Nasc attend Seanad debate on tackling racism

Thu, June 5, 2014

seanad debateThis week, Nasc’s Campaigns and Communication Officer Jennifer DeWan attended a debate in the Seanad on tackling racism and promoting diversity. The debate came as a result of a Private Member’s Motion, introduced by independent Senators Fiach Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie Louise O’Donnell, Jillian Van Turnhout and Katherine Zappone.

Presenting the motion in the Seanad, Senator Mac Conghail highlighted the lack of any centralised mechanism for recording racist incidents and how this lack of data impacts our ability to com at racism.

“We don’t know to what extent racism is an issue and whether it has increased or decreased,” Senator Mac Conghail noted.

Nasc and other organisations working on the issue of racism have long called for the re-establishment of the NCCRI (National Consultative Committee on Racism and Intolerance), as this Committee oversaw a centralised system of recording racist incidents and produced monitoring reports. Since the NCCRI’s demise in 2008, there has been no centralised recording and monitoring of racist incidents and it has been left to NGOs and the Irish Network Against Racism (ENAR Ireland) to record and monitor racist incidents.

In addition to the establishment of a centralised database, the motion called for a review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act (1989) to introduce provisions to deal with racist crimes, to ratify the European Convention on Cybercrime and the Additional Protocol on online racism and to develop a new National Action Plan to combat racism.

The motion was seconded by Senator Katherine Zappone, who spoke powerfully about the impact racism has on people’s lives, based on meetings she had attended with members of migrant and ethnic minority communities at An Cosán educational project. Senator Zappone highlighted that biased treatment by the Gardaí, including racial profiling, was a significant issue for minority communities.

Ethnic profiling is an issue that is often raised by our clients and by people making racist reports to Nasc, and we discuss the issue in some depth as it pertains to the Roma community in our recent publication, In from the Margins – Roma in Ireland (2013).

In response to the motion, Senator Martin Conway introduced a Government counter motion, seconded by Senator Ivana Bacik, which, although similar in some respects, was far less strong in its calls on the Minister for Justice for solid actions to tackle racism.

Minister of State Kathleen Lynch responded to the motion on behalf of the new Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Although the response did not, as Senator Mac Conghail rightly noted afterwards, reflect the urgency that is necessary to tackle this issue, we are pleased to see some commitments from the new Minister for Justice to review and strengthen the existing legislation and improving the recording of racist incidents.

In particular, Nasc welcomes the commitment from Minister Fitzgerald to review the legislative framework for tackling racism. We are hopeful this will include the introduction of a specific criminal legal provision that makes committing an offence that is motivated by hate or racism an aggravating factor, allowing for a more severe punishment.

Minister Lynch also noted the recent call for public input into the development of a new National Integration Strategy. Nasc made a submission with recommendations for actions to include in the new strategy, and we will be presenting on those recommendations to the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration and the Cross-Departmental Working Group on Integration this summer.

Although the motion did not pass, Nasc welcomes the initiative taken by the independent senators to bring this issue up for debate in the Seanad, and we were grateful for the invitation to attend and listen to the debate. We look forward to seeing what steps the Government and the incoming Minister for Justice will take to tackle racism and promote integration and diversity in Ireland.