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Column: Will the State meaningfully combat racism in Ireland?

A report released earlier this week about levels and experiences of racism in Ireland has provided an important, albeit brief, snapshot of racism in our country, writes James Carr.

James Carr

MONDAY SAW THE publication of the first quarterly findings from the online racism reporting mechanism - iReport.ie. This independent, third party reporting system is coordinated by the European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR Ireland) and is supported by over 30 community-based organisations. The report is itself is timely, indeed well overdue, providing as it does some insight into levels and experiences of racism in Ireland.

It is well-documented that some of the first victims of austerity at an institutional level in Ireland were those charged with upholding the equality infrastructure, including the Equality Authority, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the National Consultative Commission on Racism and Intolerance (NCCRI).

Between 2001 and 2008, the NCCRI collated and published detailed insights into how racism manifested and was lived by people in Ireland, shedding light on these experiences but also filling the lacuna in terms of available data on racism in Ireland. The evisceration of the NCCRI in 2008 heralded the end of these data and the potential for both official and civil actors to form informed policies to challenge racism. Thus, the iReport.ie mechanism not only provides a resource for those who have experienced racism, but the data that are provided can also offer some basis upon which to construct effective anti-racism policies.

Reluctance to make official complaints

One of the central benefits of the iReport.ie mechanism lies in its ability to offer those who have experienced racism an outlet to report their experience in confidence. As Monday’s report acknowledges, those who are targeted with racist behaviour are often reluctant to make an official report of their experience.

Reasons for not making a report may include a fear of secondary victimisation; a feeling that there is no point in making a report as nothing will be done; or, more worryingly, people may be reluctant to make a report based on previous interactions with individual members of government agencies that were themselves racist – a point demonstrated in the iReport.ie publication in relation to An Garda Síochána.

The report also goes on to document what can only be perceived as unprofessional policing on the part of certain members of An Garda Síochána when approached by those reporting experiences of racism. These fears underscore the fact that the iReport.ie mechanism is an invaluable resource for those who experience racism, providing people a means through which they can document their particular experiences and seek support.

The gendered nature of racism

The report details how racism can manifest in Ireland predominated by hostility in the form of verbal abuse but also manifesting as physical assaults. Participants reported being targeted on the basis of their skin colour, ethnicity, religion, or a combination of these characteristics. At times these identity characteristics also intersect with a person’s gender or whether or not they have a disability. The report notes that male participants experience higher levels of physical assault than women, even though there is no difference in terms of exposure to the threat of physical violence between men and women.

This raises an interesting point in terms of the gendered nature of racism and also the specificity of different ‘racisms’. Research I conducted with Muslim communities across Ireland revealed that Muslim women experienced specifically anti-Muslim racism at almost twice that of Muslim men. Central to these experiences is the identifiability of Muslim women as Muslim. Indeed, the iReport.ie publication notes the manner in which the wearers of the Muslim veil or hijab were targeted with verbal abuse and discriminatory behaviour on the basis of their religious identity.

Importantly, the report also clearly documents and delineates the effect that being the target or the witness of a racist incident can have on the individual and their extended community. Those who made reports referred to feelings of fear, anger, helplessness, and humiliation. This resonates with international research on hate crime which time and again documents the manner in which experiences of racism do not just affect the person who was immediately targeted, but also reverberate throughout their broader community.

Anti-racism policy formation

The report concludes by restating its main purpose, that is, to provide an evidentiary base for anti-racism policy formation. Given the lack of reliable data on racism in Ireland, detailed earlier this year in a report by the Integration Centre, there is no doubt that the iReport.ie mechanism provides a bridge to the lacuna in terms of data on racism in Ireland.

There are limitations; for example, more could be done to disseminate information about the iReport.ie mechanism throughout the school system. Children are not immune to racism and the effect is arguably more profound. Another criticism is the limited, qualitative data provided; such data were fundamental to the reports provided by the NCCRI. However, it must be noted that the iReport.ie initiative is still in its infancy and these issues may be developed in the future.

The data provided by the iReport.ie mechanism have the potential to inform those charged with constructing and implementing policies that could challenge racism. It does not mean however that the Irish State can abrogate itself from its responsibility to effectively collect and analyse data on racism in Ireland. The iReport.ie publication provides an important, albeit brief, snapshot of racism in Ireland.

The question remains: will the state go beyond rhetoric to meaningfully engage with civil society to combat racism in Ireland?

James Carr works in the Department of Sociology in the University of Limerick; his recently completed doctoral research on anti-Muslim racism in Ireland was funded by a scholarship from the Irish Research Council.

Read: Racism reporting website sees reports “flood in”

Read: ‘Get out, go home!’: Report details racism on Irish streets

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James Carr

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