The growth of intolerance
More than half a million immigrants live in Ireland, but since the start of the recession the number of incidents of racism has increased while State funding and supports have declined
Migrant lives: Viliya Ruzveltiene, Ausra Jasikeviciene, Laura Vaitkaityte, Egle Pastarnokiene, Sofiya Visnevskiene, Roberta Ceginskaite and Gaivile Brickute, all Lithunians living in Monaghan. Photograph: David Sleator
“We were sold a pup”: Cllr Seamus Treanor, deputy mayor of Monaghan town. Photograph: David Sleator
Monaghan town: the 2011 census shows 30 per cent of the people in the town are foreign nationals. Photograph: David Sleator
What surprised Ernest about the monkey chants during his daily commute to Maynooth was their persistence. As an African man in Ireland he says he is used to racist insults but when a man taunted him on the train and then followed him off it, he knew things had reached a new low. “In a coach full of people he did a monkey chant and told me to go back to my own country and to stop taking our jobs,” he says.
“Then he followed me off the train and walked beside me doing monkey chants. It amazed me that no one stepped in and said, ‘What do you think you are doing?’ ” he says.
The Gardaí were called when he confronted the man but Ernest declined to press charges. “I don’t see any cases of anyone getting convicted over racist insults. It’s a waste of my time to take something like that any farther,” says Ernest, who doesn’t want to give his real name.
This week, a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute, commissioned by the Integration Centre, showed that Irish opposition to immigration has spiked since the recession began. The number of people who say they are not in favour of immigrants coming here from different ethnic backgrounds or from poorer non-European countries has jumped from about 5 per cent in 2002 to about 20 per cent in 2010, according to the report.
Whether this has a racist motivation is unclear. There is also a growing opposition to immigrants of the same ethnic background, with the number of opponents rising from 4 per cent to 15 per cent.
Some campaigners fear a growth in the types of racial tensions that have plagued other European countries, and say recent cuts in funding to migrants’ projects and the absence of a Government policy on integration are among the causes.
Campaigners also sense a rise in racist incidents. Earlier this month racist graffiti was posted around Dublin; it included anti-Semitic slogans on the Anglo Irish Bank headquarters building on North Wall Quay, and a message saying “Out if you’re not working” on a family home.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland’s poster campaign on buses and trains in Dublin, to encourage reporting, has increased reports of incidents from one to five incidents a week. The council says 17 serious incidents were reported in one month. Official statistics compiled by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration show a decrease in racist crime. Campaigners attribute this to the recording system, which does not categorise incidents as racist crimes, and to a lack of Garda training.
Some politicians have also become more vocal on the issue. In January, Sen Paschal Mooney of Fianna Fáil said he would not get into a taxi driven by a foreign national. In April Kevin Sheahan, a Fianna Fáil councillor for Co Limerick, said Irish people should be given priority over foreign nationals on housing lists.
There may not be much political gain from such statements. Political parties are usually quick to admonish their members for such comments and the Immigration Control Platform, which favours strong limits on immigration, says it won’t be running candidates in next year’s local or European elections because of poor results in previous votes.
But Seamus Treanor, an Independent councillor on Monaghan town council and county council, believes people’s concerns about immigration are real and need to be heard.
Campaigning for the local elections for the first time in 2009 opened his eyes to the “seething anger” about immigration, he says. “We were sold a pup. We were told there would be between 5,000 and 10,000 immigrants coming in here and now look at the numbers,” says Treanor, who topped the poll in both the town council and county council elections and has just finished a term as mayor of Monaghan.
Ireland should have introduced a strict immigration policy and refused to sign up to EU rules that allow people to move here, he says. “People can come in from other EU countries, work for a few years and stay on the dole indefinitely. No country can stand that,” says Treanor.