Statement by Minister Stanton on Racism affecting Ethnic Minorities in Ireland

Dáil Éireann

Thursday, 12 December 2019


Check against Delivery


Ceann Comhairle, Deputies.


I welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue.  Racist incidents can gain momentum quickly, in particular because of the extra oxygen provided by social media.  Their effects can be devastating on individuals and can last a lifetime.


I must firstly remind deputies that the majority of Irish society has been remarkably open and welcoming to migrants.  Over the past two decades and more, Ireland has welcomed migrants from across the world.  The ESRI’s latest Integration Monitor which I published in November 2018, confirms the diversity of Ireland’s population.  17% of our population has been 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.  This represents more than 2.5% of the total Irish population.  Those lucky enough to attend citizenship ceremonies see first-hand the joy that migrants feel on becoming Irish citizens.


As the House may know, I reported last week to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva on the actions that Ireland has taken since 2011 to promote equality and to combat racial discrimination. The Government supports CERD’s work to create a world where all can enjoy opportunities, free of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or nationality. 


The report to CERD set out the range of actions that the Government and its predecessor has taken in this area.  I will briefly remind deputies of the measures that have been taken to strengthen the 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.  Public bodies have a duty under section 42 of the 2014 Act to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, to promote equality of opportunity and to protect the human rights of service users and of staff.  Public bodies must set out in their statements of strategy how they intend to fulfil this duty.  As such, the legislation provides 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 (IHREC) 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 new functions under the 2014 Act is to encourage the development of a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.  IHREC’s role of promoting intercultural understanding constitutes an additional mechanism, not only for promoting integration, but also for understanding the factors that can lead to discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities.


In parallel, An Garda Síochána has undertaken reforms to strengthen its capacity to respond to the needs of minorities.  In October 2019, the Garda Commissioner and I launched the Garda Síochána Diversity and Integration Strategy 2019-2021.  The themes of the Strategy focus on protecting the community, developing robust data systems, upskilling the police force to understand the needs of diverse communities and to respond to crimes perpetrated against them.  The Strategy includes a working definition of hate crime, in line with international best practice, aimed at enhancing positive engagement with persons from minority groups and diverse backgrounds. 


The Garda National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU) is monitoring the reporting and recording of all forms of hate crime on PULSE, the Garda recording system. I also commend Commissioner Harris when An Garda Síochána recently decided that, in order to encourage candidates from minority communities, its policy on its uniform is being updated to take account of religious and ethnic requirements subject to operational, and health and safety obligations.  An Garda Síochána is allowing the wearing of the turban for members of the Sikh community and the hijab for members of the Muslim community.


The Government recognises the need for further action to combat racism.  I have established an Anti-Racism Committee which will be chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell of UCC.  It has a mandate to review current evidence and practice and make recommendations to Government on how best to strengthen its approach to tackling racism. The Committee will be a broad-based partnership of State and non-State actors, including employers and unions, religious, sports, arts and community groups, and media organisations. Its purpose is to develop an understanding of the nature and prevalence of racism in Ireland and to work towards achieving a social consensus on actions required, by the member organisations and others. The Committee will hold its first meeting in January 2020 and I have requested it submits its first report to Government within three months.


The threat of racism is not experienced by migrants only.  Travellers and other ethnic minorities can – and have experienced – racist incidents in our society. 


The Government has worked actively to promote opportunities for Travellers and to recognise their rights.  As I reported to CERD last week, 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 will 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 demonstrates the commitment of Government towards recognising the contribution that Travellers have made to Irish society and culture and removing the barriers that have limited their opportunities.


The Irish Government has worked actively to address structural issues facing minorities.  To ensure a whole of government approach to delivery, it has adopted a strategic approach to policy on migrants, Travellers and Roma.  The Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020, which I launched in February 2017, provides the framework for action to support migrant integration.  It commits public bodies to take action on employment, education, access to public services, political participation and immigration.  It requires all public bodies to mainstream integration issues into their work.  It includes specific actions to tackle racism, from the review of hate speech legislation to requiring local authorities to remove racist graffiti and to ensure that there is migrant representation on Joint Policing Committees.  I chair the Strategy Committee, which includes representatives of NGOs and public bodies, and meets quarterly to monitor implementation of the Strategy and to press for delivery of specific actions.


The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) 2017-2021, which I launched in June 2017, is equally a whole of government strategy aimed at improving the lives of the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland.  NTRIS has focused in particular on education, recognising the linkage between educational attainment and life opportunities.  A two-year pilot project has been established in Galway, Dublin, Wexford and Cork, to target attendance, participation and school completion in specific Traveller and Roma communities regionally.  An additional €500,000 was provided to my Department in Budget 2019 to support this vital initiative, bringing total expenditure for the pilot to €2.2 million.  As such it provides an important example of how the strategic approach enables departments, agencies and NGOs to work together to tackle structural issues.


I believe strongly that one means of combatting racism is by developing community initiatives which bring communities together in support of integration and diversity and most importantly allow people to get to know one another.  To this end, I launched the Communities Integration Fund in 2017 which supports local initiatives by migrant and non-migrant groups to promote integration.  124 organisations received funding from this initiative in 2019.  Initiatives are being funded which are explicitly intended to challenge racism at grass roots level.


I have also sought to strengthen the participation of community in welcoming refugees to Ireland.   I 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 on 15 November this year.

Combating racism involves the broader public as well as the Government.  As the Irish proverb says, Ar Scáth a Chéile a Mhaireann na Daoine - people live in one another’s shelter. I believe that strengthening communities to work together to promote integration will build the capacity within our society to recognise the common need for shelter and belonging, and so challenge racism and protect the rights of minorities.


Thank you very much.