Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 October 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Experience of Persons of Mixed Race in State Institutions: Mixed Race Irish
The purpose of this part of the meeting is to have an engagement with representatives of Mixed Race Irish on the experience of its members in State institutions. On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Ms Carole Brennan, Ms Evon Brennan and Ms Rosemary Adaser. The format of the meeting is that I will invite our guests to make an opening statement, which will be followed by a questions and answers session with members. Before proceeding, I apologise for any inconvenience caused to our witnesses by the unforeseen delay in commencing the meeting. A number of issues arose in the Dáil, which gave rise to unprecedented scenes in the Chamber, certainly in my time in the House.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members should be aware that under the salient rulings of the Chair, they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Ms Carole Brennan to make her opening statement.
Ms Carole Brennan:
I thank the joint committee for this opportunity to appear before it to discuss the experience of our members while in the care of State institutions and detail any inequality in treatment they received on the basis of race. Who are we? We are a campaign group called Mixed Race Irish, MRI, which wishes to raise awareness of the experience of mixed race Irish children who were in the Irish institutional care system during the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In most cases, the heritage of these children was that they had an African father and an Irish mother. We wish to highlight the racism experienced by these children while under the care of the State and the damaging impacts and legacy of this care.
Why did we choose the name, Mixed Race Irish? This is a very important question as it reflects the importance to us, as a group, of our Irish heritage, which was stolen from and denied to us. We grew up in Ireland and are, to all intents and purposes, Irish, yet we were treated differently and unequally in State institutions because of one simple factor, namely, the colour of our skin.
Mixed Race Irish was formally established in September 2013 by Evon Brennan, Rosemary Adaser and me. We came together at gatherings of industrial abuse groups. We realised at these meetings that there was no understanding or support for us, nor was there any room for debate on the colour specific racial suffering imposed on us, as children, and the impact this had on our lives. Our existence and unique experiences have been airbrushed from Irish survivor abuse history.
We have identified more than 70 mixed race survivors of institutions. We are also aware of seven suicides in our community. Upwards of 100 mixed race survivors remain unidentified or are missing or deceased. We continue to search for these individuals but it is a difficult task because it appears that no records of mixed race children are available.
Our group has 40 members and continues to grow. All of our members are aged over 50 years and are located in Ireland, Britain, the United States and China. Membership is split approximately 40% male and 60% female. Some of our members are present in the Public Gallery.
There is strong evidence that some members of the mixed race survivor community have experienced serious mental health problems, substance abuse, for example, drug and alcoholism, social isolation and inter-generational issues relating to racial abuse and poverty. I will address these matters in more detail later.
What are the aims of our campaign? We seek to raise awareness of the colour specific abuse of mixed race Irish people by reaching out to others and sharing our stories personally and, where appropriate, publicly, as we are doing today. We also seek recognition and an acknowledgement that the State failed mixed race children in institutional care. We seek justice through accountability and redress, arising from the requirement that the State provide for its failure to protect mixed race children in its care. We also seek assurances that the issue of racism be prioritised, as a State initiative, to ensure these types of abuses do not occur again, particularly in State run institutions.
I will now read a collective statement on behalf of the Mixed Race Irish group. This may take a moment as it is an emotional task for me.
The statement sums up what we are about:
As we highlight in our submission, the Constitution states all children of the nation are to be cherished equally. The document we have submitted to the committee shows how the State failed mixed race Irish children through inequality and discrimination. Our suffering manifested in a range of aspects, including mental health issues, questions of identity, a lack of opportunity which has had an intergenerational impact, poverty and income issues. Many of our members present with ongoing mental health problems which have had devastating impacts on their lives. One person told us, "I was forced to clean blocked toilets on the grounds that my colour was the same." Others spoke about bath time "as a means to inflict degrading racist sexual inspections," about being doused in talcum powder and told, "Now you know what it is like to be white."
It has taken us many years to have the courage to reveal the depth of our inner pain and suffering which has been internalised. This has only been made possible by us standing together as a collective group. The sharing of our horrific past has given us the strength to bring forth a long and well overdue past which we feel needs to be exposed. Many mixed race Irish carry deep scars of trauma and continue to suffer as a direct result of these past experiences which have left huge and everlasting wounds that may never heal.
Many of our members have lived with a lack of identity which has had a huge impact on their sense of self and belonging. An unconscious hatred of our black heritage was ingrained in us by institutions, matched by exclusion, where we were made to feel unwelcome and unwanted by Irish society. The failure to accept mixed race Irish people as part of Irish society, with neither recognition nor ethnic protection, is devastating. How can children protect themselves from discrimination in the absence of race policies and legislation? One of our members spoke about "wanting so much to be Irish, to belong, yet this constant questioning of my identity was so traumatising - no one attempted to explain my dual heritage." A white survivor observed that he knew his mixed race Irish friend was being treated unfairly and very badly, but he did not understand why until years later. It is his understanding that his friend is now deceased.
A study by Howard University in Washington DC points out that parents' responses to their own experiences of racial discrimination may influence their parenting and ability to teach their children to negotiate racism successfully. One member of our group recalls being told by a psychiatrist that, despite being highly intelligent, they were using only 10% of their mental capability owing to the trauma of racism and a lack of identity. That is a devastating realisation, particularly when one considers that in the case of many mixed race Irish children, their fathers were educated to high standards as doctors, engineers, etc.
Members have told how, at secondary school, the parish priest would single out mixed race children and racially abuse them in front of their peers. One person was told, "You have two drawbacks in life - one is the colour of your skin, and the second is you are illegitimate." Members talk about a pecking order, with coloured girls in the lower ranks. There was no career planning or work experience given because, as one member put it, "of the stereotype that we would become prostitutes."This resulted in many individuals not living up to their full potential.
Poverty is another issue for many of our members. One described how the lack of a trade was extremely damaging to one's survival post-institution. Another individual said, "Employers told me outright that they could not employ a nigger because I would scare people." These disclosures have come privately from members. Without protection, guidance and support regarding identity, we entered adulthood feeling inferior, which resulted in low self-confidence and affected our job prospects and educational outcomes.
In our submission we refer to a report sent by a doctor to the then Department of Education in 1966. The author observed that the future of the "coloured children" found in several schools presented a problem for which it would be difficult to find any satisfactory solution. Their prospects of marriage in Ireland, the report states, were practically nil and that their future happiness and welfare could only be assured in a country with a significant multiracial population since they were accepted by neither black nor white. The author further noted that these unfortunate children were at a disadvantage when it came to adoption. He added that they were often hot-tempered and difficult to control.
We state in our submission to the committee:
We note with horror the language in the above statement to the Minister for Education. We consider this language deeply offensive. This is the language that made mixed race Irish children the "Other" in Irish industrial schools and institutions and encapsulates the racist labelling that ensured our childhoods in Irish industrial schools were filled with terror, misery, abuse and pain.It is our hope we can now commence the process of grieving for a lost identity, youth and heritage. That can only truly begin through recognition, acknowledgement and justice for the suffering of our members while om the care of the State. I thank members for listening.
Thank you very much, Ms Brennan. I also thank Deputy Anne Ferris for bringing these issues to the attention of the committee and the Oireachtas. I have read through all of the documentation the delegates submitted and the testimony it contains is extremely moving. I can see why Ms Brennan had to pause at one point. The stories she has related are very disturbing.
I welcome Ms Carole Brennan, Ms Evon Brennan and Ms Rosemary Adaser. I met them earlier in the summer when we had a good chat about the difficulties experienced by members of Mixed Race Irish. As an adopted person, I am acutely aware of the problems, traumas and identity issues experienced by people who were adopted. I have spoken to many people in my situation, as well as those who were sent to orphanages and mother and baby homes. I have listened to a lot of stories. The delegates and the people they represent have suffered an extra layer of discrimination on top of what others suffered in these homes.
I was reared in Crumlin in Dublin, which was also the place where a person who went on to become famous grew up. That person was the singer Phil Lynott who was quite vocal about the discrimination he had suffered in school and how he had never really been accepted until he became a celebrity. Suddenly, once fame came, everybody was cool with him. Listening to Ms Brennan's testimony, I can identify with a great deal of what she said. However, the specific suffering of mixed race Irish children is another element of the whole issue that has not been examined heretofore and which should be included in any and all investigations into what happened in orphanages and mother and baby homes in the State. When I spoke in the Dáil in July during the debate on the establishment of a commission of investigation into mother and baby homes, I mentioned Mixed Race Irish and the plight of the people it represented.
I know the answers to the questions I am about to ask, but I would like to put them, as well as outline the delegates' responses. My first question is why they are bringing this issue to the attention of the committee at this time. Second, how have they managed to overcome their tragic histories?
Ms Carole Brennan:
On my own behalf and that of my colleagues, I take the opportunity to thank Deputy Anne Ferris for raising this issue in the Dáil during the debate in July and including a reference to our organisation. It means a lot to us. She clearly identifies with our situation and also recognises what she referred to as the extra layer of discrimination which only people in our particular position can experience. I ask my colleague, Ms Brennan, to respond to the Deputy's specific questions.
Ms Evon Brennan:
I am a co-founder of Mixed Race Irish. We are bringing this issue to the committee's attention because we can no longer tolerate a situation where racial suffering continues to be airbrushed from Irish history. It has taken us five decades to talk about our colour-specific suffering. We stand together now as a collective voice, which means that we are no longer isolated in our suffering. We are bringing our past racial suffering into the present to be looked at and learn from it. We want our painful histories to be documented as evidence to show how Ireland dealt with racism in the past and to encourage debate on how it is dealing with racism today. As so many of us share identical stories of abuses endured because of our skin colour, we can say this was the reality for us.
In the first instance, our voices were listened to by Deputy Dominic Hannigan several years ago.
His generosity and willingness to give us time further motivated us to raise our campaign on the horrific suffering endured by mixed race children while in industrial care. Through talking and listening, we opened a can of worms that shocked us as the number of mixed race stories echoed of detrimental racism, inlcuding neglect, starvation, poverty, sexual, physical and verbal abuse owing to the colour of our skin.
How have we overcome our tragic histories? Overcoming one’s history of horrendous colour-specific abuse will take years. Many of us may never recover from these traumas. How do we overcome the inherited belief that our fathers were savages from the jungle and of low intelligence to later discover that they had been students in medicine, law, civil engineering and contributed to Irish society? How do we overcome the shock of this knowledge that was deliberately withheld from us, these deliberate lies, a cover-up, to discredit our innate intelligence and heritage? How do we overcome deep feelings of inadequacy and inferiority?
Personally, I overcame them temporarily, as it takes years of difficult therapeutic work - this avenue is extremely long and painful - by becoming an expert in control, in my music, family life and social isolation to mask the deep sense of hate and worthlessness I felt inside. Deep feelings of inadequacy and lack of belief in my own talents resulted in a loss of my capacity to contribute to society.
Will the committee go beyond what has been presented to it today? What it sees are three individuals who appear intelligent, confident, articulate and self-assured. That is how we have learned to behave to be accepted. We have learned on the surface level, keeping at bay our stunted pasts, capacity for greatness and, especially and fundamentally, inability to endure lasting deep love. These feelings of isolation are a common thread among our community, as is the wealth of physical suffering that flares up. We are here in suffering and any new situation will throw us back into it. Simple questions about where one comes from can invoke flashbacks, throw us into helplessness, confusion with racial identity and deep depression. Our interiors and minds are not functioning as well as those of a cherished loved individual. How we overcome our past will be an ongoing battle and struggle for us owing to the inflicted racism and abuses experienced in our traumatic childhoods. Being here today is the beginning of our recovery. I thank the committee for listening to us.
Thank you, Evon. I know that you got upset. I get quite upset when I listen to these stories and can empathise with you. Believe me, you are three very strong women.
I have my own issues about identity. At the same time, it never holds one back but makes one stronger and more determined. It is important to get this story out to address the injustice done. I know that the group has carried out much research into the effects of racism. Will they tell us a little more about the findings of this research?
Ms Rosemary Adaser:
When we came together, we needed some evidence, as much as for ourselves as to convince the wider public, that our intuitive understanding that our experiences were racially motivated was correct. We did research, but there is nothing about us. There is a plethora of worthy civil liberty organisations, but we do not exist. The only documentation about us merely refers to us in denigrating and insulting terms such as the one Ms Carole Brennan outlined in the letter to the Minister. I believe the research we carried out was the first of its type in this area. We started off with just the three of us and now have 72 members in our community. Out of this, 56 have proudly shared their experiences of institutionalised racism. We have the results and they are disturbing. While the actual racism does not surprise us, it is its scale that does. We discovered that 11% of our group had died early, between the ages of 22 and 45 years, by suicide or killing. Seven of our members committed suicide. That is just not right as most of us are in our early 50s.
When we interviewed everyone, sexual abuse was a dominant factor. Up to 44% of our community will admit to sexual abuse. That includes those who have reached a certain amount in their healing to be able to articulate the trauma. Many of our members, as Ms Evon Brennan said, will not be able to articulate it. Up to 35% of us have endured a long-term mental disability and-or substance misuse. We all will admit to trauma in varying degrees. Up to 9% of our young men were incarcerated. When one is of a mixed race, one is considered to be a savage or stupid and will not be educated. In some cases, young mixed race men were sent to farmers to work for free instead of being schooled. Not getting any wage, they might have stolen a few apples, but they were sent before a judge who then sent them to a young offenders’ institution. What hope do they have? They are ex-offenders, of mixed race with a stunted education. How are they supposed to be educated and work in society?
For those who escaped that fate, we emerged from institutions with low self-worth. When people talk about having low self-esteem, they are told to read a self-esteem book. However, to have self-esteem, one has to have a concept of who one is. That is one’s self-worth and who one thinks one is inside. We did not have this. We emerged into the world completely lost, knowing that we were not wanted in this society. It is doubly tragic because this country still refuses to ratify anti-racism laws. Accordingly, we never feel safe.
We are an indigenous group. We are not migrants, we were born here. We have members approaching their 80th birthday. We did not arrive yesterday. Please start including us. Can we get the CERD sorted, please?
I welcome the witnesses and the rest of their group. It was my pleasure to meet them during the summer and I want to acknowledge the efforts made by Deputy Hannigan and Deputy Ferris in making the rest of us aware of their organisation and their history. While it was a pleasure to meet them, I was sorry that we were meeting in such circumstances and that they had such a tragic story to tell about their history. I was deeply moved and shocked by the stories they told and when I mentioned it to other colleagues, I found that people really were not aware of this. It is a story that we must talk about, on top of all the other tragic stories. It needs to be heard, just as all the others did. Having read the witnesses' submission and having spoken to them, I know their experiences were truly appalling. Perhaps they might like to expand on how their experiences were different to the experiences of their peers within the institutions.
Ms Evon Brennan:
Our stories are the proof. Our racial sufferings were compounded and we had additional burdens placed upon us. Our report is detailed, accurate and particularly evidence-based and has taken us two years to complete. Racial injury is different to the injuries that other children experienced in the institutions. Old research shows the mindset of missionaries who went to Africa during the 18th century to civilise the barbarians. Our research suggests the mindset in Ireland while we were in care was to control us hot-tempered savages, to tame and civilise our temperaments, and to get rid of our blackness by dousing talcum powder on us. Our research shows there was no person qualified in race relations. No programme was set up and no attempt was made to discuss our history. This shows immediately an indifference to mixed-race Irish. We are adamant not to devalue the sufferings of other children who were raised in institutions, but our racial sufferings are unique and specific to us. As explained, it is not possible for us to give specific details as this is too traumatic. Each time we bring this into the open, we open ourselves to the horrors of our past and we wish to minimise this trauma in this setting.
Ms Carole Brennan:
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's question is a good one, and we are often asked for comparisons. We are keen not to try to compare what we went through to what our peers went through. We do not believe that our pain is more or less than theirs, but it is specific. Racism in and of itself causes many psychological issues, which are far-reaching. That is all I would like to say on that.
Ms Evon Brennan:
One cannot see it. The difference is that if people are raised in an institution, they can leave if they are white and not be identified as being raised in an institution. Being mixed-race, one leaves knowing one has come from an institution but there is always an extra burden - it is physical, one can see it. That is a reminder. When we are asked "Who are you, where do you come from?" it throws us back into a past injury, which one cannot get over. It takes years of therapeutic work and some of us will never reach the point of being completely comfortable in our skins because of what happened to us.
Ms Carole Brennan:
This is a huge question. In our submission paper we have outlined some of the things we want for our members. The first thing is recognition. If a person's dog is killed, they must grieve for it, but before grieving they must acknowledge the dog has died. I am just using that as an analogy. It goes back to that question of years of internalisation of racism.
I want to share this with the committee. For me, admitting that I was targeted because of the colour of my skin is something that I refused to do for years. I did not want to say that the reason that nun or priest did that to me, or the reason that happened to me in the street or whatever, was the colour of my skin. It is too painful. If one asks anybody who has been subjected to racism, they will often want to deny that it was because of their colour. Some people will try to say everything that happens to them is because of their colour, but in our cases and particularly in my case, it was the other way around. I did not want to acknowledge that I was different.
One grows up thinking one is the same as everybody else and then one walks down the street with the nuns and people come up asking "Where are these children from?" I remember that question being put to me by Americans when I was very young. It was quite a traumatising experience. I was very rude to them. I told them to go away and stop annoying me because there was no reason for them to ask where I was from when it was obvious that I was Irish. I was very proud of being Irish at that age. I loved Irish history, I wanted to speak Gaelic and everything. What did that nun do? She whacked me across the head and sent me back to the dormitory to sit on my bed and think about my behaviour. I sat there, thinking "I just stood up for my Irishness and this is what I'm getting".
This is about acknowledgment. If someone had explained to us the simple fact "You have two heritages, you have an Irish mother and an African father", and explained very simply some of those issues, even today in a taxi or wherever I go in Ireland if someone asked me where I am from, it would be fine, because I would have a place to put that. If no one explains it, every time one hears that question one remembers those Americans and being smacked across the face because one stood up. That is key. We cannot blame anyone for asking us where we are from because we do not look Irish, to be honest. That is not the point. If one knows one's identity and knows who one is, it means that when the question is asked, one is able to deal with it. Today in the hotel someone asked us the question. We both looked at each other wondering what to say because that goes back to that original trauma when the question is asked, because that nun beat me and told me whatever. It sounds like a superficial thing to say, but it is actually very deep, this idea of identity. The experience of not knowing where one comes from or what one stands for or who one is, based on skin colour, because no one has explained anything, persists for the whole of one's life. I have spoken to other mixed-race Irish who have said that when that question is asked they want to lash out and hit someone. They think, "Why are you asking me that stupid question?"
Coming back to the question about what we want, we want recognition. That must be the first thing. We need the recognition and this is part of that process. We are here today. We want to thank the committee. We do not take this for granted. We do not think we are owed anything in that sense. We want to thank the committee for the opportunity to come and talk about this because we have not talked about it ourselves for years, we have just hid it. Rosemary mentioned the CERD. This is also part of it because racism is ongoing in Ireland.
Racism is ongoing in Ireland. We heard the story of a boy who was cyberbullied because, his mother believes, he was mixed race, and who committed suicide. We can raise awareness of what happened to us - for example, by coming here today. Our experience has the potential to have an impact on what is happening today in Ireland. I ask the Government to ratify whatever treaties are outstanding and to look at those issues so that people are protected if ongoing racism is taking place. People do not know where to go if they are experiencing racism. There is a perception that the police may not take it seriously because there is nothing in the legislation that protects people from racism. We were not protected. We would like to think that even though we are talking about our experiences in the past, they will have a wider impact.
Acknowledgement and recognition are needed from the Government. We are completely self-funding. We have been together for over two and a half years and we have received no funding at all. We want to continue tracing other mixed-race Irish. There are quite a lot of people out there who we know are isolated and have not come forward. We want to find a way of reaching out and getting access to those people who are isolated. One of our mixed-race friends was found dead in the River Liffey. She was 22 years of age and is now buried in an unmarked grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. She grew up with us. Her name was Pauline and she was a beautiful girl. She was unloved, unwanted and made to feel unwelcome and ended up dead in the Liffey. She is a symbol to us. We would ask the committee to investigate how we could potentially-----
I thank the witnesses for coming. My colleagues have already thanked them and acknowledged their contribution to us in a very eloquent way, recognising the witnesses' own eloquence. I asked a couple of them today where they came from, and in doing that, I understood what has been said about that question, because even in asking it of them I felt discomfort, as though I were asking for an acknowledgement that they were really Irish.
I acknowledge what has been said about that. Perhaps it is an internalisation of those attitudes towards people of mixed race that I acknowledge in myself. I also hear how the witnesses have personally worked to challenge their own internalisation of an identity as people who have been oppressed. As a public representative and as an individual, I recognise them as Irish and acknowledge the suffering that they have described. I hope they get justice.
My question is more practical. How did the witnesses meet and how did they get started? It would be good for us to hear about that; they have asked us to help support them in continuing to grow, but what are the origins of the organisation?
Ms Rosemary Adaser:
As Carole said, we met about two years ago at meetings of the Irish Women Survivors' Support Network. I remember the very first time I went to one of those meetings. I was scared because it was a survivor network for Irish women, and I felt Irish but was scared that I would get the inevitable sidelong glances and "What are you doing here?" attitude. On that occasion they were very nice to me, but what was exciting was that at the grand old age of 56 I met two other mixed-race Irish women, Evon and Carole. I was born and bred in Ireland and left in my twenties, but that occasion two years ago was the first time I had ever met a mixed-race Irish woman with my history. My history - nobody else's - mine. We came together and thought "Well, hold on." Evon and Carole were equally surprised. They had not heard about me and I am actually older than they are. Not by much, of course; let us just keep it in proportion. They had never met me either. We kept going to these survivors' meetings and we would have coffees, and it kept coming around to "Tell us about yourself and where you were." I was gobsmacked when I realised that they were over in Sligo. I mean, who goes to Sligo as far as I am concerned? But then we found out that we had people in Mayo and Drogheda.
On a more serious note, what was really important was that when we shared our stories, we realised there was a common thread. We realised that it did not really matter if I was in Kilkenny or somebody else was in Drogheda because the pattern of behaviour towards and treatment of us was so consistent. We decided then to move on to the next stage. We used word of mouth and contacted the people we knew, who contacted the people they knew. We held a couple of meetings in London and a couple in Dublin. The biggest issue we identified was actually our isolation. I alluded to the fact that I had not met anybody like me before. It was the isolation that was so important.
When we came to Dublin it was so moving because it was the first time the members who are sitting in the Visitors' Gallery had come together as a community. They too had never met each other and it was the first time we had sat around a table and looked at each other, and we felt a connection. There was no "Where do you come from?" question. I looked upon my sisters and brothers, they looked upon me, and we did not have to say an awful lot, actually. We carried the same pain - that was what really struck us. At that meeting we recounted stories - for example, of the nuns showing films of missionaries going to see the savages. We remembered being told, "That is what you are." It was not about raising money and the good work they were doing but, "Look at that - they are savages, and that is what you are." This kind of insult that we grew up with from age zero to the day we left Ireland was so common for all of us. The attitude was as if we did not exist for them.
A couple of things that we realise, as a new community, is that we have never been accepted by Irish society. We have never felt safe in Ireland. That is really important. We are not confident of the same protections in law as other Irish people. We do not have the same rights to health, wealth and social capital as other Irish people. The vast majority of us have not fulfilled our true potential. There is such a commonality in our experiences. They are all racist, and that is basically what we are talking about. We confirmed that this racism was endemic throughout all the institutions attended by our community. It was quite an extraordinary revelation to us that the same pattern of behaviour towards us as infants, children and adults ran right across Irish society, starting in the institutions. There was a clear pattern which could only be explained under the internationally acknowledged concept of institutionalised racism.
I welcome the delegation to the committee. I have not met the witnesses before. They have given a very harrowing account of their childhood and that of people of their generation who spent their childhood in institutions. It is a shameful chapter in Irish society which has come out in the open. People recognise and are conscious of that fact. The witnesses had a double difficulty because they suffered racial abuse as well as the other types of treatment that were meted out to orphan children.
I am concerned about at the level of racism today and I wonder what their experience is. Sometimes in my constituency I hear from parents with mixed-race children who say to me that their children have been abused in the street. There have been, from time to time, assaults on people of mixed race. I do not know if that is declining, but my own feeling is that it may be declining.
As I listened to the delegation I was reminded of something. I was a member of Dublin City Council in 1990 when the freedom of Dublin city was given to Nelson Mandela. It was also the year when the Irish football team did very well with a star player called Paul McGrath. People of mixed race in Ireland have excelled in sports, music, modelling and other careers. There is that side of things as well. I would like to know the following. Does the delegation, from their experience, feel they have more awareness of racism and that it is a despicable form of behaviour? Racism is mainly attributable to ignorance. Does the delegation think enough is being done to reduce racism and ensure that mixed-race Irish people are better integrated into Irish society?
Ms Evon Brennan:
I thank the Deputy. Combatting racism is not about highlighting a mixed-race person who is a footballer, a model or a famous musician, because that can be quite stereotyping. As Deputy Anne Ferris said, just because somebody is in the media or is successful does not mean we accept mixed-race Irish people into society. We do not need to be successful in the public view. Does it mean you can only be accepted if you are someone to be looked at or someone successful? What does success mean? It is not about being in the public domain; it is about being accepted for who you are whether you are a celebrity or not. Being successful and being in the media is not an acceptance of colour. I disagree with the perception that there is acceptance and integration if a person is seen to be in the public domain and is looked at. We have been brought up as the other - to be looked at and to be looked upon. Integration means that we accept people for who they are, regardless of what they do for a living.
I did not mean to stereotype, and I am sorry if Ms Brennan got that impression. I was saying that people like Paul McGrath are role models, particularly for young men and boys. They show that it is cool; it is proof that a person can be successful and that there are barriers that can be overcome.
Ms Carole Brennan:
The Deputy asked a very good question. Ms Brennan was highlighting from our perspective the importance of stereotyping. We have found, all our lives, that if one happened to have a different colour, particularly in Ireland, there were certain stereotypes that one would have fitted into. I take the Deputy's point about the importance of role models.
The Deputy asked whether there is racism in today's society. I can only go on certain experiences that people have shared with me, because I do not live in Ireland at the moment but in London. I have heard stories of Nigerian families who have been subjected to racism. I suspect that because the Irish Government has not ratified the treaty of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, there is no protection in law for somebody who is attacked and called names or attacked because of the colour of their skin. That is part of the problem that we see. In the UK, if somebody calls me a name, incites hatred or whatever because of my race or colour, I can go to the police and the matter will be taken seriously.
Ms Carole Brennan:
A taxi driver recently told me a story about something that happened to him. He said he was not going to go to the police because they were not going to take it seriously as there are no laws. Deputy Seán Kenny is right, and I agree with him that Irish society has become more open. I am amazed at how cosmopolitan and wonderful Dublin city is. It is a beautiful city and it is wonderful to see so many different races. I am concerned and curious about how, if someone is subjected to racism, the matter would be dealt with in law.
Ms Carole Brennan:
I am concerned about how the matter would be dealt with from the point of view of the police and how seriously it would be taken.
Part of the reason we are here today is to raise some of these issues. Deputy Seán Kenny was right to highlight positive examples such as Paul McGrath and role models who are mixed-race. For us, who grew up in institutional care, we were nobodies and we did not have anything to latch onto. We were never going to be famous or whatever, but who knows. Let us look at our colleagues seated in the gallery. It is the largest group of mixed-race Irish people I have seen in one place and it is in the Dáil. If we were not here today, the committee would not know these people existed. We were brought up in institutional care. Therefore, we were at a disadvantage because of the way we were brought up and the fact that our identity was kind of trashed. We lacked an identity.
The Deputy's question on racism is difficult to answer because one wants to be positive and say that Ireland has moved on. I believe it probably has, but for us, as mixed-race Irish, it probably has not, because we are still left with the legacy. That is the only way I can answer the question.
Ms Evon Brennan:
We need to have a discussion that reveals the truth and bares the reality of what happened, and we must not be frightened to say "This has happened." The way forward is to return to a story that is horrific. The way forward is not to highlight success and say "Look how well we are doing." It is to go back, be open, have discussions and say, "This happened. This is the effect of that and these are the effects of long-term racism." That is how we move forward.
I thank the group for coming today. I met them before the summer and I found it very interesting to be reminded today of their experiences. It was quite a levelling experience.
Can the witnesses expand a little on the supports that are available?
Can the delegation expand on that? What NGOs or support groups have made themselves available to it? I ask it to share its experiences in that regard.
Ms Carole Brennan:
The organisation Caranua, of which I am sure the Deputy is aware, was established to support survivors in general and benefits our community and other survivors. I have an MSc in psychology and health and run a consultancy which specialises in coaching on trauma and empowering people to be able to move on with their lives. This is something about which I am very passionate. When doing advocacy work I found there is a major lack of support, in particular for mixed race Irish-----
Ms Carole Brennan:
In some respects, there is none. Some of my work involves trying to identify some of the gaps and get funding and whatever else I need to be able to provide support. The difficulty in terms of NGOs or whatever is the lack of awareness of what it is to be mixed race Irish. There are people who are isolated and have complex needs. I support a number of people who are mixed race Irish, some of whom are in care homes, have severe mental health problems and may be suicidal. I work with people in care homes in the UK who are mixed race Irish and have no support mechanisms. It is a major issue. I suspect in Ireland it is the same, if not worse.
Part of the work we would like to do is examine ways in which we could identify people with complex needs who happen to be mixed race Irish and how we continue to support that community through empowerment and moving forward. The area requires a level of specialisation. Existing NGOs may not be suitable. After we left Ireland we pulled ourselves up and went on to educate ourselves. We have achieved things in our lives, through our work and grit, and we are using that experience to help others who may not have the fortune to be able to move forward. That is one of the things we want to do. We are starting to do it, but a lot more needs to be done. As I said, identifying and tracing some of those who are isolated and have complex needs are key issues. Does that answer the Deputy's question?
Ms Evon Brennan:
As a mixed race Irish group, we are the ones who know about our issues. We are the ones with first-hand experience, and therefore are best placed to provide support. There are different psychological levels, and we are the people best placed to identify with that. We are doing that work under our own steam and it is very difficult because each time we attend meetings, we find we need time to rest because they evoke the past. The support we and our members need is not in place. We do not know how we will feel when we leave here. We do not know the impact this meeting will have on our mixed race community because we have never talked about the issue at this level before. It is all new. The support system is nil and we need support so that we can live and manage.
I note from the submissions the delegation made a number of requests concerning support for travel costs, a specialist tracing service, appropriate reparation to enable the community to seek relief from poverty and so on. Reference was made to post-traumatic slave syndrome. I could not believe the phrase when I read it. Would the delegation like to comment on that? Maybe it could inform the committee about what it is and how-----
Ms Rosemary Adaser:
I thank the Chairman. We compared and analysed all of our symptoms and conducted an impact statement. We tried to articulate a way to describe how we felt on a day-to-day basis. As Ms Brennan said, my master's degree is in social policy and politics. I am always tuned into political concepts. We have learned a lot about race from the UK and, more importantly, from America. It is the obvious place to learn from in terms of the African-American experience. One thinks that because we come from Ireland the experience is not that similar, but it is remarkably similar because the common denominator is racism.
In 2005 Dr. Joy DeGruy published a book on post-traumatic slavery syndrome. The symptoms of that mirrored how we felt. One symptom is low self worth. I spoke briefly about what that means. It concerns how we see ourselves internally. Self esteem is how one thinks other people see one externally. Other symptoms include helplessness, rage and the expectation one will never amount to anything. I listened to Dr. DeGruy and thought, "My Goodness. That is us." It was that simple. It is a framework which adequately explained the symptoms which we as a community endured on a daily basis. That is why we referred to our particular trauma as post-traumatic slave syndrome, and not post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of us have other disorders such as depression, anxiety and hyper vigilance, but there is another element which is entirely attributable to racism.
Would Deputy Ferris be interested in acting as a liaison between the group and the committee? Many issues need to be progressed. Perhaps if she was willing and able to act as a liaison she could bring suggestions to us which we could pass on to Government, Ministers and other agencies. Would that be appropriate?
The delegation has a very strong advocate. Could we work on that basis? We may take some issues one at a time and work incrementally to move on, heighten awareness and meet some requests, including a possible meeting with the Minister and people like that. I must admit I was not aware of any of this until it was brought to my attention.
Today has been an education for all of us.
I hope members of the media are taking note as well. I note the language used by the delegates is not a language of blame. They are looking forward to the future.
I thank the Chairman for his interjection. The Chairman mentioned the media and I do hope the media which cover the committee proceedings in Leinster House are picking up on this debate. The delegates are the voice now for so many people. There may not be that many people in their organisation, but there are other people out there. They are the voice for those people. I urge them to try and bring it further. I know how difficult and upsetting it is, but I urge them to seek the opportunity perhaps to take this to the national airwaves, on television and so forth. It is a little bit like the Philomena Lee story. It was seeing the human angle that changed people's hearts and got through to so many people. However, I do know how difficult it is.
Ms Carole Brennan:
It is an individual decision whether someone wants to do that or not. One issue is the nuns kept very bad records. The names were often misspelt. This feeds into the question about research. It would be interesting, as part of the research, to find out how many people did go on to find their heritage fathers. I know we are going to speak further on a one-to-one basis. However, there is this idea that we would return to some of our fathers' countries, that most of us have completely denied. I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea that my father happened to be from Ghana. Would I want to go there? No. However, a part of the healing process - I do want to emphasise that word - is to realise this is not about blame.
Ms Evon Brennan:
We ask that our unique stories be told by us in our own words. We ask that our stories and personal injuries are not used for their benefit by solicitors and the media and are not sensationalised for radio and television. We ask that our stories be reported with the utmost respect for our community.
There is another one with "MIXED RACE IRISH SUBMISSION TO THE OIREACHTAS JOINT COMMITTEE" and under "TOPIC" is written "The inequality in treatment based on race whilst under the care of Irish State Institutions". That is also marked private.
I think we are finished. We hope to have hearings in the new year on racism, culturalism and integration. We have had a lot of submissions on that topic. We have been extraordinarily busy. We have had 21 reports so far in the last number of years in this committee but this is one that is on the agenda. Hopefully, early in the new year, we will have hearings on that and do a report on it. We invite you to keep an eye on that and we may include some of your work here on that as well.
I thank the delegates very much for being here today and for their engagement with the committee members on this topic. We have had a lot of groups here in the last number of years. This has been one of the most impressive we have had. I am really impressed, taken and moved by what I have heard and read.
We will bring this discussion, if colleagues are in agreement, to the attention of the Minister and forward the transcripts and so on also. Thank you very much for being here today. We will now go into private session for a few minutes to discuss some housekeeping matters. Hopefully we will not be too long.