Anastasia Crickley, former chairperson UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Chairperson Pavee Point, gives an overview of racism today:

Like many Irish people I am outraged by the death in police custody of George Floyd and by the responses of his country’s leadership.  A minutes silence in Dáil Éireann was a good gesture of our national solidarity with his family, community, African Americans, and people everywhere experiencing racism. It also needs to reflect a reinforced commitment to acknowledging and addressing racism in all its forms here in Ireland.

George Floyd’s death drives home, yet again, the global realities of the racism experienced by black people across the world, a racism which is structured into the legacies of slavery and colonisation in the country where he died. 

The response from his country’s current leadership denies and sidesteps that racism in favour of control and ‘domination’ of the communities blighted by it and those of their supporters. The associated toxic discourse conveniently manipulates the fears of some to ‘trump’ the rights of many.

Like always, racism today is about denying human rights and fundamental political, economic, social and cultural freedoms on the basis of ‘race’, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. A number of racist actions in the USA, here and elsewhere, are clearly on purpose – with the intention of directly discriminating and reinforcing flawed ideas of superiority. Others are racist in the effects they have, and by their immediate and lifelong consequences. They remain deeply hidden in the ethos and institutions which shape our societies in ways that exclude and discriminate.

Working with the Irish community in 1970s London – memories for many of the ‘no Blacks, no Irish, no dogs‘ signs, were still fresh. These were re-ignited by the false convictions, later overturned, of the Maguires, Guildford Four and Birmingham Six for crimes they never committed. For me though, rather than for my Black colleagues, discrimination on a day to day basis was dependent on me opening my mouth. 

It’s clear that the progress made by the US Civil Rights Movement was not matched by the special measures and positive action essential to embed it and ensure intergenerational progress towards equality for the communities now demanding their rights. Reversing centuries of oppression and deeply embedded legacies of slavery and colonisation cannot be done without a long term holistic approach. 

This has to involve national leadership and systematic standards, programmes and resources as well as good laws and policing and most importantly full involvement of the affected communities in all stages as well as in the institutions delivering them – whether the judiciary, academy, schools, police, public officials, politics or Govt.

The difficulty of addressing racism is as true for Ireland as for the USA as the ongoing struggle of Travellers to have the denial and sidestepping of the racism they’ve experienced for centuries acknowledged illustrates. The successful outcome in 2017 of the thirty year campaign to have their ethnicity acknowledged illustrates also the importance of direct community involvement and leadership. Acknowledgment of ethnicity does not, in itself, end other differentials outlined in the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy and now again brought into stark relief by COVID-19. This continued discrimination is reflected too in calls for a new Programme for Government to include a Traveller agency tasked with eliminating them. 

The recommendations from Ireland’s December 2019 Review by the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination provide another good starting point for those developing the new Strategy on Racism the Minister announced at that Review. Mirroring in advance current global concerns they call for legislation prohibiting racial profiling, racist hate speech and hate crime while calling explicitly for specific measures to address discrimination against People of African Descent in Ireland. They also make recommendations regarding the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. 

Any national strategy against racism now needs to incorporate consequences of COVID-19. Evidence from the UK and USA indicates that Black and minority ethnic groups have been severely, and differentially, affected by the virus. This is also an uncounted reality for migrant workers here, some undocumented or seeking asylum, who have been making our lives possible during this pandemic and are over-represented in the cases of the virus now being reported in the meat industry

Our previous National Action Plan and National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism made good progress, the effects of which lingered for a number of years. But that was then and there are now new realities, some beyond and before COVID-19. We are more diverse now but, with some exceptions, white settled citizens rather than diverse residents continue to be mainly pictured as the community fighting COVID-19.

However, the immediately visible diversity of the many, mostly young, people pictured walking in Dublin on Monday in solidarity with African Americans gives me hope. They make me determined to continue to try to find and play my part in the struggle towards a just and equal Irish society where the rights of all are realised and which looks outwards towards real European solidarity and an end to racism globally.