The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has urged Ireland to take action against local authorities that fail to spend money allocated for providing accommodation for Travellers.

ECRI – part of the 47-nation Council of Europe – has also called upon the Irish authorities to enact new legislation on hate speech and hate crime, working together with civil society.

These two priority recommendations form part of ECRI’s fifth report on Ireland, published on 4 June 2019. Progress towards implementing these recommendations will be reviewed by ECRI in two years’ time.

Positive Developments

The report highlights a number of positive developments in recent years, including the formal recognition of Travellers as an indigenous ethnic group, the legalisation of same-sex marriage and a new law allowing transgender people to officially change their name and gender through self-determination.

It also welcomes the creation of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the duty imposed on public authorities to have due regard to human rights and equality in their work. The revised Migrant Integration Strategy and the Communities Integration Fund are cited as additional steps forward.

Sanctions on local authorities needed

However, ECRI expresses concern that the majority of local authorities have consistently failed to provide adequate and culturally-appropriate accommodation for Travellers.

The report urges Ireland to impose dissuasive sanctions on local authorities for failure to spend funding allocated for Traveller accommodation or, alternatively, to remove this responsibility from local authorities and to place it under the remit of a central housing commission.

Hate Speech not Addressed

ECRI also states that hate speech involving verbal abuse in public places is quite common in Ireland and that there is an undercurrent of low-level racist violence which is not adequately recorded or addressed.

At the same time, there are no provisions in Irish criminal law defining common offences of a racist or homo/transphobic nature as specific offences, nor is racist or other hateful motivation considered to be an aggravating circumstance.

Furthermore, the report says that the existing Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act is seldom used and is particularly ineffectual in combating online hate speech.

Accommodation for Asylum Seekers and Refugees a major concern

Other issues raised in the report include the fact that Ireland has not renewed its National Action Plan against Racism, which ended in 2008. The provision of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees also continues to present major concerns, related to the length of stay, overcrowding, the inability to conduct normal family life and harassment experienced by LGBT asylum seekers.