In Focus94 Freda Hughes of Phoenix FM looked at why racism in Dublin 15 goes unreported.
Are the findings of the project a microcosm of the situation in Ireland at large? Economic downturn has had an impact on attitudes towards migrants in Ireland. Many who see themselves in competition for insufficient local authority houses, school places and welfare payments perceive migrants as a threat.
As one asylum seeker Peter Samuels said: “It’s a government policy. It’s an institutional thing that asylum seekers are not allowed to work or to study so that stigmatizes them and puts them into a very difficult situation . . so that creates a breeding ground for racist attitudes against asylum seekers.”
It is migrants who are often scapegoated for the short-comings of government policy. My research highlighted the subtle and often unidentified impact of unchallenged racism and prejudice in our society.
While there is an element of racism in Ireland today, organised racist groups are few. Groups like the Democratic Right Movement or the Irish National Movement are fringe and rather pathetic in their blatant openly fascist politics, sloganeering and threats.
Violent racist incidents as well as racist graffiti and vandalism predominantly are carried out by localised gangs and individuals across Ireland, but the growing viciousness of such attacks is worrying.
One Tyrellstown Resident whose family have suffered ongoing racial abuse for six years described an incident.
“She was screaming and shouting at my 10 year old daughter so my 13 year old was smart enough to bring out her phone and start recording the whole thing. That really made the woman mad so she came with a hurley stick and used it to hit my 13 year old daughter and destroyed her phone. We called the gardai, but they didn’t come that day. I suppose they must be tired of us reporting that same woman all the time.”
While a crime can be logged as ‘racist or race related’ here, there are no charges relating directly to racism itself. Dr. Brid Ni Chonaill of the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, summed up the Incitement to Hatred Act from 1989 as “a completely ineffective piece of legislation. There were promises to revamp that and that hasn’t happened.”
Despite the unanimous response from all the other groups I spoke to detailing ongoing racist issues in Dublin 15, the vast majority of physical, verbal and intimidatory racism goes unreported. This may be the result of the prejudice experienced by many, including the majority of my respondents, when dealing with government departments. This in turn breeds a lack of trust in the state’s ability to protect and afford equal opportunities to all.
Oftentimes, an unwillingness to report an incident is because of fear of reprisals or negative implications on pending citizenship applications. As Ken McCue of SARI told me:
“One of the reasons why many migrants won’t go into the garda station to make a complaint even when they are victims of racial abuse is because they fear it will go against them when it comes to seeking citizenship.”
The role of an Ethnic Liaison Officer is to liaise with members of ethnic minority communities and ensure that the appropriate support mechanisms are available to them.
There are ten ELOs listed as operating out of my local Garda station in Blanchardstown. It is noteworthy that for five consecutive days I phoned the station and asked to speak to an ELO. Each time I called, no one came to my assistance. In fact, most of the Gardaí I spoke to were unaware that such officers existed, who they were or what the role entailed. I was told that some of the names listed on the website had moved on to other departments or stations.
Despite many phone calls made, no ELO ever rang me back. It must be noted, however, that the Garda Racial Intercultural and Diversity Office is extremely well-intentioned and has the desire to implement better training and strategies for dealing with racism.
Sgt. David McInerney told me that: “Any incident that is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person will be recorded as a racist incident. So I want to make that very clear, if you report something as a racist incident it must be recorded as a racist incident. .We must map the motive when logging a crime.”
Unfortunately this does not seem to be a priority for the organisation as a whole and currently, to become an ELO, a Garda must only undertake a two and a half day training course.