Dáil hears claims TDs used racism to get elected

Debate hears call for new Seanad to include people of colour and Travellers

Some TDs have used racism to get elected to the Dáil and “that needs to be called out”, Green Party TD Joe O’Brien has said. Video: Oireachtas TV


Some TDs have used racism to get elected to the Dáil and “that needs to be called out”, Green Party TD Joe O’Brien has said.

During a Dáil debate on combatting racism and supporting inclusion, Mr O’Brien said racism is imbued in every aspect of Irish society.

“It’s everywhere and if we’re all really honest we’ve all used it at some stage in our lives. I’ve used it I’m ashamed to say and I think everyone of us has.”

The Dublin Fingal TD said: “There are certainly some people in this House not here today from what I can tell who have used it to get into this House and that needs to be called out.”

Not identifying any TD, he said: “Only a couple of weeks ago a member of this House used it in a parliamentary question to get attention and that needs to be called out.”

Reading out statements from people who experienced racism, he quoted one person who suffered racist abuse: “Certain parents didn’t want their kids to be friends with an N-word child. I remember being told that I was here stealing your houses and social welfare money and to go back to my country.”

Mr O’Brien said: “This very line of abuse that relates to people coming in and using our resources - a TD only couple of weeks ago in this House used (that) in a parliamentary question that was asked”.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin also hit out at politicians about racism and a Cabinet member on comments about Travellers.

“We have Deputies in this House who have said that asylum seekers are freeloaders, blackguards and hoodlums, that asylum seekers need to be deprogrammed and that asylum seekers are here to sponge off the system. We have two members of a governing party who have been on the wrong side of anti-Traveller literature controversies, one of whom sits at Cabinet.”

Independent TD Thomas Pringle claimed racism was being used for election purposes. He said: “It has also played a part in some members winning a seat here, even a member of the Government.

“It may not have been as blatant as some of the comments but the intention is the same to make political gain out of people’s differences.”

He said the new government could make sure the Seanad was representative of the population as a whole by appointing Travellers and people of colour.

Opening the debate, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said comprehensive preparation has been undertaken to ensure that new legislation to combat racism and incitement to hatred is robust and effective.

“It was also very important to me that new legislation would be informed by the lived experience of those who suffer from abuse or attacks motivated by hate,” he said.

Mr Flanagan also said Garda diversity recruitment campaigns had resulted in 67 people from 19 nationalities becoming gardaí since last year, including nationals of Brazil, China, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa.

Minister of State for Equality David Stanton said a committee established to develop an anti-racism strategy and action plan, chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell of UCC, will hold its first meeting on Thursday, produce an interim report within three months and a full report at the end of the year.

Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said local authority structures should be used to promote better integration of immigrant, minority, LGBT and Traveller communities because councils had not done enough to “step up to the plate” and integrate migrants with the wider community.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said “the idea that someone does not belong, is not from here and, therefore, should be treated differently” is racism.

He said that “opposition to Traveller accommodation, including the sale of public land to prevent such accommodation being provided, is telling those families that they do not belong and is ultimately racist”.

And he added that the segregation of asylum applicants into wholly inappropriate direct provision is racist.

Independent TD Denis Naughten referred to “institutional racism” and said that in 2007 he highlighted the cases of 443 children who “went missing from State care and were never found”, saying “nobody cared” because they were from Africa and Asia.

Mr Naughten said that at the height of the political focus on historical residential abuse in industrial schools, “that very same dereliction of care on behalf of the State was continuing to allow those who exploited and abused children of different colours and nationalities to go on undetected. That is institutional racism”.

He said suspected child victims of trafficking ranging in age from as young as three to 17 had been transported to Ireland from foreign countries for “forced labour, begging, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and forced marriage”.

Independent TD Michael Collins said a rural resettlement programme should be launched “where at least two families in direct provision should be given the chance to live in every rural community in our country”, in some of the many vacant houses in towns and villages.

But in the wake of the anti-racism protests after the killing by police in Minneapolis of George Floyd and the toppling of statues of slave traders, Mr Collins criticised suggestions that plaques and statues might be removed.

“Have we now become so politically correct that we are going to knock down our statues and sculptures and erase our history? The next thing we know our books will be burned to censor our history, culture and religion.”