There was an inevitable “feel-good” reaction to the publication of the first national action plan against racism (NAPAR) for 15 years.
Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, described it as an “important Government commitment” recognising the extent of racism in Ireland and the response needed “to eradicate it”. Patricia Munatsi, policy lead with the Irish Network Against Racism, said it provided “a framework for tackling racism at a systemic and institutional level”.
There will inevitably be resistance in many quarters to planned actions and a denial that racism is a problem for them, however. Pushback is likely, for instance, in An Garda Síochána due to assertions that racial profiling is something the force needs to “eliminate”.
Local authorities may well question suggestions that minority ethnic families, such as Travellers or Roma, require “special measures” to protect them from homelessness, while property owners may smart at accusations of these groups facing discrimination when seeking rented accommodation.
Teaching unions and schools’ boards of management won’t like suggestions that children from ethnic minority backgrounds face “racism in the school environment”. Employers’ groups may find requirements to combat workplace racism, take on more people from ethnic minority backgrounds and expand access to senior roles for minorities onerous.
Systemic racism is evident in the persistence of poorer outcomes for minority ethnic groups in comparison to the majority population across a range of domains— National plan against racism
Implementation will not be straightforward and will require acceptance by all these groups that they need to address issues detailed in the plan pertinent to them.
It will need buy-in not just from the Government departments, now expected to produce action plans with costings in advance of the next budget cycle, but also from the Department of Public Expenditure which will have to fund them.
Acceptance must come from such groups as Ibec, Congress, the Health Service Executive, property owners, gardaí, the hospitality industry, sporting organisations and the legal professions that racism in how their services are experienced by minorities is an issue.
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The plan says: “Systemic racism is evident in the persistence of poorer outcomes for minority ethnic groups in comparison to the majority population across a range of domains.”
There will be comparisons between this plan and the last, Planning for Diversity 2005-2008. Its existence provided State recognition that racism was an issue – albeit somewhat forced upon the then government by virtue of having been a signatory at the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in South Africa.
Its aspirations covered the same ground as this plan. On its publication, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: “Combating racism and creating a more inclusive society are key priorities for this government.”
The independent national consultative committee on racism and interculturalism, established in 1998 and chaired by Philip Watt, oversaw the 2005 plan. It did good work but fell victim to competing political interests and the financial crash. The plan was not renewed and the committee was disbanded in 2009.
Tentatively, the outlook for the new plan looks more promising. There is arguably more awareness of discrimination in general and racism in particular.
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The need for an action plan is less deniable. Ireland is a more diverse society, with minority ethnic groups accounting for some 15 per cent of the population in Census 2016, compared with about 6 per cent in 2002. Hate speech on social media – barely an issue then – is now recognised as a damaging blight.
Crucially, there will be more rigorous oversight of this plan, backed up with data-gathering to measure hoped-for progress. A special rapporteur on racism, to report annually to Government, will be appointed. They will monitor the implementation of this plan and chair an independent advisory committee on racism and racial equality.
A commitment to develop a “standardised ethnic classification system” to measure outcomes for different groups across public services, is to be completed by 2025.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Minister of State for integration Joe O’Brien said the plan was “long overdue”.
“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.”
That will require both financial and strategic support and potentially sanctions, if bodies repeatedly fail to improve. The sincerity of Government to tackle “deeply ingrained” racism will tell, in the first instance, in how much is allocated to achieving it in October’s budget.