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
Other Monaghan councillors acknowledge that Treanor is reflecting the views of some of the electorate. The town attracted a high number of immigrants during the boom years because of its furniture, meat-processing and mushroom industries.
The 2011 census shows 30 per cent of the people in the town were foreign national, with the biggest group Lithuanians, followed by UK nationals, Poles and Brazilians. But now that some factories and businesses have closed, and young Irish people are emigrating, some local people are beginning to question the presence of foreign nationals, especially when those without jobs get benefits.
‘People are angry’
“People are angry; they have to blame somebody,” says the newly elected mayor of Monaghan, Paul McGeown of Sinn Féin. “Some people up here would have an issue with foreign nationals claiming benefits from the State and say they are doing a lot of drinking around the town. But you get bad apples everywhere and just because they are foreign nationals shouldn’t mean they get singled out for criticism,” he says.
Egle Pastarnokiene says the Lithuanian community in Monaghan is suffering from the recession too. “My husband came home from work today for lunch and wasn’t able to tell me whether he will be working tomorrow because they are cutting back on his hours,” says Pastarnokiene, who has lived in Monaghan since 2004.
Lithuanians know they came here during the boom years to do jobs Irish people didn’t want to do, just as some Irish people are now leaving Monaghan and emigrating to Canada in search of jobs.
Getting involved in local events is important to break down barriers and next Saturday Lithuanians will gather in Monaghan town square for their annual traditional of singing the national anthem, a tradition that involves Lithuanians all over the world singing at the same time, says Vytautas Ruzveltas, who is a lorry driver.
“We try to participate in every way we can. We are visible, we have to show that we are the same as Irish people; not drinking, not stealing, not murdering,” says Ruzveltas, who moved from Lithuania 11 years ago.
While Lithuanians say they don’t hear taunts on the street, at times they feel discriminated against. They complain that, at work, managers are harder on Lithuanian staff than on Irish workers, and that they have difficulties setting up businesses.
In Tallaght things are more difficult for migrants. The Dublin suburb has a 12 per cent immigration population with large pockets of African and Romanian communities.
Racist incidents are commonplace and often go unreported, says Foluke Oladosu, who is Nigerian. She is on the board of directors of Fettercairn community centre and works on local projects. Last week a pregnant black woman was harassed and chased by local teenagers. Being spat at and called names has become normal for some migrants, she says. “It’s very sad. It’s normal, but it shouldn’t be,” says Oladosu.
Racist incidents are preventing the integration of the migrant community, as many people are keeping to themselves, and this leads to divisions in the community. “It pains me. I go from door to door to encourage people to get involved or go on some organised trips but they prefer to just keep their heads down,” says Oladosu.
Future generations concern her because, she says, divisions are also apparent among children. “If an Irish person has abused [a migrant child’s] mother or thrown eggs at their father, that can change the attitude of the kid towards their Irish friends,” she adds.
Campaigners say this is why there is an urgent need to adopt an integration policy to ensure migrants don’t get isolated. While immigration numbers remain high and immigrants continue to come to Ireland, there have been major cuts to the area. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism was wound up in 2008, the post of minister for integration was abandoned with the change of government in 2011, and the Equality Authority has been merged with the Human Rights Council.
Cuts have been made to language-support teachers and migrant support groups, and a cross-departmental group on integration has met only three times since 2008. and has never met during the lifetime of the current Government.