The Irish Times view on racism in Ireland: a virulent strain

Much of the State’s anti-racism infrastructure was dismantled during the financial crisis and has never been replaced

People at a Black Lives Matter protest rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

People at a Black Lives Matter protest rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The unrest that has gripped the United States since the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has brought the country’s simmering complexes about race to the surface and produced a moment that bears comparison to 1968, perhaps the most traumatic year in modern American history. Racism is one of the US’s original and enduring scars, but to acknowledge that specificity cannot be to deny the broader prevalence of the same, virulent disease – not least here in Ireland.

Discrimination against minorities here has a long history – ask any Traveller – but greater ethnic diversity has made its toxic influence even clearer. Studies consistently find relatively high levels of discriminatory attitudes towards immigrants here. Every person of colour will have their own story: a job they didn’t get, an insult shouted on the street, a degrading comment left online.

Some of the responsibility here falls on the State. Budget cuts during the financial crisis resulted in the dismantling of an important infrastructure in this area, including the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, the National Action Plan Against Racism and the position of minister for integration. They have never been replaced, and there is an unmistakable sense that official focus never returned to the issue. All the while, direct provision continues the institutional relegation of asylum seekers to the fringes of society.

But the problem raises questions far beyond Government. With some exceptions, those from minority ethnic backgrounds remains largely unseen in Irish public life. Our political parties, government departments, Garda Síochána, media and school staff rooms remain overwhelmingly white, and that must change. More fundamentally, however, the virus of racism, and the wider challenge of social integration, cannot be addressed without rethinking our ideas of Irishness in ways that account for the transformation of recent decades. That will require a new mental framework through which we view such ideas as identity, citizenship and belonging.

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