The election is over - what now for minorities?
2016-03-14 16:13:05 -

Ronit Lentin


Now that the General Election is behind us, it is evident that Irish voters have expressed their disenchantment with the Fine Gael/Labour coalition and their preference for left-wing, Sinn Féin and independent candidates. The composition and length of service of the next Government is as yet unclear, but it is obvious that little attention has been paid by the various parties to racism, anti-racism, migrants, direct provision or deportations and that this, as demanded by the elections manifesto of the migrant-led coalition, must change.

A quick survey of party manifestos conducted before the elections by the European Network Against Racism (Enar) Ireland revealed that while the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) and People Before Profit (PBP) union expressed opposition to all forms of racism including against Travellers, migrants and Muslims, other parties made no reference to racism, beyond FG’s usual platitudes about integration and about renewing the derisory National Plan Against Racism.

Only Sinn Féin mentioned hate crime legislation in relation to racism, and only the AAA expressed explicit opposition to “State racism and all deportations and racist immigration laws and controls”. No other party committed to ending deportations, amazing in view of the fact that, according to the State immigration service, the number of deportations and removals rose by more than 50 per cent in 2015, up from 2,360 in 2014 to 3,790 last year.

However, it was encouraging that several parties (Sinn Féin, the Greens, AAA-PBP and the Social Democrats) committed to ending the disgrace of direct provision, the system incarcerating asylum seekers for up to 10 years in unfit-for-purpose, for-profit hostels that make fortunes for their owners at the expense of asylum-seekers’ wasted lives and at a huge cost to Irish tax payers.

The commitment by the Labour Party to “formal recognition of the Travelling Community as a group in Irish society with a unique culture, heritage and ethnic identity” was risible in view of their Minister for State at the Department of Justice, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, absenting himself from the Dáil vote on Traveller ethnicity. 

Sinn Féin, on the other hand, went beyond other parties’ platitudes in relation to Travellers and Roma in committing to “recognise the ethnicity status of the Travelling community, including their right to Traveller specific accommodation”. Likewise, the Greens and AAA-PBP committed to recognising Travellers as an ethnic group, a status denied them for years by successive Governments.

Interestingly, the left parties said nothing about voting rights for migrants, though both Labour and Sinn Féin committed to greater political inclusion. Though Sinn Féin said it would ensure that the Senead becomes “a fully inclusive institution”, it demanded “direct elections by all Irish citizens” (what about voting rights to residents who do not yet have citizenship?) and “representation of marginalised minority groups within Irish society”. This does not entail giving people from migrant and minority ethnic groups full political representation, without which they cannot progress their interests.

While the Enar survey is useful in mapping the commitment (or lack thereof) by political parties to anti-racism and just immigration and asylum policies, it is far from enough. The electorate has told politicians that capitalism and the unjust distribution of wealth are no longer acceptable.

Let us make sure that whoever makes up the next Government listens to the concerns of migrants and ethnic minorities, ensuring just representation and fair immigration policies, clear anti-racism measures and social policies that would, as promised in the 1916 proclamation, “cherish all the children of the nation equally”.


Ronit Lentin is a retired associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears regularly in Metro Éireann

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