.
He discussed the role of the state in fostering racism:
“The state needs to look at itself there are a range of ways in which state institutions are institutionally racist, both in terms of their practices and ethnic make-up and the outcomes that people have when they come into contact with them.”
With all this in mind, it might not be all doom and gloom, as Shane claims:
“About 2/3’s of the reports were made not by the victims but by witnesses or bystanders so it shows that there is a very strong anti-racist sentiment there and there is a very committed constituency out there in the trade unions, on the ground in activist circles and ordinary decent citizens who find racism an affront to their decency.”
Words: David Fleming
Top photo: Denis Hogan