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Apathetic on racism

Challenging stereotypes seems to turn the public offFidèle Mutwarasibo 


We need political leadership to stamp out racism. Racism is an unacceptable reality in Ireland. A new survey has now identified it as an issue within the public sector. Courage is required on the part of the Government to address this issue.

The recent snide remarks by District Justice Devins about a Polish predisposition to welfarism and the throwing of bananas onto a football pitch during a ‘friendly’ match in Limerick have brought racism into the spotlight. Unfortunately for many of us who now call Ireland home this type of racism is a regular occurrence.

It is a sad reality that the land of a hundred thousand welcomes, which greeted me on my arrival from Africa in 1995, has changed. Seventeen years after my arrival I now find myself reluctant to answer simple questions like ‘Where do you come from?’ in public.

The negative portrayal of migrants in the media, among other things, was critical in shaping the perception of those who do not look or sound ‘typically’ Irish. Newspaper headlines like ‘Crackdown on 2,000 sponger refugees’, ‘Asylum Sickeners’ and ‘Free Cars for Refugees: Grants to buy BMWs’ have played no small part in developing a culture which tolerates racism. These headlines, seemingly harmless on the surface, have the potential to fuel a dangerous lack of tolerance and send us down a path where racism becomes the norm.

The extent to which our society believes there is an ‘acceptable’ level of racism was graphically illustrated during the last General Election. Research undertaken by MillwardBrown Landsdowne revealed that six out of ten politicians encountered racist sentiments when canvassing. Even more alarming it was also found that one in three TDs felt that speaking out in favour of immigrant rights would affect their own support, negatively.

It appears our political leaders instead of challenging the stereotypes, bogus stories and racism on the doorsteps have largely ignored the problem and come to the conclusion that there are no votes in defending the rights of immigrants.

A recent survey by the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) highlighted the outcome of this political inertia.  The union contacted 35 public institutions. Less than half bothered to respond. Of those who did, none had introduced specific anti-racism or intercultural policies.

Given this inaction it is perhaps not surprising that 26% of those who worked in the institutions said they had witnessed racist remarks by colleagues about members of the public. In addition, 17 of the 489 respondents (3%) said that they had been personally subjected to discrimination, harassment, bullying, physical, or emotional abuse in the workplace, because of their race.

While this number might seem small there were notably no ethnic identifiers given to those who participated in the survey.  Apart from a few sectors, such as healthcare, the penetration of migrants in public sector employment is very limited. This number begins to seem high in such a context.

This survey reflects our experience in the Immigrant Council of Ireland and in other organisations in the frontline of protecting migrant rights and combating racism. The ‘Taking Racism Seriously’ report, published last year by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, highlighted the negative experiences of migrants working in the public transport sector in Dublin among others. Worryingly, the report also documented the reluctance of victims of racist incidents to report these incidents to the Gardai.

What we need is political leadership and the courage to challenge the people who perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices. When the current Government took office, the word ‘courage’ was much used. It is my hope that in the overall scheme of the public sector reform, Brendan Howlin TD. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, will be courageous and do something to address the issues raised in the PSEU survey.

The fact that over 26% of PSEU members surveyed have witnessed colleagues making racist remarks, should send shudders through the political system.

Pope John Paul 2nd, said that “In Many civilisations, immigration has brought new growth and enrichment”. The Swiss architect, playwright and novelist, Max Frisch said, “We wanted Workers, but we got Human Beings”. Hatred is not inherited, it is learned. We owe it not only to ourselves but to future generations to ensure we are a country where no one must hide or cover up their identity.

True leadership is about having the courage to challenge ignorance and intolerance. It is not about advancing ones own political ambitions by turning a blind eye to racism in any of its forms.


Dr. Fidèle Mutwarasibo is Integration Manager with the Immigrant Council of Ireland