Racism Awareness Programme: Motion.

Wednesday, 16 May 2001

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 166 No. 13

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Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the Government's lack of movement on the promised racial awareness programme.

I am happy to propose this motion. Although we may have strong disagreements, I am pleased to welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, to the House.

As regards Private Members' Business, will the Government organise matters more efficiently so there is a roster? Such a system would give Members, including Government Senators, time to select relevant issues and to brief themselves and their supporters. It is unsatisfactory that Members are given notice at the last minute of the opportunity to raise matters. I was informed last Thursday that I would have an opportunity to raise this matter because Senator Henry was unable to be in the House tonight. Luckily I was able to select a subject which struck a chord, namely, the issue of racism and the Government's responsibility in this regard. I am not criticising Members or the staff of the House, but I am suggesting that there should be a roster at least one month in advance.

Amnesty International has launched a campaign which has caused some controversy. The campaign poster has caused some offence as it shows pictures of the Minister, the Taoiseach and, I think, the Tánaiste and includes words to the effect that, “Some people say these people are involved in racism, others say they could not care less”, or something like that. Offence was taken at the use of the word “involved”. This is a clever poster as it attracts attention and ruffles a few feathers. However, the poster has a double meaning. It suggests that political leaders have said they are committed to combating racism, yet the performance on the ground has been, by and large, thin. I have no doubt that is the case.

In launching this campaign, Amnesty International stated that it was up to those who raised these issues in the past to show their consistency by continuing to raise them. That is sufficient justification. I have repeatedly raised this issue in the House, and nowhere is an awareness campaign more necessary than in this House. I will not name anyone, but in the ante-chamber one of my colleagues asked me if I had been to the pub in Parnell Street which is run by black people who do not allow white people in. Only one pub in Parnell Street is run by black people and I know it well. That pub is run a lot better now than when it was run in the interests of the absentee landlord who lived in Manchester and when every down and out dope pusher in Dublin was allowed in.

This pub is now owned by a Nigerian businessman and is open to everyone. The pub offers appetisers. I had a glass of wine in the pub a few days ago and I was delighted by the truly multicultural atmosphere and the welcome I received. If an informed Member of the Oireachtas can, by [987] hearsay, be given such an impression, what chance is there for the rest of the population in the absence of a committed programme of education?

We in the South are shamed by virtue of the fact that the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness MLA, has just launched his programme. It is not often that I get the opportunity to praise a member of Sinn Féin and someone who has been honest enough to acknowledge that he is a former gunman. However, I do so, and more power to him. He is living up to what was suggested.

This motion will result in a vote as it condemns the Government. No Government can just sit there and agree with being condemned. However, I wished to see what the motion would draw out of the woodwork. The motion comprises one and a half lines, yet it drew an amendment running to about one and a half pages. This is interesting as it suggests that I struck a nerve.

The amendment deletes all the words after “Seanad Éireann”, endorses the Government, recognises that Ireland is an increasingly multicultural society and so on. It also applauds the Government and welcomes the national anti-racism public awareness campaign. The Minister is nodding. How can the Government welcome something about which it knows nothing? How could the Government know anything about this campaign as it does not exist. It has only been formally acknowledged – it is a dead letter.

I am asking that the Government live up to its promises and reveal what the Minister has done in light of the announcement in October 2000 of a propaganda campaign to combat racism. The Minister was widely and justly praised at the time for this initiative which was seen as something significant to which the Government would live up. There was a kind of contract with the people. However, that contract has not been delivered on. I am looking for, in legal terms, specific performance in terms of this contract. I would be very happy if the Minister could satisfy the House that he has performed specifically.

The matter is made more urgent by the daily spate of attacks, and later on I will put some of these on the record. I am sure the Minister is familiar with them and I know he deplores them as much as anybody else in the House. These have happened in our cities to people perceived to be different. If intelligent people believe the kind of hogwash that I have just mentioned about a pub in Parnell Street, many other resentments spring up – that people are getting freebies here and there, that they are being housed in luxury accommodation and that they are being given cigarettes, etc. Jealousy sets in very rapidly.

The Northern Ireland Minister for Education, Mr. McGuinness, has lived up to the promise of doing something in the absence of anything being done here. In January 2001, we finally ratified the UN convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. We were the 157th [988] country to do so. That is not a position on the league table of which we can be particularly proud, but at least we did it. This has consequences. It means that the activity of the Irish Government will now be supervised by a UN committee, with formal reports required every two years. Our first report is due early next year. It will be a great pity if we have not implemented the promised programme.

Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the following in Strasbourg in October 2000:

Politicians should lead by example. This is an issue which calls for a strong stance and a transparent approach. Some leaders have had the courage to speak out clearly and show solidarity with victims of racially-motivated attacks. We need more of that – and not only after outrages are committed. We need to hear our political leaders championing diversity, extolling the virtues of multicultural, multi-ethnic societies, defending the vulnerable.

Apart from the clear example of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, how many of our senior politicians, especially on the Government side, can claim they have acted in the manner described by the former President, Mary Robinson? There have been one or two shameful examples of Members of the other House using inflammatory language in an attempt to gain votes. Only rarely were they strongly condemned by their senior colleagues.

Questions must be asked of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I would be very grateful if he or his advisers could provide answers. Is there, many months after the announcement was made, a campaign package ready to combat racism? If so, what is the proposed launch date of the campaign? We know about Northern Ireland, but have no knowledge of the campaign date here. What is the precise focus of the national awareness campaign? Exactly how much of the allocated budget of £4.5 million has been spent to date? What are the campaign materials being produced – posters, leaflets, television or radio broadcasts? What is the timeframe of their production? Have briefs been issued to designers and tenders invited for any printed materials? These are the practical matters that the Minister will know about if there really is a campaign in existence.

I listened to the splendid advertisements on the radio by Amnesty International, and I congratulate the organisation for them. They consisted of Dublin-sounding voices talking about living in Dublin or Ireland, being proud to be black, but ashamed of Irish society. That was interesting as they do not feel that they have been made part of our community in the way they would like to be. It is shameful to think that a voluntary, non-governmental organisation like Amnesty International has led the field in the area, despite the commitment of the Government. I know of no [989] radio advertising in the Government's campaign. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House that there is, but I have not heard it. The one by Amnesty International, which I have heard, serves as a reproach to the Government.

With regard to the steering committee to which the Minister frequently refers, how many times has it met? How long were the meetings? How many members attended – all or just a few? What decisions did they make on the national awareness campaign, the review of the existing prohibition of incitement to hatred legislation and proposals for new legislation to fill gaps?

Racially motivated crime stands out. It is always bad when there is an assault, but it is significantly worse if it is racially motivated. We do not seem to have legislation to cover this satisfactorily. What resources are at the disposal of the committee? How many delegated staff does it have and what are their precise duties? Are minutes of the meetings kept and are they available to this House, or are we going to find ourselves in a situation like Marian Finucane when she asked about protocol and was told that she was entitled to the information but that it would not be given to her? She would have to use the Freedom of Information Act, which would take her months. I suppose we could do that, but it would not be necessary if there were co-operation and goodwill. Perhaps the Minister will be able to prove me wrong, but I believe that there have been only two meetings of the committee, that nothing of significance has been achieved and that members are becoming disillusioned. Consequently, I call on the Government to take strong action.

We must address the issue of racial awareness, and we have a legal obligation to do so. We have recently ratified the UN convention and have until 2003 to implement the EU anti-racism directive. Under this directive, we will have to broaden the scope of our equality legislation. The Minister congratulates himself in the amendment of the equality legislation, apparently ignoring the fact that, under our EU obligations, we will have to broaden its scope. Certain exemptions the State has allowed itself will have to be dropped and sanctions for discrimination will have to be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.

On the subject of dissuading people by law, one will say that one cannot legislate for morality. I have said so myself. One cannot change people's hearts immediately by legislation, but let me put on the record the words of Martin Luther King, who addressed this topic:

. . . while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

While the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men if vigorously enforced, and we certainly need it in light of the [990] attacks that have been perpetrated and the experience of some of those in this country who happen to be of a different colour or ethnic origin. I think particularly of the young man, Christian Richardson, who was employed here in a high-tech industry. He was very successful and enjoyed himself socially. His parents came to Ireland to visit and while walking along Pearse Street, they was attacked and his father was very nearly killed as a result. They managed to survive. Later, the young man, who courageously decided to stay in Ireland, was badly beaten in Fairview in a racially motivated attack. That is a reproach to all of us. I know I have been critical of the Minister, but I will be happy if he is able to answer the questions I raised.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I congratulate Senator Norris on bringing this matter to the attention of the House. As the House will be aware, the Senator has led the fight for human rights in this House on many issues and it is fair to say that we have all followed, some with more reluctance than others. He has succeeded on nearly all these issues, in terms of legislation at least.

The problem with issues of this sort is not a matter of legislation but, as Senator Norris said, of legislating about morality. It is about changing people's minds and actions in a non-legislative fashion. A long-term campaign is needed against racism. Somewhere in the human psyche is a terrible fear of the unknown and included in this are people coming into the country from abroad, because it is part of the human condition to regard that their entry as a threat. If we do not learn to regard it as a benefit it will be to the detriment of ourselves as well as those who come into the country.

That is the problem we are facing and it is not a new one for the nations of the world, but it is for Ireland. I suggest that we are not facing it very successfully, and this has to be acknowledged by reading the Government's amendment to Senator Norris's motion. Very little is being done and this amendment is camouflage for not taking concrete action. It is aspirational and once again expresses the views, hopes, dedication and commitment of everybody in this House to a non-racist outlook and policy, but does absolutely nothing about it. The problem is long term, very expensive and requires great commitment from everybody. There is no sign of that in the Government's rather flimsy amendment today.

The Irish people are the most successful hypocrites in Europe on this issue. We have never before had to confront the problems associated with racism. Certainly we have had minorities, ones which we have treated badly. We were late in recognising the difficulties and rights of the gay community. We were late in recognising the same rights and difficulties of the Traveller community. Whereas we recognised them, certainly in the case of the Traveller community, by introducing an Incitement to Hatred Bill and similar legislation, we have not been successful in changing [991] people's minds about this issue. There is still bitter prejudice against the Traveller community which has not been resolved either by legislation or education. Despite the fact that we introduced incitement to hatred legislation, we do not seem to have been successful.

Why did we introduce incitement to hatred legislation? It is very interesting, because it is fundamentally dramatic in its impact. It is a major infringement of the freedom of speech which we cherish so much. It is a rightful infringement of this freedom, because Irish society and official Ireland takes the view that racism is so fundamentally wrong that there must be curbs in other fundamental rights to stop racism. Freedom of speech is not an absolute, nor should it be. There are other areas as well, such as libel, where it should not be an absolute. We decided on the issue of racism that absolute rights should be curtailed, and that is indisputably right and proper.

The problem for Ireland is that we have been isolated and immune from this issue for so long that we have developed in our own minds the most extraordinary reputation that we are great crusaders against racism, that is as long as it is somewhere else. We crusaded for so long against racism, and rightly so, in other countries. We crusaded against discrimination in Northern Ireland and against racism in South Africa.

Everybody in Ireland was on the anti-apartheid bandwagon when the Dunnes Stores workers were picketing because of South African oranges. Nobody said a word against them and there was a great consensus in their favour. Everybody in Ireland was in favour of sanctions against South Africa, provided, of course, we only did a tiny percentage of our trade with them, provided it was a long way away. We were, proudly, partly responsible for leading world opinion against racism in South Africa. We were an independent, neutral nation which had for a long time championed the rights of minorities. We portrayed ourselves as being an oppressed nation. With that experience who could more clearly speak for those minorities abroad than we could? No one, and that was fine, that was right and we had a proud record.

Both Senator Keogh and I went to South Africa as observers for the first multi-racial elections. On the surface nobody could be better qualified than an Irish parliamentarian to do that. We had an unblemished record against racism because we did not have to confront the problem. It was so easy to do that, and so we have been able to contribute and claim the credit for the reduction and the fall of racism in other countries, as a neutral country with our history of being an oppressed minority.

Unfortunately, now that the problems associated with minorities and multi-culturalism landed on our own doorstep, we cannot cope with them. I do not doubt the belief of the Government and every politician in this country when they say, or certainly the lip service which they pay and in [992] which they in theory believe, regarding the equality of races and the equal treatment which must be accorded. The practice is different and at present we are floundering.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister and others when they announce a £4.5 million plan, but I see no follow-up or evidence, as Senator Norris has so rightly said, of a concrete plan to counter racism in the longer term. It will not be done with £4.5 million, £45 million or even £450 million. The only way it will be done is with a long-term plan of education and the removal of fear.

I beg the Minister to answer the specific questions Senator Norris asked about the programme which was announced, where it is going and what is being done. If he does not and he allows this problem to continue to exist in a vacuum, which is what will happen, unscrupulous politicians will inevitably exploit that, as they have done all over the world to whip up hatred, which is just beneath the surface of the human mind on this issue. They will whip up hatred against these minorities and then we will become the oppressor, no longer the oppressed. They will use that hatred to get themselves elected. Ireland has a proud record on this issue, and we have an opportunity to practise what we preach. The Minister has an opportunity to show the world that we can pass the test, which we are in danger of failing.

Mr. O'Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  I seek the guidance of the Chair before moving the amendment. As the Minister is anxious to speak early, I ask that I be allowed to reserve the right to complete my contribution when the Minister has finished.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Coogan): Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  Once the Minister speaks, we must cross the floor before returning.

Mr. O'Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:

“recognising that Ireland is becoming an increasingly multicultural society in which persons of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds enrich our society, encourages the Government to continue with its programme of measures aimed at ensuring that racism will have no place in our country;

endorses the Government's commitment to tackling racism in all its forms;

applauds the measures already introduced by the Government that have resulted in the most comprehensive set of anti-discrimination legislation in Western Europe, including the enactment of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, and the Equal Status Act, 2000;

welcomes the national anti-racism public awareness campaign and the funding of £4.5 [993] million allocated to it over the next three years;

praises the initiatives already undertaken to tackle racism, including:

the establishment of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism;

the establishment of the Equality Authority and the initiative undertaken by the Authority;

the establishment of the Human Rights Commission;

the establishment of the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office;

the promotion of the Citizen Traveller Campaign;

the establishment of the Reception and Integration Agency; and

encourages the Government to build on these measures in a planned way so as to create the conditions that will ensure that respect for ethnic and cultural diversity are accepted values of our society.”

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I thank Senator O'Donovan for giving way.

The Government is committed to tackling racism in all its forms and has made very significant progress in the past four years in introducing measures to combat racism. Racism is an issue which we must unite against as a society and developments in the past week have been unhelpful in terms of supporting the many initiatives undertaken by the Government on a number of fronts.

The Government has introduced comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. It has established agencies such as the Equality Authority and the Office of the Director of Equality Investigation to deal with victims of racism and discrimination. Other bodies such as the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office, and the Reception and Integration Agency have also been established under the Government. A new Human Rights Commission has been established to protect human rights and the Government has provided its full support to the Citizen Traveller Campaign in the past two years.

It is because of the Government that Ireland now has one of the most comprehensive codes of anti-discrimination legislation in Europe. We are a Government of action, not words. I am particularly pleased to have piloted through the Oireachtas both the Employment Equality Act, 1998, and the Equal Status Act, 2000, which prohibit discrimination on nine grounds, including religion, race and membership of the Traveller community. Both Acts contain a broad definition [994] of race which covers race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins.

The enactment of this comprehensive body of legislation allowed the Government to proceed with Ireland's ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. We were not in a position to ratify the convention until the Attorney General was satisfied that we had sufficient legal measures in place to ratify and implement its provisions. Ratification entered into force last January. The new legislation meant that the Government was in a position to implement the provisions of the convention with immediate effect. The Government has already signed the major universal and European human rights instruments and complies fully with their terms.

The new Equality Authority has been working towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds covered by our legislation, including the ground of race. The authority has prepared a range of videos in various languages to help people understand the equality legislation and the institutions established by the legislation. Last November, the authority organised an anti-racism in the workplace week jointly with IBEC, the Construction Industry Federation and the ICTU.

The Office of the Director of Equality Investigation, which was also established under the Employment Equality Act, has been providing redress for individuals who consider that they may have suffered discrimination. The Government enacted the Human Rights Commission Act, 2000, allowing for the establishment of the Human Rights Commission. The commission will be a powerful independent body charged with the task of keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of our laws in relation to the protection of human rights in their widest sense.

Legislation is in place which prohibits incitement to hatred. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989, makes it an offence to incite hatred against any group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, or membership of the Traveller community.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Can the Minister cite one single case in this area that has been successful?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  As I stated in Dublin Castle last autumn at our national conference against racism preparatory to the world conference against racism, the 1989 Act is being reviewed in my Department with a view to improving its effectiveness.

Under existing legislation, that is, the Offences Against the State Act, 1939, the State has the power to declare illegal and prohibit organisations which promote and incite racial discrimination. The Act also renders membership of such organisations a criminal offence.

The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism was established in 1998 with direct funding from my Department. [995] As part of its overall aim of developing an integrated approach against racism, the NCCRI introduced an anti-racism protocol for political parties and a declaration of intent for candidates at elections. I am pleased to confirm that the protocol and declaration have received the support of, and have been adopted by, all the political parties in the State.

The national consultative committee has also been active in the area of awareness raising. In 1999, it organised a series of over 80 events nationwide in its “True Colours” festival in association with Government and non-government agencies. These included seminars, lectures, artistic events, launches and other intercultural and anti-racism initiatives. The committee has established a training unit for anti-racism awareness raising training to Departments, national media organisations, trade unions, etc. To mark the international day against racism on 21 March, the committee launched an information pack for schools in association with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

The Garda has also been active in the area of anti-racism. The Garda Racial and Intercultural Office has recently been established. The office is responsible for co-ordinating, monitoring and advising on all aspects of policing in the area of ethnic and cultural diversity. The office produced a video aimed at a Garda audience which examines the effects of prejudice, discrimination and cultural differences as well as providing information for gardai on dealing with racist incidents. The office also publishes and circulates a periodic newsletter.

In the past three years, the Government has provided £900,000 towards the Citizen Traveller Campaign in order to address the underlying causes of mistrust between Travellers and the settled community and to promote a greater understanding between both communities.

With improvements in the economy in the late 1990s, the number of immigrants has increased significantly. The number of asylum of applications rose steeply from about 700 in 1995 to almost 11,000 in 2000. The Government recognises that Ireland is becoming an increasingly multicultural society, in which persons of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds enrich our society. New policies and actions have been taken and continue to be taken to deal with the increase in the population of ethnic minorities. The Government recently established a statutory agency, the Reception and Integration Agency, under the aegis of my Department. The agency has responsibility for planning and co-ordinating the provision of services for both asylum seekers and refugees.

Last October the Government agreed to my proposal to implement a national anti-racism public awareness programme with the overall aim of contributing to creating the conditions for building a more inclusive and intercultural society in Ireland where racism is effectively addressed [996] and cultural diversity is valued. Work on the implementation of the awareness programme is well under way. The framework for the evaluation for the programme was developed by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism after consultations with non-governmental organisations, social partners Departments over a three month period.

The Government allocated a core budget of £1.5 million per annum to the programme over a three-year period beginning this year. In February I announced the composition of the high-level steering group to implement the programme in partnership with the equality division of my Department. The steering group has an independent chairperson and 19 members and had its first meeting on 2 April. It was not found possible to meet earlier owing to the foot and mouth disease precautions and, in fact, earlier meetings were cancelled.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  That was not an interruption, it was an involuntary outbreak of laughter.

Acting Chairman:  It shall be so recorded.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Minister should not make a joke out of it. A meeting of 19 people could not go ahead?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  The group is now involved in the three month preparatory phase of the programme outlined in the NCCRI evaluation. The first task the steering group undertook was to arrange for a baseline survey of attitudes and opinions on minority ethnic groups, racism and interculturalism among the general public and key audiences. The nationwide survey will be a cornerstone of the programme, its results helping to determine the focus and direction of the campaign while serving as a benchmark. Further surveys will be arranged during and at the end of the programme to assist in monitoring changes in attitudes and opinions.

The steering group is aware of the need to support community-based initiatives. It intends to involve community groups, area-based partnerships and organisations of minority ethnic groups in the awareness programme. With this in mind, plans are under way to launch a grants fund to support and facilitate such groups and organisations. This is an aspect of the programme the group can proceed with immediately and in advance of a formal launch, preparations for which are in train. The launch and media campaign, if they are to be a success, must be well planned and properly co-ordinated and there are key tasks to be carried out as part of that. These include the conduct of a survey of attitudes and opinions, analysis of its results, development of links with key organisations working in the area of racism, integration of existing initiatives into the programme, development of a distinct identity and image for the programme, preparation of [997] media and information packs and the seeking of support of key media organisations.

Part of the task of the steering group will be to monitor all elements of the programme and measure its impact and success. The group will provide a progress report to Government on an annual basis and will also publish an annual report. We all appreciate the need for an anti-racism awareness programme. However, the temptation to rush into short-term actions must be resisted.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It has been resisted very well so far.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  This programme will operate over a period of three years and it needs to be carefully planned. It will be broad-based and aim to produce long-term sustainable outcomes lasting well beyond the three-year period. The programme will be as successful as the foundations on which it is built and the high-level steering group must be allowed the space to bring its expertise to this challenging task. I wish the group every success in its work and I look forward to seeing the results of its efforts in due course.

Racism is a scourge on societies and the Government is determined that it should not be allowed to gain a foothold. Addressing the problem is a serious task which requires commitment and action on many levels. I ask the House for its support in allowing the Government to continue its worthwhile efforts in reviewing and developing the numerous measures it has put in place to tackle racism in all its forms. These have been outlined by Senator O'Donovan in the Government's amendment to the motion put down by Senator Norris.

This has traditionally been a country of emigration and it is only in recent years that we have experienced different ethnic minorities arriving on our shores in larger numbers than anticipated. While we set out on a greenfield site, legislatively, structurally and administratively, measures were put in place to provide what is a very sophisticated system. This system, like it or not, has been a major success and I would go so far as to say that asylum seeking procedures and the accommodation, care and attention given to the human beings who arrive on our shores are second to none. I challenge any Senator to go across Europe and produce for me a system which is better structurally, administratively—

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Is it not a wonder that 24 of them were found in Government paid for accommodation in Gardiner Street which was clearly not fit for habitation?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  —than the system now in place here.

I have read reports of widespread racism in society and I reject them. They are simply untrue and do not stand up to scrutiny. When we originally sought to settle people there was a small minority of places where fear became the instant [998] reaction. Once people were educated about the value of diversity and interculturalism the fear dissipated. I can point to towns and villages tonight as prime examples of precisely what I am talking about. That is not the reaction of a society which is latently or endemically racist.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  So there is no racism?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I condemn such charges with the contempt they deserve. Of course, I accept that there is within certain people the capacity to be racist. There might even be a minority of people who, through complete ignorance, act in a racist fashion and that is why we have put in place the measures I have outlined. It is very ironic that Members of the Oireachtas, or anyone else, should choose to criticise this Government's record in tackling racism when we put in place the very legislation which allowed us to sign, for the very first time, an international convention against racism. We could not sign previously for the simple reason that the legislative framework was not in place. Of course, there will be those who say what is in place is insufficient and that more needs to be done.

I am the very first to accept that more needs to be done which is precisely why I set up the steering group and obtained Government funding of £4.5 million over the next three years for a public awareness campaign. I have repeatedly stated my absolute abhorrence of racism in all its forms and consistently stressed the need to respect people's individuality and humanity. I have sought at all times to ensure that people's personal dignity, irrespective of whether they were deemed to be illegal immigrants or refugees, was respected. If there were times when, administratively, structurally or legislatively, we failed in any way, I immediately sought to stop the gaps.

I can safely say the record speaks for itself and will stand and bear comparison with any country in Europe. I will go further and say that the legislative framework in place is a model of its type and there is no country, in the EU or beyond, which can boast as modern, sophisticated and comprehensive a body of legislation dealing with discrimination. That is not to say, to use the words of Senator Norris, one can legislate for morality. I am not certain private morality can be legislated for, but I am certain that if legislation is geared in a particular direction it can definitely steer public morality in a way acceptable to a civilised society. In this matter legislatively, administratively and structurally we have sought to succeed. If we have not at all times done so, mea culpa. We have sought at all times to redress defects which became apparent.

I would not bother setting up a Director of Equality Investigation, the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission if I did not believe in the values they are in place to espouse. I deeply resent accusations to the contrary, which appear every now and then, by people who should know better. The steering group will now [999] complete its early study of what is required to be done in the short term. It will continue to monitor and assess the situation. In as much as we have in place today all the items I have already outlined, we will put more safeguards, structures and legislation in place, if required. However, it is difficult to take on board the unmerited criticism which has been doing the rounds in this country for some time – I am not speaking about any Member of this House – when one knows that one has done more than any one of those critics.

Acting Chairman:  I am sure Senator Norris's interjections were involuntary and resulted from his strong belief in his motion. I remind him that he will have the opportunity to respond to or reject the points made by those speakers later in the debate.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn  Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn  The Minister should not come into the House in a defensive position when a motion is tabled by the Opposition. He comes here in good faith. I invite him to come into the House as a realist rather than a defendant. He came here this evening as a defendant and that is unfortunate.

One recognises that the Minister has a genuine commitment, but the difference between that and reality varies dramatically. There is also a difference between a casual and a determined commitment to ensure that legislation is enforced. The Minister referred to the 1989 Act which provides against racial discrimination. However, there have not been any successful prosecutions under that legislation. One must question the effectiveness or otherwise of that Act 12 years later. I request the Minister to introduce an amendment to that legislation to make it effective. That request should not be met with a defensive response.

The amendment tabled by the Government is nonsense. It endorses the Government's commitment to tackle racism in all its forms. However, that commitment is not a determined one. It also applauds the measures introduced by the Government which have resulted in comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Legislation may be in place, but it is not being enforced. The Minister referred to cases across the country. We are all aware of communities in rural areas and larger towns in our constituencies where there is no racism and where people are happily integrated. However, there is a percentage of people involved in racist behaviour.

The Minister referred to the necessity for the awareness committee which is being set up to do a survey. He mentioned the need for the steering group to undertake key tasks as part of the planning and development of the launch, including conducting a survey of attitudes and opinions and analysing its results. However, there is no need to conduct such a survey as ample surveys have been done by Amnesty International and the EU. The Eurobar report which was published recently [1000] reflected poorly on our attitudes to racial discrimination. We must take action.

The Minister referred to legislation and to people's attitudes. One can legislate for people's actions so action can be taken against them if they act contrary to the law, but one cannot legislate for people's attitudes. Martin Luther King said that one cannot legislate for a man's heart, but one can legislate for his habits. We must have effective legislation which deals specifically with a person's habits and how he or she treats and deals with other people. Only education will change what is in a person's heart and mind. I am delighted education was raised. It is vital that we educate our people, and this process should start in the home. We hear stories regularly about racist remarks being made to children at school because of their ethnic background, whether they are from the Traveller community or another community, or the colour of their skin. Many of those comments come from within the home. People need to be educated.

It is vital that we undertake a public awareness campaign. While we appreciate that money has been set aside, that campaign has not yet started. Reports show that a cross-section of our community has anti-ethnic attitudes. An opinion poll of more than 1,000 people, which was done by Amnesty International, showed that 40% of people would be reluctant to welcome Travellers as their neighbours. As a member of a local authority, I thought the figure would have been higher given how people react to halting sites. Some 15% of respondents said they could see themselves being friends with refugees, asylum seekers, Travellers or Romanians. I am concerned about that frightening percentage. Romania is one of our eastern European neighbours and it was the centre of cultural development in past centuries. Many people refer to the capital of Romania as the equivalent of Paris in the western part of Europe, yet only 15% of people would see themselves being friends with Romanian refugees. Interestingly, 32% said they could be friendly with black people and 39% said they could be friendly with Chinese people. That begs the question, what about the 68% and 61% respectively?

These are the people who need to be educated and informed and who must open their minds to the wider world. One talks about global economies. We must globalise our minds and attitudes about people. As a people who were forced to emigrate in the past to a variety of countries – we all have relatives abroad – it is unfortunate that such a high percentage of people do not have an open mind about those who have come to this country for a variety of reasons. There is a need to undertake a public awareness campaign.

The Minister came into the House in a defensive mode. He should accept the reality that all is not well in this State in terms of our attitude to ethnic diversity. A high percentage of people do not recognise the benefits of inter-culturalism. We need to educate people. There is a fear of the [1001] unknown but if that barrier can be crossed, there will be greater openness. There is an urgent need to address the matter.

There is an increasing number of attacks on those from minority groups, be they ethnic or cultural minorities. Many attacks are not reported as victims believe there is no point in doing so. This is unsatisfactory given that Ireland has signed up to international conventions on human rights. There is much legislation, much paper, but the situation on the ground begs the question as to what the Government is doing to ensure this does not continue. There is a need for urgent action and I support Senator Norris's motion. The amendment is a farce. I am disappointed that Fianna Fáil felt the need to table such a laborious amendment.

Mr. O'Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  Senator Taylor-Quinn comes from a lovely part of west Clare and I had imagined her as the lily among the briars on the other side of the House. However, aspects of her contribution to the debate were hard to stomach. She stated that the Minister was defensive in his contribution. In fact, he gave a strong defence of Government policy. There is merit in Senator Norris's motion to which the Government amendment is not a total rebuff. The Minister agreed that much needs to be done and is constantly reviewing the situation. He has, however, achieved much since taking over his Department four years ago.

When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was appointed in 1997, there was an emerging problem related to an influx of asylum seekers. The rainbow coalition had left the cupboard bare, and the Minister had to work from a difficult position. There were few staff, no funding, no appeals mechanism, and no provisions for dealing with asylum seekers. Not alone has the Minister introduced worthwhile legislation, he has provided £200 million in his four years in office to provide facilities and extra staff. This must be acknowledged and encouraged. There were some 700 cases being dealt with per annum when the Minister took office. This had escalated to some 11,000 last year. Behind Belgium, Ireland is in second highest position per capita in its acceptance of asylum seekers and refugees among EU member states in recent years. This is an EU statistic.

Despite this, the situation regarding racism is not as bad as painted by some, although we do have problems. I abhor racist attacks but do not believe they are the full picture. Some 200 asylum seekers have come to the west Cork area. They were accepted, perhaps in a jaundiced way by some, but they had their rights and were generally welcome. Although there have been unfortunate incidents in Dublin, these are the exception rather than the rule. The younger generation has a greater tolerance of people of different races and cultures than older people. Education is the key to tackling racism.

[1002] The situation regarding the Traveller community is also far from resolved. In west Cork, a local authority bought a house and two acres of land for a Traveller family, as they wanted space for their business. Having spent £180,000 on a five bedroom house and two acres of land, the local authority was told by the family that it was too far from the local town and that they did not want it. They wanted two houses in the town. Great efforts can be made to help people but things do not always work out.

I visited my local hospital in Bantry one week ago for a minor check-up. The majority of doctors in the hospital are African or Asian. They are most welcome at the hospital, the only one serving west Cork. They do an excellent job and engender great respect from old and young in the area. There are also nurses from Indonesia at the hospital who have integrated into the community at Bantry without difficulty. I would hate the message from this debate to be that there is a problem with racism in a broad sense in Ireland. There are incidents which we must condemn but we are doing an excellent job in many respects.

I compliment Amnesty International on its worthwhile campaign, which Senator Norris mentioned. The Senator said that the Amnesty report was a reproach to Government but I disagree. We can act on the report. A future Government advertising campaign will complement what Amnesty International is trying to achieve.

The Government cannot change mindsets; it can only introduce legislation. From reading certain newspaper articles, one would think that the Minster should be on the streets policing how people think. That is not possible. The Minister has brought forward the legislation required and taken action on which he is to be complimented. In the next three years, the Government has committed to investing £4.5 million on an advertising campaign to combat racism. That is a lot of money and must be welcomed.

Last October, the Government agreed to a proposal from the Minister to implement an anti-racism awareness programme. In February this year, the Minister announced the establishment of a high level steering group to implement it, in conjunction with the equality division of his Department. I take issue with Senator Norris for making fun of the fact that there has been no meeting of the group since February due to the foot and mouth crisis. All groups were advised by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development not to hold meetings unless absolutely necessary. It is unfair to say that the steering group sat idle during that period.

The Minister and the Government have come a long way since June 1997. Money has been spent and useful fora established. The Minister has established the Human Rights Commission, promoted the Citizen Traveller Campaign initiative, and established the Reception and Integration Agency. It should be recognised that much work has been done by the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law [1003] Reform in the past four years. The Minister has achieved more than many are capable of.

I accept that we cannot ignore the issue, that we must constantly review it. There is more work to be done, as the Minister has accepted. It is an exaggeration to say that we can run before we can walk. That is an unfair criticism of the Minister. The Government has responded exceptionally well over the past three years.

Ms Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  I congratulate Senator Norris on putting down this motion. It has generated a very heated debate and that is very welcome. I agree with my colleague, Senator Taylor-Quinn, that the Minister should not have been so defensive about this. This is an honest endeavour to tackle an issue that is absolutely real. I will always give credit where it is due. The Minister expressed his views very honestly and forthrightly, pointing to legislation which has been enacted and so forth. I found it utterly unbelievable that he should say there is no racism in Ireland. It is so blind and it shows where the Government is coming from.

Mr. J. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  He did not.

Ms Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  I was so surprised that I wrote it down.

Mr. J. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  He said there were isolated cases.

Ms Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  He qualified it and said there were incidents.

Mr. J. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Isolated incidents.

Ms Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  He spoke as if these were very isolated incidents which happened very occasionally. We have heard of many incidents. The statistics are available from polls and investigations which were carried out by the EU.

I remember the initial debates on equality legislation, including employment equality, in the Oireachtas. At that time, the mid-1990s, contributors were most concerned about the obvious and endemic racism towards the Traveller community. At that time we did not have the problem of racism as we encounter it today, where our new found prosperity has been accompanied by an influx of asylum seekers and economic immigrants. We must admit that despite legislation, effort and campaigns, anti-Traveller feeling is still part of our society. To change the attitudes within society is difficult, even with the best will of the legislators. Every local authority member knows this. Every councillor who has tried to introduce the Traveller accommodation programme knows how difficult it is. It is met with the 'not in my back yard' attitude. Those who support these programmes often find that colleagues are put under enormous pressure from local communities not to vote for them. Why is this? Of course it is nothing to do with the Travellers. It is nothing to do with the people themselves, it is to do with the value [1004] of property, a fear of house prices declining. Then it will be said that these people do appalling things, that they are violent. All the arguments which Members know so well are put forward. Despite campaigns, that has not changed significantly. It demonstrates how difficult it is to change attitudes within our society.

We say that there is no racism towards asylum seekers or immigrants. One of the difficulties is that many who come here seeking work are very poor, but not all of them are. Many are very skilled, yet cannot get jobs and are forced to live on social welfare payments because we cannot find it within ourselves to have a system which works sufficiently well to allow them get the jobs they so desperately want. They are housed in low-cost accommodation, side-by-side in many instances, with the poorest in our own society, indigenous people as it were. That breeds fear and distrust. Some Irish people feel that others should not get benefits which they themselves are not entitled to. Others should not get housing which they have waited for. The fear is not only that of the unknown. It is a fear of being left behind because the people coming into the country will get the benefits first. The fear of the unknown has to be challenged and counteracted. That should form part of an awareness campaign.

The Minister talked about isolated incidents. These are the reported incidents, like stone throwing and actual attacks. What about when immigrants are to be housed in certain areas? The Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy Eoin Ryan, will be very familiar with a case in his constituency. Opposition was not to the immigrants to be housed in the area, it was a planning problem. This was a euphemism. Many people do not want people from another ethnic background living beside them – the statistics were quoted earlier. The objections are subtle. The more middle-class the area the more subtle these objections are. We know this and should admit that it is true. We should not blind ourselves from it.

The essence of Senator Norris's motion is that he condemns the Government's lack of movement on the proposed racial awareness programme. The Minister accepts that some of the existing legislation needs to be updated and changes are in train. There have been no prosecutions under the incitement to hatred legislation. One wonders why this is the case. People can point to that and feel that maybe there is not a will. I do not know.

Attitudes do not change without education. Where should this education be offered? Senator Taylor-Quinn has already said that it has to happen within the home, but we have to bypass the home in some circumstances. Many people of a certain generation have no experience of dealing with immigrant people. Children are meeting immigrants in their schools and generally integrating quite well with them. Education has to come mainly through our schools. It has to be for[1005] mally admitted within schools that this is now a different society.

I hope that we continue to prosper as a society and attract the people we need. We cannot have a society which has a racist attitude. This needs to be changed. Education is the fundamental way to deal with this. The awareness campaign is important and it should be up and running now. How long must we wait for expert groups to decide on the issues? If it is done well we might feel it was worth waiting for. There are people who have already been victims of racism, either subtly or overtly. They are the people we need to reach out to.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I welcome this debate. There is an obligation on all of us to use our positions to seek to influence public opinion and to come to terms with racism which is undoubtedly a factor in contemporary society. Sometimes it manifests itself in the most spectacular of ways, very often demonstrated to us television. We shake our heads and state that it is a gross violation of human rights and that we are embarrassed about it. However, that is only the thin end of the wedge.

Sadly, racism seems to be deep-rooted in our psyche. As a country, Ireland has a reputation for being open, generous and hospitable. In the past, it seemed we had no difficulty in dealing with poorer people provided they remained in their own countries. We were prepared to send missionaries to these countries, to donate pennies for the black babies etc. That was all jolly fine, provided these people stayed south of the equator. When some of them came to visit us, however, that was a scéil eile.

In terms of condemning the Government, I suppose there is truth in the argument that, as a country, we did not respond quickly enough. There was nothing in our previous experience or in existing legislation or public procedures which prepared us for dealing with the influx of asylum seekers and overseas people who have come here, in relatively large numbers, in recent years. Immigration was never part of our history. In the Irish experience the opposite was the case, we sent out the people for whom we were not able to make provision. As a result, we were not prepared, particularly in the public sector, for what happened and we were slow to respond to the situation as it emerged and as it continues to develop.

Only so much can be achieved through legislation and there is a good corpus of legislation in place at present. However, it is a long journey from enacting legislation to putting it into practice. In the long term, the latter is what matters. A previous speaker referred to the mindset, which it is what we must seek to change. I am glad this debate is taking place because there is none among our number who is without influence.

The major disseminators of information in society are religion, education and the media. [1006] These are the major forces that influence people's mindsets. Legislators, in their own right, have a role to play in terms of making efforts to introduce legislation and make proper provision. Unless, however, there is a parallel effort on the part of those who shape our religious beliefs and our moral tenets, those who educate us as children and as adults and the media, the mean, grudging and short-sighted mindset will not be changed. We are aware of this because we cannot even change people's mindset in relation to something as basic as litter.

People's mindsets can be changed. This often happens when initiatives are taken at local and community level. I accept that the circumstances surrounding the influx of refugees to this country from Kosovo are slightly different from those of other refugees and that there was a huge surge of sympathy for Kosovars as a result of what they had experienced. However, I wish to draw attention to the fact that a group of Kosovars who were located in the town of Kenmare were integrated after a short period. This happened mainly because of the efforts and attitude of the archdeacon, the local parish priest, who, because he spearheads the town's entry to the Tidy Towns Competition, which it wins every year, has great influence in the community. He was able to shape the attitude of the members of the local community to these strangers who came to their town. In no time these individuals were welcomed into people's houses and they began helping the archdeacon cultivate plants in his greenhouses. They discovered that they had a common language because Latin is the language used to describe plants. Each had enough knowledge of Latin to allow a conversation to take place.

In my opinion, this matter can only be dealt with well at local level. Members of communities must display leadership and influence public opinion to bring out the best and generous side of Irish people which, it appears, is difficult to bring out at present. Efforts on the part of the Government must be supplemented by good, decent endeavour at community level and local level.

In terms of education, I accept that we ask a great deal of our education system but if it does not transmit values it has no value. If schools are not moral communities where people from different economic backgrounds, countries or ethnic backgrounds are not valued, they are not worthy of being centres of education. Education has a huge role to play. I accept, however, that teachers were not prepared to deal with this matter because they did not have access to the language required. We need to work with the practitioners of educational delivery in our classrooms and establish inservice and incareer courses to help them to influence children. It is well known that if one can influence children, one has a fair hope of influencing their parents.

[1007] I recall that, as a youngster growing up in Kerry, it was our greatest delight to be allowed to play with those whom we called “tinkers”. We did not intend to disparage these children by referring to them in this way. We thought it was great fun to play with them and we were allowed to do so. Nobody felt we were unsafe being around these children.

The media have a major role to play, if they so choose. I return to Kerry to give a further example to support my argument. A certain shopkeeper, who also happens to be a local councillor, received enormous publicity in the media by informing the nation that his shop had been broken into on four occasions in a four week period and that each break-in was carried out by a Nigerian. Nobody asked him the details of each incident, whether they were reported to the Garda and the action taken on foot of these alleged incidents. I am familiar with the village where these events allegedly took place and nobody there had laid an eye on a Nigerian, with the exception of the one whose image appears on the front of Trócaire boxes. In this instance, the media did not ask the critical questions. This is the type of occurrence which stirs up racism. The media has a central and major role to play in terms of influencing public opinion.

Our attitude in this country is grossly undeveloped and underdeveloped and we must take steps to reverse the position. There are priests and pastors who, every Sunday, have a captive audience – I accept that, as matters stand, they no longer preach to the entire parish – to which they should preach about the importance of Christian charity, human decency and good values. Without that kind of input from them, from the education system and the media, the racial awareness programme will not achieve full results. I appeal to those who are in a position to influence public opinion to play their part in helping us to change this racist mindset, which is like a poison.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I am fond of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is likeable in many ways. However, his contribution was about as innocuous and as lacking in awareness as any delivered by a Minister in this House. I am intrigued by the Government's determination to insert the term “anti-discrimination legislation” into the motion by means of the amendment. It appears, therefore, that if a black person is beaten up on Dawson Street, the anti-discrimination legislation can perhaps be invoked, whereas the crime should be one of racially motivated assault. We are talking, and apparently the Government is determined to talk, in terms which do not appreciate the scale of racial violence.

That said, I do not want to make the mistake of branding us a racist people. We must, however, deal with the realities of life in Ireland, which are [1008] that the country has changed dramatically and quickly. Tragically, we have succumbed, especially elements of the Government, to a racist motivation in public opinion, such as in the response to the influx of asylum seekers. When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform used the phrase “a glut of asylum seekers”, a phrase he has used on occasion in recent years, I do not believe he meant to be offensive, but he offered language which encouraged such thinking. That is the first aspect, the careless use of language.

The second aspect is the determination to turn the influx of asylum seekers into a national crisis. Let us remember we were supposed to have a crisis because of the influx of asylum seekers, but we do not have a crisis about the health service. The use of the word “crisis” is capable of being interpreted as code because foreigners are concerned. The silence of the Government in repudiating one of the Independent Members of the Dáil whose support it needs when he launched into what was essentially a racist rant about Romanians was disgraceful.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  Absolutely.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  If ever a political party of which I was a member was anything other than unequivocal about such matters, that would be the end of my membership of that party. I invite the supporters of the Government to ask the Ministers responsible to speak to the individual concerned, who is the chair of an Oireachtas committee, and say to him that, if he uses such language again, they will not be part of it. We cannot eliminate racism. What we can do is minimise its impact, educate public opinion and, above all, give positive signals and support to those whose instincts are to be repelled by it.

I have consistently asked in the House how the immigration service figures out who should be stopped at airports and ferry ports for further investigation. No one will tell me what are the criteria and the advice.

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. E. Ryan): Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  Very few are stopped at airports. More than 90% of those who seek asylum do so at one of the centres.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Does the Minister of State suggest the huge number of extra people recruited to the immigration service to patrol all airports and ports at all times are a waste of money and unnecessary?

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  I am telling the Senator that considerably more than 90% of those who seek asylum do so at one of centres throughout the country, not at ports of entry.

[1009]Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I am aware of that. I am also aware of the number of black people who come here for perfectly legitimate reasons who are either embarrassed or delayed because members of the immigration service stop, question and humiliate them. I want to know if someone told them to keep an eye on people on the basis of their skin colour. Is that one of the criteria, not for stopping people but for questioning them further? That is what I would like to know.

I attended a conference in 1992 at which an eminent Peruvian development economist was a guest. He was almost late for the conference because he was held at Dublin Airport by the immigration service. I am aware of two successive occasions when 15 year old children from a school in Bradford were denied visas by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come here on an educational tour despite the fact they were legal residents in Britain. No one would tell me the reason. The following year two different children were also refused visas to come here on an educational tour. I have no idea why that happened. No one will tell me because individual cases are not discussed. I love the way privacy becomes an issue when it is safer to do so.

These are only anecdotes but they all amount to the same thing, that we have a problem to a degree in institutions, in the security forces, especially the Garda, in the way the issue is discussed in politics and in the way we tolerate appalling language from members of the political system. It is the Government's job – I would say this whoever was in government – to take every possible measure to deal with this.

Then we see a programme to counter racism being announced with a great flourish and no one knows what is happening. Organisations like Amnesty International wonder what is happening because no one has told them. Amnesty International is an organisation which most Governments love when it criticises the people they do not like. They will cite the organisation at great length if they want to criticise others.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  We were talking about careless language. The organisation had careless advertisements in the newspaper which lead to racism.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  Senator Ryan only has one minute remaining.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  The idea that a Minister of State would suggest that possibly the best organisation for defending human rights in this country would do something that would lead to racism is something about which the Minister of State would want to be careful. That was a rather foolish thing from him.

[1010]Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  The advertisement was foolish and careless.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  The advertisement was excellent.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The language was clever.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I wonder if the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, was engaging in an ironic flight of fancy when he said, “We all appreciate the need for an anti-racism awareness programme, however the temptation to rush into short term actions must be resisted.” This was a three year programme with £1.5 million allocated for each year but the Minister did not want to rush into it. When will he do it? Will it be in 2020?

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  He is doing it. It is being done.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Lethargy defines the Government's attitude to the problem. I do not accuse the Minister of State or anyone else of racism, but their priorities are confused and they do not understand the urgency of the issue.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  My first exposure to real-life racism was about 30 years ago when I visited Chicago. I stayed with an Irish family on that occasion. They were very fine people and both of them have since gone to their eternal reward. They told me the house in which they lived was new and that they had moved from another house a year earlier to stay ahead of the coloured people who had moved into their area. Their moving in would have devalued their property and they wanted to protect their investment.

Another exposure to racism was when I was held by the British authorities for not translating my name from Irish into the English language. It took four European countries and the European Parliament to obtain an undertaking from Britain that that would not happen again. I regard that as racism.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I fully agree with the Minister of State regarding the advertisement in question. I am a regular supporter of Amnesty International and make regular financial contributions to it, but it made a mistake in lampooning Ministers in the manner it did. There is an introverted element of racism in that act.

This is not the first time we have discussed the issue of racism in the House. I raised and discussed it on three different occasions. On each one I had reason to compliment the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, for his hands-on approach to this challenge and for his prompt intervention each time it was necessary, once in his native county of Kerry.

Racism is a cancer which must be rooted out at all costs. We must prevent it from becoming [1011] rooted in the first instance. I have previously had occasion to speak about an attack on a coloured doctor in Nenagh, which I regard as outrageous. I was not clear whether the attack was racially motivated. In the same town on previous occasions other attacks had taken place, one fatal, which did not involve people of other races. We must be clear whether attacks are racially motivated.

I compliment every Senator who has spoken. I have no doubt all spoke with deep concern and compassion. It is important that these issues are discussed on a regular basis because it is easy to become complacent. However, it was disingenuous for a speaker to juxtapose Ireland and South Africa in making the case against racism. This was done by a speaker who has since left the House. This is not correct. It is an exaggeration. It has an effect which is the opposite to the one each person in this House is trying to achieve. Such a comparison might even prompt people who have the evil of racism within them to use it as a cover for a racist attack.

We must arrive at a balance if we are to be positive and compassionate. We must also be careful not to believe that any one of us has a monopoly on the issue of human rights or compassion. This will only drive the goodwill of the majority away from the moral leadership which we can provide. We must use our positions as legislators to provide that vital moral leadership. One cannot legislate for the morality which is necessary in a case such as this.

The moment we exclude communities from arriving at their own initiatives and being innovative in their approach we lose our main strength. As I listened to some of the contributions to the debate I tried to relate what was being said to communities with which I was familiar but I could not see a relationship. I do not suggest that the case histories described have not happened in other areas. I thought of communities in town such as Ennis and Clogheen. In the initial stages communities had doubts, faced unknown situations and did not know how to respond but the moment they were given leadership they gave everything that was required and more.

We need definitions and analyses. I am concerned about the word “integration”, for example. Must people who bring to Ireland a beautiful and rich culture, a tradition they are proud of and a language of their own, become as we are? If that is the case we will lose the opportunity to have our culture enhanced. We must be careful about what integration means. New people must be made welcome and given opportunities equal to everyone else. However, far from expecting them to abandon their language, we would show far more respect for our immigrants by trying to learn it. When one hears a couple of words of one's own language in a strange environment one is made to feel particularly comfortable. We should aim to understand the cultures of people who come to live in [1012] Ireland. That is what is meant by cultural diversity.

We must not generalise or exaggerate. Given our historical background and particularly the Christian principles and tradition we espouse – there was a time in America when notices were placed in windows reading, “No Irish or dogs”– we are ideally suited to give good example.

We must be careful to face the issue of racism as a partnership. We must not score points but try to come together. Ní neart go cur le chéile. If we do, we will do justice to the people who are vulnerable and need our help. I believe that every person who spoke this evening feels exactly the same in this regard.

Mr. J. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  I disagree with the motion because it accuses the Government of lack of movement with regard to the promised racial awareness programme. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few weeks ago during Private Members' time we discussed the Arms Trials of 1970. On that occasion the Government was accused of cynicism when it proposed an amendment to the Fine Gael motion. This evening the Government amendment was described as farcical. I do not accept that. The Minister was accused of being defensive. The Minister is right to defend his proud record and his achievements of recent years in promoting awareness of racism. An opposition speaker recognised that a well co-ordinated awareness campaign will not change everyone's attitude. Isolated cases of racism will continue to occur. It is wrong to generalise or to claim that Irish people are, by and large, racist.

The achievements of the Minister are a matter of fact. I support the Government amendment because I do not believe there has been a lack of movement. Much more needs to be done and will be done.

The Minister has established the national consultative committee on racism and inter-culturalism, the Equality Authority, the Human Rights Commission and the Garda racial and intercultural office. He has promoted the citizen Traveller campaign and established the Reception and Integration Agency. This is not lack of movement.

These actions were taken prior to the announcement that £4.5 million has been allocated for the next three years to ensure suitable funding for a properly co-ordinated public awareness campaign. Last October the Government agreed to a proposal from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to implement a national anti-racism public awareness programme with the overall aim of contributing to creating the conditions for building a more inclusive and inter-cultural society where racism is effectively addressed and cultural diversity is valued. The Government allocated a core budget of £1.5 million per annum to the programme over a three year period, beginning on 1 January 2001.

The primary objectives of the awareness programme are as follows: to act as a catalyst to [1013] stimulate public awareness of racism; to contribute to a commitment to address racism in Ireland; to affirm cultural diversity as a value in our society and to encourage practical ways of taking it into account; to help create the conditions that make it more difficult for racism to exist; and to contribute to a range of policies that promote an inclusive approach to minority ethnic groups, including refugees and asylum seekers.

In February this year, the Minister announced the establishment of a high level steering group to implement the programme in partnership with the equality division of his Department. The steering group has an independent chairperson and 19 members. Its membership is broadly based and includes representatives of ethnic minority communities, the four social partners, national bodies such as the Equality Authority and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, and relevant Departments. The group is chaired by an eminent person, Mr. Joe McDonagh of Galway, who is a former president of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The secretariat for the group is provided by the equality division of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I was glad to hear the Minister state that initiatives will be taken in the areas of community and local development, media and communications, the role of statutory authorities and public education, and will aim to produce long-term sustainable outcomes. As other speakers mentioned, the community is a good place in which to start educating people.

Genuine fear was instilled in people when they were made aware that people from other countries and cultures would be coming to live among them. That fear and apprehension is understandable. It is important to point out, however, that at that time the Minister sent his officials around the country to public meetings where consultation took place and where the public was educated. They became aware that they had nothing to fear and they accepted that fact. Nowadays, when asylum seekers or refugees are placed in various rural and urban locations throughout the country we do not have big public gatherings of people to criticise the fact. By and large, people have welcomed these developments which are working quite well.

The first task of the steering group was to arrange for a baseline survey of attitudes and opinions on minority ethnic groups, racism and interculturalism among the public and key audiences. The survey, which will be nationwide, will be a crucial cornerstone of the programme. An Opposition Senator disputed that this survey was necessary, but I think it is. It is very necessary to have the views of everybody in the country before decisions are made. The results of the survey will help to determine the focus and direction of the campaign and will serve as a benchmark for the programme.

The steering group is aware of the need to support community based initiatives. With this in [1014] mind, plans are under way to launch a small grants fund to support and facilitate such groups and organisations. Preparations are in train for a formal launch of the programme. The launch and the media campaign, if they are to be successful, must be well planned and properly co-ordinated. That point was made by Senator Keogh who said that we will look back and say we were right to take our time and get it right. I am sure we will. It is important to sit back in the cold light of day and consider everybody's views fairly, before launching the awareness campaign. That is the way we should proceed.

The group will provide an annual progress report to the Government and will also publish an annual report. While we all appreciate the need for an anti-racism awareness programme, the temptation to take short-term action must be resisted. I agree that short-term action may not be the correct procedure for us to make people aware of racism. In spending nearly £5 million on an awareness campaign, we must set about our business properly.

We have had awareness campaigns in many other areas which worked for the public. We must always try to legislate for the common good, although unfortunate incidents will always take place. I respect Senator Norris for tabling the motion. I am sure he is aware of isolated racist incidents that have taken place. We must approach the argument in a balanced way, however. It should be realised that some people, including asylum seekers, have come to the country who have been involved in attacks on our citizens. It is important to point that out. I admire Senator Norris for raising the issue but I want to point out that, on a small scale, some attacks have been made on Irish citizens by people from other countries and cultures. Perhaps we have not been so fast to highlight that fact. We should have balance and should recognise that wrong can be done on both sides. We are all seeking the same thing, however, in trying to create this awareness. The Government is standing on its record. It has done much and will do more.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I thank all my colleagues who took part in the debate, starting with Senator Ross who seconded the motion. I hope that all the speakers on this side of the House have been very effective. I wish, in particular, to compliment those on the Government benches because it was a lively debate. Many Government speakers were constructive, particularly Senator Ó Murchú and most especially Senator Quill. Her contribution was one of the most excellent that I have heard in the House. It was reasoned and thoughtful. She went right to the heart of the matter in highlighting the need for local community leadership and education. She is absolutely right. If the Government put Senator Quill on that committee we would soon have action.

I was heartened by the positive response from Members on the other side of the House. The Minister was a bit more tetchy but he was in a [1015] very weak position. His speech was astonishing, it really was. It was defensive. The sad thing, as far as I was concerned, was that he denied the existence of the problem.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  No.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  First, he said there was no racism. Then he said that he would like to refute the charge that there was racism in this country. Then he said, “Well, there might be a little bit here and there. isolated cases”, and so on. If one does not recognise the problem, how can one address it and cure it? Certain elements in the Government, and certainly in this Department, are in denial, which is a great problem. I put 15 questions to the Minister, comprising six main questions and some subsidiaries, yet I did not receive a single answer, not one. In the ante-chamber afterwards, the Minister said that he would answer me and perhaps he will. I live in hope. It would be a very good thing if he were able to do so.

I am well aware that there is racism. I wrote an article about the subject in the Evening Herald and I have never received such virulent mail as I did after its publication. It was astonishing. The reason I tabled this motion is that we were promised something which has not been delivered. I am not the only person who thinks so and neither is Amnesty International. In its edition of 12 May, The Irish Times stated:

Last autumn, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. O'Donoghue, announced a propaganda campaign to combat racism, and rightly won praise for his plans. But that campaign has yet to see the light of day. Why the delay? It is surely not beyond the wit of man to express in succinct terms the anti-racist message and to harness the wealth of talent in Ireland's advertising industry to get that message across with punch. There is need also for an up-to-date legislative framework that defines racially motivated crime, thereby giving the gardaí the means to act against it.

There has been a series of questionnaires and surveys on this subject. The African refugee network survey of 1999 questioned 40 refugees. Thirty said they were denied service because of their skin colour, 11 said they had been verbally abused and four claimed physical abuse.

In April 2000, the Star newspaper commissioned Lansdowne Market Research to conduct a survey of 1,100 people. They found that 27% said they were disturbed by the presence of minority groups, 33% said too many minorities live in Ireland, 23% said immigrant status should not fully guarantee rights and 7% said Ireland should not grant political asylum to those escaping human rights violations. Even more worrying, the Union of Students in Ireland – our young people – conducted a survey of 500 third level students, 39% of whom claimed they would find it difficult to accept a Traveller as a sibling or [1016] spouse, 6% said they would not find it difficult to accept minorities of any kind and 20% said all illegal immigrants should be deported without exception. That is an astonishing survey. That is clear factual evidence.

A letter that was sent to a black woman in Dublin stated:

Mrs. Wog, I noticed on Wednesday a member of your litter, a young black bastard, nostrils wide apart, ape-like lips, crawling around on the floor. I ask that you hand over that animal for the purpose of vivisection so that the white race may be able to come up with a cure for HIV, TB, Rubella, VD and all the other diseases that you black bastards have spread.

I could multiply instances such as this one, so racism does exist. In 1996, a Fianna Fáil councillor in Waterford stated:

The sooner shotguns are at the ready and those Travelling people are put out of the country the better. They are not our people, they are not natives.

Can anyone tell me that there is not racism in this country?

Time Out Dublin Guide 1999 stated:

You also noticed the extraordinary virulent racism that has become a feature of Irish life. In Dublin racist folk were generally happy to identify themselves as racist as the label does not carry the same sense of shame as it does in European countries. Black people, white people perceived not to be white enough, Bosnian refugees, for example, and Ireland's own travelling community can all expect loud comments and even open abuse on the streets of our city.

I have heard it and we cannot deny it.

A garda married to a member of an ethnic minority group said:

I have noticed recently, not just in the job in the past few years, things have started changing. We are becoming more racist. Maybe we were always racist but just didn't see it but it's a fear that I have now that I didn't always have.

Speaking at the remarkable conference in Trinity College on Ireland: Pluralism or Prejudice, Dr. Ronit Lentin, a lecturer on ethnic and racial studies in the college, said the Government's contradictory messages on asylum and immigration together with the media response were major causative facts in contemporary Irish racism. This indicates the level of the problem. Amnesty International has put to the Government certain actions it believes could be taken to resolve the problem.

No official records are kept of racially motivated incidents. It is left to voluntary bodies to do so and a cause of concern that such material is not collected. This puts into context the weakness of the Minister's response. I took the foot and mouth disease outbreak seriously. I tabled a [1017] motion and was one of the first to raise the alarm bells in this House. I stand on my record on that matter but to tell us there cannot be a meeting of a 19 person group because of foot and mouth disease is laughable. It is utter, absolute nonsense.

The questions I asked were all specific and the response was: “With this in mind plans are under way”. That has a nice rhetorical sound but it means absolutely damn all. The Minister stated, “Preparations are in train for a formal launch”. I asked him for a date, not whether they were in train, and he singularly failed to give it to the House. That is the reason I am worried and pressing the motion.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  I am aware of a number of groups which have made formal representations and submitted ideas to the group. They are good people—

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  That is all very well and I am delighted to hear it. It is a pity the Minister of State is not the Minister as we might have received a more satisfactory response but I doubt even he could manufacture a fact out of thin air because that is difficult.

This kind of situation was raised by Deputy Gay Mitchell in the Lower House last night. He said 300,000 immigrants would be required to facilitate industrial development and the Taoiseach more or less agreed. Deputy Mitchell asked what was being done to facilitate them in terms of education, which is important. However, it should be two way. There should be induction courses for immigrants in order that they do not cause irritation. The Taoiseach's reply was:

[1018] Racially motivated incidents were increasing, but not alarmingly so. Research shows it is not a major issue but I am aware of an increasing number of cases.

It is depressing when the Taoiseach views it like that.

I do not accuse members of the Government of being racist. The Minister is rather irascible, which is one of his more engaging qualities, and gets up on his high horse from time to time but that is what we like about him. That is what makes him so loveable but he is not racist. However, he is blind to this issue because he denied the existence of a serious racial problem earlier and that is not sustainable. Unfortunately, that seems to be endemic in certain sections of the Government. Thank God in those circumstances for people such as the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, who helps to keep the situation under observation. I do not accuse my friends in Fianna Fáil of being racist.

Although I had sharp comments to make – I stand over every one of them – I was impressed by the moderation of the contributions on the other side and the obvious desire of every speaker to counter and combat racism. If my voice is a little shrill this evening, it is because I believe it necessary to prod, provoke and generate a little action. Even the Sinn Féin Minister in the North has managed to produce a programme of education. Let us not fall behind. Let us do it as well. I thank my colleagues for their contributions, all of which, in varying degrees, were valued.

Amendment put.

Bohan, Eddie.
Bonner, Enda.
Callanan, Peter.
Cox, Margaret.
Cregan, John
Dardis, John.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glennon, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Daniel.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Leonard, Ann.
Lydon, Don.
Moylan, Pat.
O'Brien, Francis.
O'Donovan, Denis.
Ó Fearghail, Seán.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Ormonde, Ann.
Quill, Máirín.
Walsh, Jim.

Burke, Paddy.
Caffrey, Ernie.
Coghlan, Paul.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Hayes, Tom.
Keogh, Helen.
Manning, Maurice.
Norris, David.
O'Dowd, Fergus.
O'Meara, Kathleen.
Ridge, Thérèse.
Ross, Shane.
Ryan, Brendan.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Amendment declared carried.

[1019][1020] Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

Bonner, Enda.
Callanan, Peter.
Cox, Margaret.
Cregan, John
Dardis, John.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glennon, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Daniel.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Leonard, Ann.
Lydon, Don.
Moylan, Pat.
O'Brien, Francis.
O'Donovan, Denis.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Ormonde, Ann.
Quill, Máirín.
Walsh, Jim.

Burke, Paddy.
Caffrey, Ernie.
Coghlan, Paul.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Hayes, Tom.
Keogh, Helen.
Norris, David.
O'Dowd, Fergus.
O'Meara, Kathleen.
Ridge, Thérèse.
Ross, Shane.
Ryan, Brendan.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Question declared carried.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 May 2001.


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