Sisters of Mercy survey finds hardening level of intolerance towards minorities


Intolerance is alive and well and living in the west of Ireland, according to a study commissioned by the Sisters of Mercy Western Province.

Attitudes towards asylum-seekers, refugees and Travellers have hardened, and lesbians and gays are very concerned about homophobia in the region, the study found. The study, published yesterday in Knock, Co Mayo, notes that in spite of the apparent level of support now offered to people on the margins, they still experience a strong feeling of isolation, lack of worth and an inability to alter their status. This lack of respect is the "single, most destructive experience shared by people living in poverty", the report says.

Conducted by Ms Siobhan Airey for the Sisters of Mercy, the study involved interviews with women, families, people living in poverty, Travellers, the disabled, lesbians and gays and asylum-seekers and refugees. It also elicited the views of the sisters from the western province, many of whom work with people on the edge.

The study found that those living in poverty did not always feel they were being treated with dignity by statutory services such as education, housing and health.

Travellers said the discrimination they faced affected their chances of getting work. One woman described how being a Traveller was worse, in terms of employment prospects, than not being able to read or write.

Gays and lesbians are seriously concerned about homophobia in the west. "You live with the threat of violence constantly on you - if someone is beaten up, then the attitude is `Well, what were you doing?' The violence is almost accepted'," a woman interviewed for the study said.

Many women spoke of feelings of worthlessness and the difficulties they experienced in seeking help on issues such as domestic violence. Those in paid employment found poor wages and lack of affordable and accessible childcare made juggling work and care responsibilities difficult. On families, the study noted the increasing pressure they faced.

"More parents are parenting on their own because of the increase in family breakdown and the rise in never-married mothers," the study notes. Lone parents spoke of difficulties in dealing with people in authority, and one woman said she was scared to seek help in case her children would be taken into care.

The report, entitled Challenging Voices - Pathways to Change, links issues of justice and spirituality and identifies "a strong need to develop a Sisters of Mercy vision and strategy on spirituality". The Sisters of Mercy Western Province comprises some 800 members in Ireland, England, Peru, Rwanda and South Africa, and 53 per cent of the sisters are under 65.