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Opinion: The State must foster an anti-racist culture in public institutions

Sinéad Gibney of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission says State bodies play a major role in stamping out racism in Ireland.

Sinéad Gibney

RACISM IS HARDER to see when it’s up close. It’s harder to recognise when it’s in the present.

We are quick to comment on the horror of racism in societies distant and past. But we have a lot of work to do right here and right now to address the racism that exists in Ireland in 2021. Racism that inflicts deep wounds on the people it touches and on us as all as a community.

Ireland’s National Action Plan Against Racism, which will be published later this year by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, is a key opportunity for the State. It is also a test of the State’s willingness to embed an anti-racist culture in our institutions and public services, and to take real and meaningful steps to improve racial equality in Ireland.

Strong anti-racism culture across public services is possible

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has brought forward research with the ESRI demonstrating the consistent and significant levels of discrimination against minority ethnic people in Ireland and documented racist attitudes across Irish Society.

Our March 2018 report found that just under half of adults born in Ireland believe some cultures to be superior to others while 45 per cent believe some races are born harder working than others.

Today, we published our recommendations to Government on Ireland’s National Action Plan Against Racism, calling for the Plan to include clear targets, indicators, timeframes, have a budget line and most importantly to involve the people who are directly affected by this scourge.

We set out what we believe needs to be done in areas such as policing, education, media, politics, employment and healthcare, making over 130 specific recommendations for State action.

It highlights the need for anti-racism to be promoted across the political and public institutions of the State through systematic training and more diverse recruitment in our police, courts, healthcare and teaching professions. We explicitly call for the establishment of a participatory annual public forum on the advancement of anti-racism, and for the plan to have its own specific budget line and designated leadership within Government.

The State can empower people to challenge racism by promoting anti-racism training. Imagine the impact of all public service staff, immigration and police officers, media editors and journalists, public officials and elected representatives, teachers, health service providers, criminal justice professionals, police, judiciary, prosecutors and large employers becoming more aware and responsive to racism through training?

Anti-Racism in policing, education and our workplaces

The challenge of addressing racism in Ireland is not a simple one. The State needs to ensure that anti-racism is an explicit priority in all relevant legislation, public policy, budgets, public body and data development.

Tolerance is learnt in our schools and educational settings have a major role in tackling racism. This needs to be a priority in the curriculum of primary, secondary and third-level education, including further education and training, and community education.

The State also needs to prioritise policing and law enforcement in Ireland’s National Action Plan Against Racism, as has been done in the European Anti-Racism Action Plan. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance found negative attitudes amongst Garda members towards minority ethnic groups and IHREC is aware of reports of racial profiling in the use of stop and search powers.

Anti-racism must be a priority in the workplace and across the professions, where more diverse workplaces are needed to reflect Ireland’s changing population. We need people from all backgrounds in decision-making positions and role-modelling for the communities they represent.

Sanctions needed for enforcement

National strategies can fail on implementation, frustrating the very people the strategy is trying to serve, or worse, lead to further entrenchment of discrimination and deprivation. We believe that monitoring and enforcement, including the use of sanctions, are a crucial part of the National Action Plan Against Racism.

We have advised the Government that sanctions should apply to public bodies failing to implement actions assigned to them under the National Action Plan Against Racism.

The Plan should task Government in developing codes of conduct for public officials and election candidates which clearly prohibit the use or endorsement of prejudicial and discriminatory discourse and provide for appropriate sanctions for breach of their conditions.

Anti-Racism regulatory reform

Significant reform to the policy and regulatory environment is essential to address the circulation of hate speech in the digital public sphere, made all the more prescient as Ireland is the European host to many social media and technology companies.

Soon to be regulated sectors, for example, the home care industry, should be explicit in their anti-racism measures like enhancement of labour inspections in private household settings and targeted oversight of employers of domestic workers.

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Gaps in information on race and ethnicity

The overall shortfall in data on racial or ethnic origin in Ireland has profound consequences for our understanding of racial discrimination in this country – specifically when looking at structural and institutional barriers facing ethnic minorities.

The Commission wants to see the National Action Plan Against Racism give direction on the collection and processing of data on racial or ethnic origin across all bodies that are subject to the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty. Ireland has the framework it needs to collect data, but there is a strong reluctance to do so.

The Commission will present its recommendations to the Government’s Anti-Racism Committee on 16 September. Ireland has been without a national plan since 2008 and it is long overdue. We will see in the coming months in the content of the plan how ambitious is Ireland’s commitment to ending racism.

As a country, we occupy a privileged space in the world, and we have our own unique history of race, colonialism, tolerance. If we choose to prioritise antiracism in our state and our society, we can be European and global leaders. And we can enjoy an inclusive, tolerant and richly diverse community right here in Ireland in 2021.

Sinéad Gibney is the Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution and National Equality Body.

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