A record number of racist incidents were reported last year as “Irish far right fake news came into its own” and Asian people and other minorities were blamed often for the pandemic, according to the Irish Network Against Racism.
The total number of incidents, which includes attacks and hate speech against members of the Traveller community, increased to 700 last year from 530 in 2019.
The trends are revealed in the network’s iReport for 2020 to be published on Tuesday. Last year the system established to take receipt of reports of racist incidents logged 159 criminal incidents, a record 51 racist assaults and a record 594 hate speech incidents.
The biggest growth in reports related to the online space, including on the social media accounts of established media outlets and in the “growing number of fake news stories” from far right outlets. The number of reports relating to online comments surged last year to 594, compared to 174 in 2019.
A total of 56 reports relayed to “a fake news story circulating widely which falsely alleged that a Romanian haulage company was trafficking stolen goods”. In another incident last August African teenagers were blamed in fake news, which went viral, for starting a fire in Balbriggan, north Co Dublin.
The report says a similar situation emerged when George Nkencho (27) was fatally shot by gardaí during an incident outside his home in Clonee, Co Dublin, last December.
The network said “disinformation rapidly gained traction” and this undermined sympathy for the dead man’s family.
A racist incident is regarded as “any incident which has the effect of undermining anyone’s enjoyment of their human rights, based on their background”. The organisation’s director Shane O’Curry said there were 34 reports in February 2020 “made relating to maverick billionaire Michael O’Leary’s pugnacious comments calling for the profiling of Muslims, and the toxic outpourings which followed”. He added that of the incidents reported last year “31 of the hate speech reports related directly to the pandemic”, with Chinese people and other minorities often blamed for the pandemic.