End to Garda ‘ethnic profiling’ sought in Government racism action plan

First national plan in over a decade will also tackle discrimination in rental sector, and promote inclusion of minorities

People taking part in a demonstration in support of migration and diversity in Dublin city centre in February. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Action to “eliminate” racial profiling by gardaí is among priority measures in a Government plan to tackle racism published on Tuesday.

The first national plan against racism in more than a decade “can and must” tackle a surge in anti-immigration activities, says Minister of State for integration Joe O’Brien, which also includes commitments to tackle discrimination in the private rented sector and “incentivise” political parties to select candidates from minority backgrounds.

The 60-page plan, seen by The Irish Times, will run from 2023 to 2027 and comes 15 years after the last action plan on racism expired during the financial crash of 2008-2009. It details commitments from across Government departments and public bodies to address discrimination, tackle structural racism and promote the inclusion of ethnic and racial minorities.

Among the priority actions is one to: “Identify and eliminate any policing practices that target specific groups experiencing racism, including through racial or ethnic profiling.

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“Measures to carry out this action, including training for An Garda Síochána, will need to ensure sensitivity to victims of human trafficking.”

The implementing bodies are named as “An Garda Síochána [and] representative organisations of communities affected by these practices” and a deadline of 2025 is set for this to be completed.

An Garda Síochána has never accepted “racial profiling” by members of the force exists, though groups representing minorities such as Travelllers have long argued it is an issue. A University of Limerick report last year found 91 per cent of Travellers felt disrespected by gardaí and significant majorities believed they were profiled, were “unsafe” in Garda custody, and would not seek Garda support when victims of crimes.

Mr O’Brien, referencing an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment in protests and online, said the plan was “long overdue and particularly important at this moment because of what’s been happening, especially over the last six months”.

“We are committed to getting this implemented,” the Minister of State said

The plan will be overseen by a new special rapporteur on racism who will deliver an annual report to the Minister for Children and Equality on implementation. The rapporteur will chair an independent co-ordination committee which will monitor progress, gather data and drive implementation.

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Other measures include an expansion of the remit of the Legal Aid Board to take on cases involving racism; a revamp of school curriculums to better reflect diversity among students; steps to make media funding contingent on fair representation of ethnic minorities; and “effective” steps to eliminate dissemination of hate-speech online, including against Travellers.

A standard “ethnic classification” system will be introduced across all public services and agencies “in line with human rights standards, to enable ethnic equality proofing and monitoring of state policies, budgets and programming”, says the strategy.

It stresses the “intersectionality” of racism with other forms of oppression based on gender, disability and socio-economic status. “Care must be taken in implementing the actions in this plan to pay attention to the intersectionality between race and gender,” it states.

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Though costings are not included, Mr O’Brien said individual departments would draw up implementation plans over the coming months that would feed into the estimates and Budget 2024 cycle from late summer.

Asked whether the plan would address the rise in far-right and hate-speech apparent online and during demonstrations at accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees, he said: “It can and it must.”

The “two key pillars” to tackle these, he said, would be regulation of social media platforms – already under way with the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill – and enhanced support for community groups countering racism at grass-roots level.

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“When I think about what had happened in the last six months they are the two pillars we need to bump up on ... so we are coming at it from air and ground fronts,” continued the Minister.

“There is a clear place for community groups to prevent and respond to the racism and I will be making sure they get supported in their work. There will be a fund following this strategy to support the community sector,” he said.

It was “important too”, he added, that everyone reflected on their own role in allowing racism to persist.

“Racism is deeply ingrained in the way we order society,” he said. “It is much more prevalent in a dormant and unexpressed way than I think a lot of Irish people recognise. I think people have been shocked at the manifestation of it in the last six months, but it has been there all the time and now it’s just been given an outlet.

“We want people to reflect on the things they do and they say which aren’t ostensibly racist but actually contribute, often in an unconscious way, to spaces where racism can exist.”

The plan, drawn up by a 17-person independent antiracism committee chaired by professor emerita of law at University College Cork Caroline Fennel, centres on five key objectives.

These are: that all people living in Ireland are safe and heard; that all people are equal; that all people are participating; that the impact of racism is measured; and that everyone works together to understand it, its history and prevalence in order to eliminate it.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times