Election candidates who use anti-immigrant rhetoric should be disciplined, council says

Dáil hopefuls urged to ‘think carefully’ about remarks on immigration when campaigning

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the party is committed to introducing a welcoming New Irish policy.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the party is committed to introducing a welcoming New Irish policy.

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Political parties must quickly act against candidates who make anti-immigrant remarks to win publicity and and votes during the general election campaign, the Immigrant Council of Ireland has declared.

Some candidates are are already resorting to “dog whistle politics” in an attempt to win or retain Dáil seats, said the council’s Pippa Woolnough.

Populist and anti-migrant sentiment remains “thankfully” on the fringes of Irish political debate. But political parties, groups and independent candidates must “double down against hate speech”.

Last month, the United Nations rapporteur on the elimination of racial discrimination in Ireland Verene Shepherd said the State must introduce “effective investigations and potentially prosecute acts of hate speech” made during election campaigns by politicians.

Dog whistle politics “ends up dominating” political debates, distorts people’s opinions and “steals oxygen from more relevant issues and doesn’t leave space for a conversation about the economic benefits migration brings”.

Bulelani Mfaco, of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, said it “won’t be surprising for foreign nationals to be treated with disdain” by candidates in the weeks ahead.

In particular, Mr Mfaco noted independent candidates Verona Murphy, Noel Grealish and Peter Casey, all of whom have been accused of courting controversy about immigration.

“More disturbing is that the party in government, Fine Gael, has relied on Noel Grealish for votes in the national legislature, rather than distancing themselves from [him],” he said.

Candidates must “think carefully” about what they say on immigration, reject racism and “reflect on the demonstrable benefits” that immigration brings, said Nick Henderson, of the Irish Refugee Council.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Fine Gael will not tolerate any discriminatory or anti-immigrant comments by its candidates. “Learning from our recent experience in Wexford, we changed our party pledge to include a clause on dignity and respect,” he said while campaigning in Longford. “It will enable us to act swiftly if any tries to gain votes by stoking up racism, misogny or anti-traveller sentiment. All candidates have signed. Unfortunately, there are people in all parties who let the side down.”

Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said parties should have a “zero tolerance approach” to poor behaviour by candidates.

“Ireland is lucky so far to have been spared from some of the worst excesses of the far-right populism seen elsewhere in Europe but there are still some opportunists and chancers on the fringes here,” she said.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin also said he would be taking a hard-line approach to hate speech and would make it illegal if his party is part of the next government.

“The reality of modern, diverse Ireland is that one in eight people living in Ireland today was born in another country. And one in seven of our children and young people has one or both parents from another country; of whom one in 20 are visibly different, from an African or Asian background. They are all Irish.”

New safeguards

He said Labour will introduce a welcoming New Irish policy, similar to Scotland’s New Scots initiative, which will recognise formally that being a member of Irish society is not about parentage or formal citizenship, but about being born in Ireland or choosing to make a long-term commitment to life in Ireland.

He said his party will introduce safeguards to protect young people from abuse and discrimination, including online. Labour will require the Garda to “keep accurate statistics on hate crime, as is done in Northern Ireland”, he said.

“Labour will maintain a zero-tolerance stance on racism and xenophobia . . . Any of our candidates who deviates from these high standards will be disciplined and repeat offenders would be dropped as a candidate by Labour.”

Martin Collins, co-director of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre said Ireland cannot be complacent about racism or racist hate speech.

“Elections that are free from anti-minority discourse are essential for democracy to flourish,” said Mr Collins. “And we are calling on all political parties, election candidates and voters to dump candidates who resort to racist measures.”