The growth of intolerance

More than half a million immigrants live in Ireland, but since the start of the recession the number of incidents of racism has increased while State funding and supports have declined

What surprised Ernest about the monkey chants during his daily commute to Maynooth was their persistence. As an African man in Ireland he says he is used to racist insults but when a man taunted him on the train and then followed him off it, he knew things had reached a new low. “In a coach full of people he did a monkey chant and told me to go back to my own country and to stop taking our jobs,” he says.

“Then he followed me off the train and walked beside me doing monkey chants. It amazed me that no one stepped in and said, ‘What do you think you are doing?’ ” he says.

The Gardaí were called when he confronted the man but Ernest declined to press charges. “I don’t see any cases of anyone getting convicted over racist insults. It’s a waste of my time to take something like that any farther,” says Ernest, who doesn’t want to give his real name.

This week, a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute, commissioned by the Integration Centre, showed that Irish opposition to immigration has spiked since the recession began. The number of people who say they are not in favour of immigrants coming here from different ethnic backgrounds or from poorer non-European countries has jumped from about 5 per cent in 2002 to about 20 per cent in 2010, according to the report.


Whether this has a racist motivation is unclear. There is also a growing opposition to immigrants of the same ethnic background, with the number of opponents rising from 4 per cent to 15 per cent.

Some campaigners fear a growth in the types of racial tensions that have plagued other European countries, and say recent cuts in funding to migrants’ projects and the absence of a Government policy on integration are among the causes.

Campaigners also sense a rise in racist incidents. Earlier this month racist graffiti was posted around Dublin; it included anti-Semitic slogans on the Anglo Irish Bank headquarters building on North Wall Quay, and a message saying “Out if you’re not working” on a family home.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland’s poster campaign on buses and trains in Dublin, to encourage reporting, has increased reports of incidents from one to five incidents a week. The council says 17 serious incidents were reported in one month. Official statistics compiled by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration show a decrease in racist crime. Campaigners attribute this to the recording system, which does not categorise incidents as racist crimes, and to a lack of Garda training.

Vocal politicians
Some politicians have also become more vocal on the issue. In January, Sen Paschal Mooney of Fianna Fáil said he would not get into a taxi driven by a foreign national. In April Kevin Sheahan, a Fianna Fáil councillor for Co Limerick, said Irish people should be given priority over foreign nationals on housing lists.

There may not be much political gain from such statements. Political parties are usually quick to admonish their members for such comments and the Immigration Control Platform, which favours strong limits on immigration, says it won’t be running candidates in next year’s local or European elections because of poor results in previous votes.

But Seamus Treanor, an Independent councillor on Monaghan town council and county council, believes people's concerns about immigration are real and need to be heard.

Campaigning for the local elections for the first time in 2009 opened his eyes to the “seething anger” about immigration, he says. “We were sold a pup. We were told there would be between 5,000 and 10,000 immigrants coming in here and now look at the numbers,” says Treanor, who topped the poll in both the town council and county council elections and has just finished a term as mayor of Monaghan.

Ireland should have introduced a strict immigration policy and refused to sign up to EU rules that allow people to move here, he says. “People can come in from other EU countries, work for a few years and stay on the dole indefinitely. No country can stand that,” says Treanor.

Other Monaghan councillors acknowledge that Treanor is reflecting the views of some of the electorate. The town attracted a high number of immigrants during the boom years because of its furniture, meat-processing and mushroom industries.

The 2011 census shows 30 per cent of the people in the town were foreign national, with the biggest group Lithuanians, followed by UK nationals, Poles and Brazilians. But now that some factories and businesses have closed, and young Irish people are emigrating, some local people are beginning to question the presence of foreign nationals, especially when those without jobs get benefits.

'People are angry'
"People are angry; they have to blame somebody," says the newly elected mayor of Monaghan, Paul McGeown of Sinn Féin. "Some people up here would have an issue with foreign nationals claiming benefits from the State and say they are doing a lot of drinking around the town. But you get bad apples everywhere and just because they are foreign nationals shouldn't mean they get singled out for criticism," he says.

Egle Pastarnokiene says the Lithuanian community in Monaghan is suffering from the recession too. “My husband came home from work today for lunch and wasn’t able to tell me whether he will be working tomorrow because they are cutting back on his hours,” says Pastarnokiene, who has lived in Monaghan since 2004.

Lithuanians know they came here during the boom years to do jobs Irish people didn’t want to do, just as some Irish people are now leaving Monaghan and emigrating to Canada in search of jobs.

Getting involved in local events is important to break down barriers and next Saturday Lithuanians will gather in Monaghan town square for their annual traditional of singing the national anthem, a tradition that involves Lithuanians all over the world singing at the same time, says Vytautas Ruzveltas, who is a lorry driver.

"We try to participate in every way we can. We are visible, we have to show that we are the same as Irish people; not drinking, not stealing, not murdering," says Ruzveltas, who moved from Lithuania 11 years ago.

While Lithuanians say they don’t hear taunts on the street, at times they feel discriminated against. They complain that, at work, managers are harder on Lithuanian staff than on Irish workers, and that they have difficulties setting up businesses.

In Tallaght things are more difficult for migrants. The Dublin suburb has a 12 per cent immigration population with large pockets of African and Romanian communities.

Racist incidents are commonplace and often go unreported, says Foluke Oladosu, who is Nigerian. She is on the board of directors of Fettercairn community centre and works on local projects. Last week a pregnant black woman was harassed and chased by local teenagers. Being spat at and called names has become normal for some migrants, she says. “It’s very sad. It’s normal, but it shouldn’t be,” says Oladosu.

Racist incidents are preventing the integration of the migrant community, as many people are keeping to themselves, and this leads to divisions in the community. “It pains me. I go from door to door to encourage people to get involved or go on some organised trips but they prefer to just keep their heads down,” says Oladosu.

Future generations concern her because, she says, divisions are also apparent among children. “If an Irish person has abused [a migrant child’s] mother or thrown eggs at their father, that can change the attitude of the kid towards their Irish friends,” she adds.

Integration policy
Campaigners say this is why there is an urgent need to adopt an integration policy to ensure migrants don't get isolated. While immigration numbers remain high and immigrants continue to come to Ireland, there have been major cuts to the area. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism was wound up in 2008, the post of minister for integration was abandoned with the change of government in 2011, and the Equality Authority has been merged with the Human Rights Council.

Cuts have been made to language-support teachers and migrant support groups, and a cross-departmental group on integration has met only three times since 2008. and has never met during the lifetime of the current Government.

Private funding is an issue too. Migrant lobby groups that have secured funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation will soon lose that support when the two groups wind up in the coming years.

“There is a legislative and policy vacuum on racism and interculturalism,” says Shane O’Curry, the director of the Irish branch of the European Network Against Racism. “The State has got away for years with not funding this area but now we are looking at a cliff edge when things could worsen,” he adds.

Ireland has been a special case on attitudes towards migrants, shunning overt racism because people care about the country’s image abroad, says Killian Forde, the chief executive of the Integration Centre. The lack of a right-wing nationalist party, and in its place Sinn Féin as a left-wing nationalist party, has also generally kept intolerance at bay, he says.

But there are worrying signals about what kind of country Ireland could become amid evidence in the Integration Centre’s report that attitudes here towards immigration are worse than in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain and on a par with the UK. “We are catching up with the worst of them,” says Forde.

“We are sleepwalking our way into a major problem.”

Attitudes to immigration: What the ESRI study says

There have been "significant changes" in Irish attitudes to immigrants and immigration since the recession, according to the report this week by the Economic and Social Research Institute, commissioned by the Integration Centre. Up to 2006 there was a "clear rise" in positive attitudes but in 2010 there was a "clear fall".

Irish people with university degrees have a more positive attitude to immigrants, as do those under 45 years, the study shows.

It also highlights Ireland’s foreign-born population of 17 per cent, which is high compared with other high-income countries in the OECD. Despite the recession, the overall number of immigrants has declined only slightly. While 172,000 immigrants left Ireland between 2008 and 2012, 140,000 came in. Over 136,000 Irish people left the country between 2008 and 2012, while 81,100 came in.

Immigrants here are more likely to be unemployed than Irish people. In 2012 the unemployment rate for Irish nationals was 14.7 per cent, and 18.5 per cent for non-nationals.

Africans had the highest rate of unemployment at 27.1 per cent, followed by British nationals at 24 per cent and people from central and eastern EU states at 18.4 per cent. Immigrants have about 10 per cent less disposable income than Irish people and are more likely to be at risk of poverty.

People of black ethnicity were four times more likely to experience discrimination than white Irish people. The discrimination for black people was reported in shops, pubs, housing and transport and had risen since 2004, the study says.

Few immigrants register to vote in Ireland. In Dublin City Council about a quarter of non-EU nationals were on the electoral register in 2010/2011; only around 13 per cent of EU nationals were registered. But the figures are different for immigrants who have become Irish citizens: 72 per cent were on the electoral register.

Between 2005 and 201134,500 people from outside the EU were given citizenship.

Immigration: the numbers

The number of non-Irish nationals living in Ireland

The number of Polish nationals living in Ireland: the biggest migrant group. They are followed by UK nationals (112,259), Lithuanians (36,683), Latvians (20,593) and Nigerians (17,642)

The number of immigrants living in Dublin city - the highest number in the country

The percentage number of immigrants living in Galway city: the highest proportion in the country

The percentage of immigrants living in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo: the highest of any town in Ireland

*Source: Census 2011