Ireland is among three countries with the worst records in the EU of racism based on skin colour according to a recent survey, a senior EU human rights official has told a conference in Dublin.
Michael O'Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), also expressed concern about "bad and growing" levels of human rights abuses in Europe.
It is “new and frightening” that in too many places across Europe “people in high office will boast of the abuse”, he said.
“These are not normal times”.
He was addressing the 2019 Sheehy Skeffington School on Human Rights and Social Justice, the final school in an annual series that began in 2012.
Noting the school theme, “Rediscovering Democracy and the Common Good: The Contribution of Human Rights”, Mr O’Flaherty said the human rights situation across Europe and more broadly “is more troubling than I have seen it in decades”.
As levels of human rights intolerance grow, the quality of our democracies is lowered, he warned. “Standing up for human rights is a standing up and strengthening of democracy itself.”
People of African descent are “an integral part of the social fabric of Europe for generations” but many regularly experience racial discrimination, racist crime, racial profiling and social exclusion, he said.
A recent survey of 12 EU States, the EU-MIDS survey, produced results that are “worrying, shameful and infuriating”.
It showed racism based on the colour of a person’s skin remains a “pervasive scourge” throughout the EU and a serious problem in Ireland which, along with Austria and Finland, recorded the highest rates of racially motivated violence at 13 per cent.
Ireland also showed some of the highest rates of hate-motivated harassment, 51 per cent compared to an average of 30 per cent of the countries surveyed while 30 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men with African descent experienced discrimination here in the five years before the survey because of their skin colour.
Less than one third of those who felt racially discriminated against reported or made a complaint about the most recent incident, he also noted.
He said it is “very frightening” that, side-by-side with mounting levels of human rights abuses across Europe, there is “an increasing repudiation of human rights, a rejection of the systems, a disregard for the oversight mechanisms, a treating of them with contempt”.
In the 1990s, human rights abuses “were everywhere but states bent over backwards to deny them”, he said.
Now, in too many places across Europe, “people in high office will boast of the abuse” and there is also a “deeply disturbing” sense “of impunity, that you can get away with the abuse”.
His sense of “deep worry” about the state of human rights in Europe was underlined by the levels of poverty and inequality and growing inequality is “a serious threat to social cohesion and democracy”.
Children are most severely affected with some 25 million children, 26.4 per cent of all children, across the EU at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In Ireland, 27.2 per cent are at such risk while the risk extends to almost half of Romanian children.
Mr O’Flaherty stressed he remains hopeful and believes there is a “push-back” at EU level over human rights abuses and a growing recognition of the need to promote socio-economic well being.
Need to ‘wake up’
Steps which gave him hope include adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights, infringement proceedings to challenge “backsliding” on the rule of law within member states and development by the various EU institutions of new tools to challenge human rights abuses.
While the focus must be kept on decision and policy makers to address social problems and reinvigorate a human rights culture, people need to “wake up” to the reality of our societies and what is needed to improve them, including tackling our own racism, discriminatory tendencies and selfishness, he said.
We need to develop a “peaceful righteous anger” and commit themselves to a “peaceful revolution” to save and strengthen human rights and our democracies, he urged.
Journalist and author Susan McKay, in an address focussing on the deteriorating political and economic situation in “the bastion of human rights abuses that is Northern Ireland”, said the situation there is “very dangerous” and the Republic must take it much more seriously.