Xenophobia cannot be tolerated further

Christmas statement by the Four Catholic bishops warning against xenophobia highlighted the "untold consequences for already vulnerable" victims of such racial harassment, a much more unpleasant and potentially dangerous variation of racial discrimination.

In the present tense climate with racist leaflets being pushed through doors, walls being daubed with insulting racist graffiti, coupled with increasing incidents of racially motivated intimidation or violence, threatening phone calls, verbal abuse and especially with the offices of Association of Refugees and Asylum Seekers being `abandoned' for three weeks last November after being threatened with arson, there can be no doubt that the warning against racial harassment by the four bishops, is justified and timely.

What is especially worrying in the last 12 months, has been the reluctance or inability of the Gardai to curb the more extreme racist incidents by prosecuting the racist offenders, including the individuals who sent racially motivated hate mail to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, earlier this year.

Criminal prosecution under the wide ranging provisions of the Incitement to Hatred legislation could effectively be utilised by the Gardai to address the specific examples of racist harassment raised by the four bishops. Personally, I am not aware of any attempt by the Garda to prosecute, or enforce the full rigour of the laws against suspected racist offenders.

While we have the Incitement to Hatred legislation, the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Bill now being steered through the Oireachtas, there is a legislative deficit in creating the sort of environment common to other host countries. Nowhere in the Constitution, for example, is racial discrimination specifically outlawed. Surprisingly, Ireland is the only EU country that has not yet ratified the 30 year old UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. Even more disturbing is the manner the promised Garda investigation into the blatantly unlawful denial of entry into Ireland (apparently on racial grounds) of two visiting British citizens of Ghanaian origin by Garda officers, (on October 14, after they arrived by ferry at Dun Laoghaire from Britain) has been conveniently swept under the carpet and forgotten.

With the Government quietly proceeding with dispersal of refugees despite reservations expressed by all the relevant groups, it is not too late for the Garda to adopt a more pro active and progressive approach to policing in race related incidents. For starters the Gard may consider embracing the spirit of an anti racism code of practice, recently drawn up by black and minority ethnic groups, asylum seekers and traveller organisations, (under an umbrella body, United Against Racism) through an anti racist sub group of the Community Development Programmes National Advisory Committee.

In conclusion, there is an imperative need to send a clear and unambiguous signal to individuals or groups involved in organised racial harassment that they will be punished in accordance with the law and they could suffer severe legal consequences themselves, if they continue their nefarious and illegal activities.

&emdash; Wole Akande,

Part of the Anti - Racism Campaigns web site