Hate speech by Irish political figures ‘area of grave concern’

UN committee is told by Department of Justice official it is ‘grappling’ with the situation

Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice, told the Geneva gathering racism has become ‘a very real issue in Ireland’. Photograph: James Forde

Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice, told the Geneva gathering racism has become ‘a very real issue in Ireland’. Photograph: James Forde

 

The use of hate speech by Irish political figures has become an “area of grave concern”, a Department of Justice official has told a UN committee.

Speaking in Geneva, Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice, admitted the Government was “grappling” with the current situation but that it was important “not to give oxygen” to people who “just want to gain more followers”.

Over a period of three hours, Ms Buckley, accompanied by a large cross-departmental delegation, responded to questions on Ireland’s record of combating racism from members of the UN committee on the elimination of racial violence.

Racism had become “a very real issue in Ireland” where many people do not believe themselves to be racist nor do they realise the effects of their behaviour on others, said Ms Buckley.

Following Minister of State David Stanton’s announcement that an anti-racism committee would convene early in 2020, Ms Buckley said preparations for the group were at “an advanced stage”.

However, Shane O’Curry from the Irish Network Against Racism expressed “major concern” that the committee’s remit would not fully adhere to the Durban declaration which proposes concrete measures to tackle racism. The committee must be “fully compliant” with the Durban declaration signed by Ireland in 2001, he tweeted.

Legislation

Responding to numerous questions on the need for hate-crime legislation, department of justice official Ciara Carberry said “concrete proposals” would be made next spring.

On “racial profiling” among members of an Garda Síochána – an issue raised by numerous civil society groups – Supt Kevin Daly said such profiling was prohibited and that all gardaí received training in this area. However, he did offer further details on this training.

Mark Wilson, principal officer with the international protection accommodation services, underlined the improvements made to living conditions in direct provision centres but noted the Government was eager to move away from emergency accommodation for asylum seekers “as soon as possible”.

He acknowledged that engagement with local communities around the housing of asylum seekers “must be improved” and that Government “must listen to our communities”.

Travellers and Roma

On the issue of discrimination towards Travellers and Roma and related housing barriers, a Government official said a 2018 report on the lack of spending on Traveller-specific accommodation was under consideration by the department with plans to move into “project phase”, which seeks to make full use of funding for Traveller accommodation, in the new year.

Ms Buckley commended Rosemary Adaser of the Association of Mixed Race Irish for her “powerful testimony” during which Ms Adaser described the abuse hundreds of children* of mixed race suffered growing up in mother and baby homes.

The ongoing commission of investigation into these mother and baby homes is “critically important for Ireland in coming to terms with its own history”, said Ms Buckley. However, further steps will not be taken on this issue until the commission has completed its research, she said

Responding to the department’s assertion that there was no need for civil legal aid before the workplace relations commission as it was “free and quick”, Eilis Barry, chief executive of Flac (Free Legal Advice Centres), warned in a tweet that the Government’s opposition to paying lawyers for legal aid would “not bode well” following calls by the Chief Justice for “broader and deeper legal aid”.

Colonialism

The Irish delegation did not comment on the labour market barriers faced by black ethnic minorities but did note its belated financial support for the UN decade for people of African descent.

In her concluding remarks, UN rapporteur Verene Shepherd said that based on Ireland’s personal experience of colonialism, it had an obligation to positively influence the way people of African descent were treated in Irish society.

“They have a long history in your country and are not all migrants,” she said. “Mixed-race children need to feel included.”

“I encourage you to take all the steps necessary to make racists feel uncomfortable in your society including rogue members of the gardaí,” she said, adding that the State “has to criminalise hate speech”.

*This article was amended on December 4th, 2019