Election literature and O’Leary comments see racism complaints double

46 complaints made alleging racism against multiple groups in relation to coronavirus

The number of reports of racist incidents more than doubled in the first quarter of this year following "significant" complaints in relation to general election literature, as well as comments made by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, new figures show.

The Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) on Thursday released figures for reports of racist hate speech, hate crime and discriminatory incidents recorded through its iReport.ie racist incident reporting system in the first quarter of 2020.

The figures throughout the report are compared to an average per quarter in 2019 as the figures last year were collated annually rather than quarterly.

Overall racist incident figures for the period January 1st to March 31st show more than a doubling of the average reporting rates per quarter for 2019 from an average of 132 per quarter to 276.


Fourfold increase

INAR said this increase was largely attributable to a fourfold increase in reports relating to online and media content in the three months from an average of 44 per quarter last year to 167 between January and March this year.

Elsewhere, crime and discrimination reports rose by 63 per cent from 61 to 100, while reports of violent assaults were up by 33 per cent from 12 to 16.

The increase in reports relating to media and online content was in the first instance prompted by social media posts and election literature by far-right candidates and supporters during the general election.

There were also 37 complaints made regarding Mr O’Leary’s assertions associating Muslims with terrorism.

Mr O’Leary faced criticism in February after he was quoted as claiming terrorists “will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion”. He subsequently apologised “for any offence caused”.

INAR also said 14 reports were made in relation to an online video stereotyping Romanians.

At the end of the quarter, 46 complaints had been received alleging racism against multiple groups in relation to coronavirus.

These were mainly against Chinese citizens in January and February, but included the Travelling and Roma communities in March. These included genocidal comments against the latter two.

INAR said it will be bringing out a dedicated Covid-19 themed report this month.

Diversity strategy

In relation to crime, while reporting rates to the Garda remain low overall, INAR said 62 per cent of victims of assault said they made reports to the gardaí in the quarter as against an average of 28 per cent per quarter in 2019.

It noted that should the trend continue, it may be an early indication of increased confidence by minorities in the Garda following the publication of the force’s diversity strategy in late 2019.

However, in cases of serious crime and harassment, victims experienced continued problems with waiting times to give statements.

Data analyst Dr Lucy Michael said the number of assaults was "worrying" but added that the increased reports to gardaí would give law enforcement authorities an opportunity to secure more convictions.

“We are seeing a significant rise in online racism, even before the coronavirus encouraged people to stay home,” she said. “The data shows clearly that this is driven by the ease with which racist materials circulate on major social media platforms.

“The continuation of the upward trend in assaults is also worrying, and we had hoped we would see that be stemmed.

“However, the increase in assault reports to gardaí is an opportunity now for the gardaí, DPP and courts to provide more effective responses to violent racism.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter