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Opinion Ireland is sleepwalking itself into a colossal mess over integration

Almost one in five of the population was born in another country, but how often do you see a teacher, Garda or TD from another country, asks Killian Forde.

THE ONE CONSTANT IN Irish public policy-making is the ability to delay, deny and prevaricate until something blows up in our faces.

The response to the property bubble, the abuse of children, and discrimination in the north all happened too late from a policy perspective, and what began as a challenge ended up as a fiasco that needed to be fixed.

Despite the soul searching , blame attribution and cries of “never again”, over the past few years it appears that our little country is once again sleepwalking itself into a colossal and expensive mess.

Reflect on this: in your day-to-day life, how many teachers, Gardaí, TDs, councillors, TV presenters, business leaders, media commentators and other key influencers do you see who are immigrants? I would suspect few or none is  the experience for most people in Ireland.

Yet the most recent census shows that 17 per cent of the population is foreign born. It’s like almost one in five of our citizens are invisible. Aside from token representation, immigrants are absent from the power, decision making and consultation on the policy, practices and operation of the State.

Racism in Ireland is underreported

In addition,studies and surveys have shown that discrimination and racism in Ireland is a chronic problem.

  • In 2008 a European wide survey done by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that Ireland had one of the worst records for discrimination. More than half of those from sub-Saharan Africa stated that they had suffered from discrimination. Ireland also scored highest from Eastern Europeans resident in the country with 26 per cent claiming they had been victims of racism of discrimination. By contrast the corresponding figure for Eastern Europeans in the UK was only 11 per cent.
  • In 2010 a survey of post primary teachers done by the TUI and the Equality Authority showed that 46 per cent of teachers were aware of racist incidents in the previous month.
  • In a survey carried out by Millward Brown Lansdowne last summer of TDs, 60 per cent of them reported being exposed to racist sentiments on the doorsteps whilst canvassing.
However despite these indicators the official Garda figures don’t bear this out. In 2010 the total number of racist incidents recorded by An Garda Síochana was 122. By contrast in England and Wales for the same year it was 51,187.

On a per person basis the official figures suggest that England and Wales is nearly forty times more racist than Ireland. This flies in the face of the European study which suggests Ireland is more than twice as racist.

The frequency and experience of racism can be seen as a symptom of poor integration.

Ireland has a choice

Ireland has a choice: it can follow most of its history and be reactive to events and changes in terms of public policy or it can change the way it works, recognise the huge potential Ireland’s immigrants offer and provide supports that ensure their full participation in the economic, political, sporting and social sectors of the country.

While we recognise the serious pressure on the States finance’s our concern is the need to promote and facilitate integration has been dropped by this Government.

Since they have come to office the Civil Service’s cross departmental Integration Committee has never met, the Ministerial Council on Integration has also never met and, unlike the previous government, no junior Minister has been given the responsibility for integration.

These necessary co-ordination mechanisms cost little to run and yet they have been dropped by the new government.

There is some good work being done; Minister Quinn’s review of patronage is positive in promoting diversity, Minister Shatter has been active and effective in his area, and his Office of the Promotion of Integration despite dwindling budgets make a strong impact.

However our overarching view is that there is no helicopter view being taken by the government to promote integration or eliminate the structural discrimination in State structures and institutions that prevent the meaningful participation by migrants. This can drift on but the longer it takes for migrants to feel fully involved, the more likely it will that they feel excluded and the cost of that social dislocation will be enormous.

Killian Forde is the CEO of The Integration Centre, Ireland’s only national organisation focusing on Integration policy.

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