Ireland’s record on hate speech faces scrutiny by UN
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination begins review of Ireland
Margaret Casey (centre) from the Tipperary Rural Travellers Project with members of the Traveller community who live at Cabra Bridge near Thurles, Co Tipperary, speaking after presidential candidate Peter Casey visited the area in 2018. Photograph: Alan Betson
Ireland’s record on combating racial discrimination will be reviewed this week by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The review – which starts today – will examine Ireland’s recent reports to the UN committee, and comes after an eight-year gap in reporting and monitoring on official responses to racism in Ireland.
The review comes against a background of heightened racist discourse in public and political life and the review is likely to be a challenging one for the Government.
A series of questions posed ahead of the review by CERD on incitement to hatred, online hate speech and monitoring of hate crimes signals an intention to shine a spotlight on discriminatory statements by politicians and electoral candidates against Traveller and migrant communities, including in current byelections and the recent presidential election.
As CERD has noted, the drafters of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were acutely aware of the ways in which speech can create a climate of racial hatred and discrimination, and reflected at length on the dangers it posed.
In its work to date, the committee has repeatedly highlighted the special duties and responsibilities of politicians and public opinion-formers, and have called for urgent action when repetition of racist speech suggests the existence of a deliberate strategy to engender hostility towards ethnic and racial groups. The continued targeting of Traveller communities, combined with a resurgence in anti-migrant commentary linked to the Government’s strategy of direct provision, will be of serious concern to CERD. Delay in the review of the Incitement to Hatred Act was highlighted by the UN committee in 2011. The continuing delay and only recent launch of a consultation on hate speech is likely to test the committee’s patience.
The committee has also indicated that it will be questioning the Government on conditions and length of stay in direct provision centres, and its impact in particular on children. The State’s response to human trafficking is also on the agenda. The continued delay in reforming the process of identifying of victims of trafficking has already been raised. This process has been ongoing since the publication of the second national action plan on trafficking in 2016.
“Chronic deficiencies” in victim identification, referral and assistance in the 2018 and 2019 reports were cited by the US state department to justify its decision to downgrade Ireland to tier-two status in terms of human rights protections. The continuing failure to provide specialised accommodation and services for victims of trafficking, who are accommodated in direct provision centres, is also of concern and has been criticised both in the US state department reports on trafficking and by the Council of Europe.
The deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in Essex have shown that cross-border investigations and co-operation are essential to combating impunity for the serious human rights violation of trafficking in persons. Continuing uncertainty over justice co-operation arrangements post-Brexit means the CERD review is an opportunity again to focus attention on these risks .
The committee has also requested disaggregated data on racial profiling and information on how cases of racial profiling are reported and addressed by the State. The background to this request is concerns about heightened risks of racial profiling in the context of increased border controls following Brexit. For the moment the answers remain unclear.
The committee has also sought further information on the implementation of the International Protection Act 2015 and data on family reunifications of beneficiaries of refugee status. This request signals a likely scrutiny of the restrictions introduced in the 2015 Act on the right of refugee families to reunification.
A Private Members’ Bill on family reunification has been stalled by a money message in the Dáil now for two years. Non-regression is a core principle of international human rights law. Restricting family reunification is a particularly egregious development, given Ireland’s leadership in co-chairing the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and supporting the global compacts on refugees and on safe orderly and regular migration.
Family reunification, together with resettlement, humanitarian visas and expanded pathways to regular migration are important mechanisms to reduce the risks of exploitation faced by refugees and migrants. Ireland’s record to date on such positive action has been limited. Security-oriented responses to border controls, rather than a willingness to facilitate safe migration, have dominated responses to human trafficking and irregular migration.
A concern that was raised in 2011 and is likely to feature again in Ireland’s review is the chronic under-reporting of violence against women and girls from minority and migrant communities and multiple barriers faced in accessing supports, in particular for undocumented migrant women.
The habitual residence condition, a test that particularly disadvantages Traveller, Roma and migrant women, is frequently used to limit access to very scarce domestic violence refuge spaces, raising serious questions as to Ireland’s compliance not only with the CERD convention but human rights law more broadly. As we launch a new citizens assembly’ on gender equality, the multiple and intersecting axes of discrimination and exclusion experienced by minority and women must be urgently addressed by the State.
Let’s hope that Ireland’s review by CERD and most importantly the recommendations and follow-up to come will be an opportunity to correct the mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination that continue to divide us.
Siobhán Mullally is the established professor of human rights law and director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway