Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Leaders' Questions (Resumed).
Bertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the report, which was conducted as part of a survey involving 12 EU member states to assess the prevalence of racism and discrimination, as experienced by people themselves. The main benefit of the report is that one is getting a view from the street. While there were many positive aspects to the report, I will ignore them and examine the two difficulties. A total of 35% of migrants surveyed in Ireland reported harassment in public places or on public transport, which is a common form of discrimination. That is a high percentage, as it is one third of all those who have entered the country. The second issue that is worrying is that, among those entitled to work, insults or other forms of harassment at work were the second highest form of discrimination at 32% of those surveyed, which is also a high percentage. While the report highlighted many good aspects for eastern Europeans, the bad news is that black Africans experience the most discrimination and they are targeted by people, according to the figures. Asylum seekers are more likely to report discrimination than work permit holders.
Deputy Rabbitte asked about the national action plan against racism. The sum of €1 million covers administration, as resources underpinning the plan are provided by a large number of Departments, including the Department of Education and Science, which as the Deputy stated, continually puts in a large amount of resources. He correctly highlighted the language issue. However, the five objectives of the national action plan are effective protection and redress against racism, economic inclusion and equality of opportunity, accommodating diversity in service provision, recognition and awareness of diversity and full participation in Irish society. We have been working on two planks for a number of years. Society generally, comprising our own population and immigrants or new Irish, who amount to 10% of our workforce, must look on the system of people entering the country to be fair and the applications system to be credible and, when they become part of our society, they should be treated equally. Surveys in other countries with long-term immigration problems highlighted that these two issues had to be addressed. How they are integrated into the system copperfastens that.
Education is a challenge because many primary schools cater for several dozen nationalities. A total of 800 teachers have been teaching English to immigrants, which is a significant number, considering only a handful did so up to a few years ago. An additional 500 teachers will be appointed to work on curricula in a variety of languages. The Minister has introduced new schemes and will bring in others to make it easier to get redress when a number of nationalities are catered for in a school.
The national action plan was launched at the beginning of last year. Two Bills are being prepared by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as a result of a number of initiatives, to deal with migrant workers, which I hope will deal with the second most serious issue, discrimination in the workplace. The provision last year for asylum and immigration issues was €140 million, which is significant, while €5 million will be spent on integration issues at the outset. Across asylum, immigration, education and the workforce, substantial resources are being put in. All the time, Departments are looking at and listening to frontline agencies to see what more we must do.
I agree with Deputy Rabbitte, every report I have seen and every presentation I have attended on this matter stated that the problems are not with the first generation, but the second generation. That is a cause of concern and we have a chance to try to address it during a short period of time. Whether it is the Jewish or Muslim faith or another nationality, I have endeavoured to show it due regard and have encouraged my Ministers to do so.
There is an issue of respect for our laws that we must work through. To be frank, we are talking about recent crime issues, and there must be a stick and carrot element in this. I am sure the Deputy has seen in his constituency that the racist attacks on Irish citizens in general and women in particular has increased rapidly. I have plainly told the representative organisations, most of which happen to be based in Dublin-Central, not because it is my constituency but because it is the centre of the city, that they have a responsibility to get their communities to adhere to the law. We have a job to do and we must work closely with the organisations to ensure that practices on our side are stopped and that our culture is respected.