The Irish Times view: We must dismantle barriers for immigrants

A number of recent reports have shown the level of discrimination in Irish society

 Black Irish citizens are twice as likely to experience discrimination in seeking work as white Irish residents, according to a study by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ESRI. Photograph: iStock

Black Irish citizens are twice as likely to experience discrimination in seeking work as white Irish residents, according to a study by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ESRI. Photograph: iStock

 

The State’s success in absorbing large numbers of immigrants over the past two decades is an achievement we tend to take for granted. In particular since 2004, when Ireland opened its labour market to citizens of 10 new EU states in central and eastern Europe, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have come here. They have strengthened the economy, filled gaps in the labour market, enriched our cultural life and made Ireland a more interesting, cosmopolitan place. This has been achieved with relatively little friction. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, there has been no significant public backlash and no political party has sought to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment.

At a time when the populist right is on the rise across much of Europe, that’s worth celebrating. But there’s also a risk of complacency. After all, it’s hardly as if immigrants face no barriers to integration, or that the experience of Irish society is the same for all ethnic minorities.

That has been underlined by a series of reports, most recently a study this week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ESRI. It found that black Irish citizens are twice as likely to experience discrimination in seeking work as white Irish residents, and that black non-Irish people are five times more likely to feel they are victims of discrimination. White people from eastern Europe are much less likely than Irish-born people to hold managerial or professional jobs, but there is no difference in their rate of employment compared to white Irish people.

The report also noted that since 2004 the gap between ethnic minorities and white Irish people in higher-level jobs has been narrowing. That trend is encouraging, but assuming that the problem of workplace discrimination will fix itself would be wrong. Progress needs to be made on the recognition of overseas qualifications and employers must give more active consideration to ethnicity when designing inclusion policies. Harnessing the talents and skills of new arrivals is essential to successful social integration but also to the State’s economic prospects.

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