Warning signs on racism

Nearly half of Irish adults believe some cultures are superior to others, a new report finds

Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Research for the commission by the ESRI found worrying levels of racism and xenophobia in Ireland. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Research for the commission by the ESRI found worrying levels of racism and xenophobia in Ireland. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

 

Relatively high levels of discriminatory attitudes towards immigrants, based on social, economic and cultural considerations, are a cause for concern according to research conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on behalf of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. It found Irish-born people have become less welcoming than our European neighbours and urges a more inclusive and tolerant society.

Based on surveys in 10 western European countries between 2002 and 2014, it showed the attitude of Irish-born people towards immigrants followed our boom and bust economic cycle, shifting from positive to negative as the recession took hold and regaining some ground as the economy recovered. Responses by individuals varied, depending on financial security, educational qualifications or social class. The greatest resistance to further immigration was displayed by low-income groups that regarded foreign workers as competitors for jobs and housing.

Incipient racism is evident from findings that nearly half of Irish adults believe some cultures are superior to others

Apart from economic considerations in opposing immigration, underlying racism and xenophobia were detected. People surveyed were less likely to oppose entry by migrants with similar ethnic or cultural antecedents, while the greatest resistance was exhibited towards those with Muslim or Gypsy/Roma backrounds.

Incipient racism is evident from findings that nearly half of Irish adults believe some cultures are superior to others, while 45 per cent take the view that individuals from certain cultures work harder. One-in six of those questioned believe people from particular cultures are more intelligent than others. These are dangerous beliefs that can feed into racial hatred and intolerance and may be manipulated by unscrupulous individuals.

They should consult this report, which encourages greater social contact between locals and immigrants as a means of building a more caring and integrated society

To prevent such a development here, an all-party political programme was agreed in 2001 that the promotion of prejudice or hatred on grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic origins or religious beliefs would be condemned. A three-year anti-racism programme was then introduced. It included the introduction of familiarisation courses, language classes and educational programmes. Eventually, a Minister of State with responsibility for combating racism was appointed.

Funding for those initiatives fell away during the recession and the flow of inward migration declined in those years. Now that numbers are growing again, the lessons learned from those schemes should be applied. Most of all, they should consult this report, which encourages greater social contact between locals and immigrants as a means of building a more caring and integrated society. As former president Mary McAleese once said: important issues should be decided in an “all of us together way”, rather than a “them” and “us” way.

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