Dáil debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

2:30 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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This is Anti-Racist Workplace Week and it is appropriate that the Dáil should mark that. It coincides with the publication of the first major survey, conducted by the ESRI, on the incidence of racism in our society. The survey concludes that the incidence of racism in Ireland is lower than in other European countries, particularly in southern Europe, but the ESRI says there is no reason to be complacent as a result. The figures set out in the survey are quite serious. More than one in three immigrants experiences harassment, more than 20% experience job discrimination, a similar percentage experiences being passed over for promotion and others are denied access to credit and loan finance. The graph is very telling in terms of casual discrimination against immigrants, for example, in shops and restaurants and so on.

The Government published its report, Planning for Diversity — The National Action Plan Against Racism 2005-2008, last year. I do not have a serious quibble with the philosophy or goals set out in the report, except that underpinning it with only €1 million means the good sentiments in the report cannot be taken at face value, when one considers the scale of discrimination exposed in the ESRI report and that this is our first generation of immigrants. We do not yet have second generation immigrants and the ESRI warns to us to beware as a result.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is concluded.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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In particular, can I ask the Taoiseach about the recommendations in the national consultative committee report, the ESRI report or his own report, where he refers to enhancing the ability of the Garda to combat racist crime? What are the results in that regard? With regard to new recruits, is the intake of non-nationals into the Garda statistically significant? What does the Government propose to do about the national consultative committee recommendation that it should review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989?

I refer to the ESRI's conclusion that a fundamental barrier to integration is language and that good provision of language training facilities is essential.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is concluded.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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In conclusion, the Taoiseach will be aware from the Minister for Education and Science who is sitting beside him that, for example, no matter how many non-national children are in a school, the resource teacher-pupil ratio is 1:14 and a cap of two additional teachers or 28 children is in place. After that the school must make an arbitrary case in the hope it might obtain more specialist teaching back up. I was in a school recently in my constituency with 180 non-national children.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to give way to the Taoiseach.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The additional support for the school is capped at three teachers. Is that not inadequate? Can I ask the Taoiseach——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is two and a half minutes over his time. I ask him to allow the Taoiseach to respond.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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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.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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If the Taoiseach states that 800 teachers are involved in this area, I accept his word, but there is one teacher for every 14 children and two teachers for every 28 pupils, but no more thereafter unless a special case is made. Many schools in different parts of the country, particularly this city, have immensely more than 28 children. In terms of workplace harassment and language training, particularly in English, does the Taoiseach see a role for FÁS? If there is low unemployment, one would have thought that the resources of FÁS would be redirected to play a role in this regard.

Regarding the ESRI report, while the response in respect of the Garda is reasonably positive in general, the response as it relates to immigrants interacting with the immigration service is of concern. Those of us whose job it is to occasionally and not infrequently mediate with the immigration service find it difficult, to put it at its mildest, to get speedy responses or to be assured that the characteristics of different cases are weighed up.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time has concluded.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The fact that immigrants are denied access to credit is a major issue. In a society that is based on the availability of credit, when normal credit institutions do not make credit available to immigrants, that invites major problems. Are there plans to devise a scheme, for example, in conjunction with the credit union movement that might address that issue?

Given the incidents to which the Taoiseach referred and those experienced in other parts of the country, is it not obvious that there is a necessity for the State to be more proactive if only in terms of public advertising?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Education and Science informs me that the 800 teachers are involved solely in language training and have no other duties. In schools of under 14 pupils, a grant will be given towards obtaining the relevant services.

I will raise the issue of FÁS with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, but I understand from the FÁS director general that there has been a large take-up of FÁS courses by immigrants. I am not sure about the language training element, but I will check that. There is a large take-up of adult literacy and language classes by immigrants throughout the country, particularly in the greater Dublin area.

On the credit issue, I am unaware of any scheme with the credit unions, but I will ask for the matter to be checked.

On the immigration service, we approved the establishment of the Irish naturalisation and immigration service last year and appointed a director general last summer. That service operates as a one-stop shop for immigration purposes. It has an immigration integration unit to promote and co-ordinate social and organisational measures across a spectrum of Departments, which work in a group to co-ordinate Government actions in these areas for the acceptance of lawful immigrants into Irish economic and cultural life.

I am not aware of the exact number of gardaí in question, but the Garda has a policy of positive discrimination in terms of accepting a number of recruits from the immigrant population so that the Garda Síochána will comprise immigrants who can deal with people in their communities who have difficulties or get into trouble with the law.

The main effort must be in integration, but there are problems. The last anti-racism advertising campaign was held last year that featured a number of high profile Irish personalities in sport and the arts to try to encourage people to be pro-immigration.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach's time has concluded.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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From briefings with senior gardaí, I know that they have been working very closely with a number of different groups to try to deal with some of the criminal matters that are creeping into society via immigrants. There are difficulties in this regard, but the Garda is trying to resource the issue, which has become a feature during the past year or so.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach will recall that I addressed the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings with him last week and that he signalled that the MacEntee investigation would be the next critical report in the series of reports into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of May 1974 and other such attacks carried out by Unionist assassins in collusion with British forces.

Is the Taoiseach aware that since that opportunity last week, an independent international panel on collusion in sectarian killings published a substantive report that addresses more than 70 deaths attributable to those who planned and carried out their actions from the infamous Mitchell farm at Glenanne in County Armagh, which was a militant Unionist base? Is the Taoiseach aware that in 24 of the 25 specific attacks examined by this international independent panel, there is significant and credible evidence, in its opinion, of involvement by police and military agents both directly and in collusion with loyalist extremists? Is the Taoiseach aware that the panel also found that at least some police superiors in the North of Ireland knew of an expressed approval of instances of this conduct and that senior officials in London had information sufficient to put them on notice of the serious risk of this conduct?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is concluded.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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This is the first truly international and impartial examination of collusion from a human rights law perspective and represents an expansion of the work already carried out by Mr. Justice Hamilton and Mr. Justice Barron, which we already commended in the House this afternoon. Does the Taoiseach agree with the conclusion of this report that there is a strong case for the British Government to answer and that it must fully co-operate in a properly constituted international inquiry not only into specific cases, but into the climate and culture that gave rise to the collusion that was manifest throughout those years?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is concluded.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I will conclude. Will the Taoiseach press for such an international inquiry to be established and will he use his position of influence with the British Prime Minister to ensure there is British Government acceptance of, and co-operation with, the establishment of such an inquiry? Will he take a lead role in ensuring this comes about so we do not continue to build a mound of report upon report——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to give way.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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——and can bring finality to the issue not only for survivors and the bereaved, but for those who wish to see the full truth about this series of attacks established?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The report of the independent international panel on alleged collusion in sectarian killings in Northern Ireland was launched in Belfast and Dublin yesterday. The panel met with officials after the launch to brief them on the contents of the report and the panel's findings and recommendations. We are up to date with the issue and are pursuing it.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been issued with a copy of the detailed report and officials are studying any new detail that it might contain. The report draws heavily on what we discussed earlier, namely, the work done by Mr. Justice Henry Barron, and much of the panel's inquiries mirrors his investigation. I assume it referred to his document because, from what I saw of the report, it draws on the work he did. It also highlights the good work done by this House and the relevant sub-committee.

It is well recorded that concerns about collusion were a persistent issue for the Government during the Troubles. Unfortunately, we may never achieve full clarity on what happened but for the past six years I have been pressing the British Government on the issue. At Weston Park, over five and a half years ago, we obtained agreement on the establishment of an international examination of these issues by Mr. Justice Peter Cory, a very eminent member of the Canadian Supreme Court and internationally acclaimed by members of the world's Judiciary long before he was involved in this issue. He has put his report into the public domain so all these things have a consistent thread. Regarding the inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, we have argued very strongly internationally — in the United States, Australia, Canada and the European Union — that the inquiry be conducted in the comprehensive manner recommended by Mr. Justice Peter Cory. That approach is replicated in many other cases, although not in every single one. Instead, we decided to focus our efforts on certain cases.

The Pat Finucane Centre commissioned Professor Douglass Cassel to establish an independent panel of experts to consider allegations of loyalist collusion in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Among the incidents they investigated were the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan and others, including the Miami Showband massacre. That report found that senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were aware and approved of collusion while officials in London had enough information to intervene. That is all on the record. The report calls on the British Government to appoint an independent inquiry to examine how high the collusion went in the chain of command. The report also states the panel received allegations of alleged failure on the part of gardaí and the Irish authorities to properly co-operate with law enforcement in cases of violence against loyalists in Northern Ireland and it has signalled that it intends to raise this matter with the Irish Government. Officials have held a meeting with the panel on these issues today.

We will pursue these issues and keep up the campaign to persuade the British Government. I am sure Deputy Ó Caoláin will appreciate, from what I have said, that we have had difficulty obtaining co-operation from the British Government to the fullest extent.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Taoiseach not agree that we no longer have mounting evidence but a mountain of evidence of the extent of the collusion that took place? Does he not agree that the report now presented, which covers 74 murders, including the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, amounts to a further statement of the need for a full international public inquiry? Will the Taoiseach now act? The responsibility for action is primarily his, specifically on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings but also on the other points of investigation by both Mr. Justice Hamilton and Mr. Justice Barron.

This further report, by an independent international panel, is further evidence and must spur action on the Taoiseach's part. It cannot be left to Justice for the Forgotten to be a lone voice on this matter. It is tragic that such an important issue, involving the single greatest loss of life throughout the Troubles, has not interested even one member of the media to stay for this, the third leader's question this afternoon.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is an absolute disgrace on the part of every one of them. They all left at the very point the question was made known to this Chamber.

Will the Taoiseach take the critical step of establishing such an inquiry? Will he also establish an inquiry, separate from the one critically focusing on who was responsible for the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, into why, as he mentioned earlier this afternoon, gardaí closed the files on the investigation into the bombings three months after that tragedy was visited on this city and my home town back in May 1974? Are there not questions to be answered in that regard? Will he take the appropriate steps to establish the full facts on that aspect of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings not only for the victims, the bereaved and the survivors, but for all who want to see truth and justice prevail on that atrocity?

5:00 pm

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have painstakingly followed all these issues for the past number of years. We now have four comprehensive reports, including mainly new information that was not in the public domain when we started this work at the end of 1999. All those reports contain recommendations and work on them is being done, as it will continue to be. We have pressed the recommendations of Mr. Justice Cory and will continue to do so. In terms of the Finucane family's case, we have supported and called for a fully sworn inquiry under an Act that will allow full investigation. We have co-operated with all the human rights groups on these issues.

Deputy Ó Caoláin knows that it would get us nowhere quickly to set up an omnibus inquiry, involving people outside this State, without the involvement of the British Government, the NIO or British security. However, we will continue this painstaking work and the work of Mr. Patrick MacEntee SC is part of the process. We continue, internationally and with the British Government, to press for progress on the issues for the sake of families, relatives and victims. We will continue to do that to the best of our ability.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I believe the Taoiseach will make progress if he establishes an inquiry.