The Churches And Racism
Sir, - Gordon MacKenzie (December 11th) deplored the absence of any representative of the established churches at a rally outside the Department of Justice in support of fair treatment for refugees. He asked: "Is it too much to expect the bishops to make a definitive statement on racism now that the problem is with us?" As your correspondent would appear to be unaware of the bishops' significant contributions to this debate, I would mention the following examples of their concern for this issue:
In December 1997, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and Trocaire (both agencies of the Irish Bishops' Conference) launched a joint policy document, "Refugees and Asylum Seekers - A Challenge to Solidarity", which made a reasoned plea for a tolerant and sympathetic response to refugees and asylum seekers.
Later in the same month, these two bodies made an oral presentation to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Women's Affairs at which the importance of a pro-active approach to combating racism was urged, as well as the necessity of planning for the long-term reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees.
Both agencies have actively participated in subsequent consultations between the Department of Justice and human rights NGOs which have been critical of aspects of official asylum policy.
Trocaire has twice this year raised issues relating to asylum seekers and refugees with the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Human Rights.
On December 7th, representatives of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and the Council for Social Welfare (another agency of the Bishops' Conference) brought the situation of asylum seekers and refugees to the attention of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.
Trocaire is a founding member of the Asylum Rights Alliance and drafted the policy document which was the basis for the demonstration in which your correspondent participated.
Apart from these examples, there is a notable response by the Church at local level to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees. In addition, many Catholic organisations are members of the Irish Refugee Council.
Finally, I should mention that a number of individual bishops have commented forthrightly on this issue, apart from the interventions by Bishop Larry Ryan on behalf of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and Bishop John Kirby on behalf of Trocaire. - Yours, etc., Rev Martin Clarke,
Communications Officer, Irish Bishops' Conference, Booterstown Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.