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Council of Europe shock at halting site conditions
Pic: RollingNews.ie

15 Jul 2019 / justice Print

Council of Europe shock at halting-site conditions

The Council of Europe’s Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published a new report on Ireland, seeking changes in the law on incitement to hatred and action against local authorities that fail to provide adequate Traveller accommodation.

ECRI is a monitoring body that sends missions to each of the 47 states in the Council of Europe every five years to report on levels of racism and the treatment of migrants, refugees and minority groups and, more recently, the LGBTI community.

ECRI draws its standards from the European Convention on Human Rights and the decisions by the European Court of Human Rights. This is its fifth report on Ireland.

The report praises some developments since its last visit, such as the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority, the introduction of same-sex marriage, and legal recognition of transgender persons.

However, it also expresses concern about the level of racist abuse and discrimination reported to the ECRI team, especially abuse on social media, and records the team’s shock at the conditions they found in a Traveller halting side they visited.

Ineffective legislation

The report says that the 30-year old Incitement to Hatred Act is ineffective and calls for much stronger legislation to be enacted as a matter of urgency.

It also calls for racist or hate-filled motivation to be treated as an aggravating factor in sentencing for other crimes, and for the establishment of independent mechanisms for reporting hate crime, as members of minority groups are often reluctant to complain to the police.

The report seeks urgent action over the failure of local authorities to provide adequate and appropriate accommodation for Travellers.

It calls for sanctions against councils that do not take up Government grants for providing Traveller accommodation, or for the Government itself to take over responsibility for providing Traveller accommodation.

Reporting requirement

ECRI will require the Government to report back in two years’ time, describing what action it has taken on these two ‘priority’ recommendations.

Other recommendations in the ECRI report call for a ban on ethnic profiling by police, and for efforts to recruit many more members of minority groups to An Garda Síochána to make it a more diverse organisation and to gain more trust from minority communities.

The report welcomes the introduction of a single procedure for dealing with asylum and protection applications, but notes that there are still unacceptable delays in hearing and deciding on applications.

This, in turn, results in families, and especially children, having to spend long periods in unsatisfactory direct-provision accommodation.

Housing crisis impact

The report acknowledges the difficulties caused by the present housing crisis, which is forcing people who have refugee status to remain in direct provision – but the report calls for improvements that have been made to the Mosney direct provision centre to be carried out in all the other centres as well.

The ECRI team also recommends an end to the situation where discrimination claims against licensed premises are heard in the District Court rather than the Workplace Relations Commission (with its more informal procedure) where other discrimination claims are heard – a distinction that is widely seen as directed against Travellers.

It suggests, also, that legal aid should be made available for discrimination cases.

Pressure mounting

The Council of Europe also published a second report on Ireland within days of the ECRI report. The second report was produced by a committee set up under the European Framework Convention on National Minorities and focuses very specifically on the position of Travellers.

Its recommendations are very similar to those in the ECRI report, including on the issue of hate-speech legislation and Traveller accommodation.

Legal powers

And very recently the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has announced that it will, for the first time, use its legal powers to require all local authorities in the State to report on what they are doing to provide Traveller accommodation in their areas.

It seems that pressure is mounting for action on Traveller accommodation and hate-speech legislation.

These issues, and the others raised in the ECRI and Framework Convention reports, are very likely to come up again when the Government faces furthering questioning about its record by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at a hearing in Geneva in November.

Michael Farrell is the Irish member of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance.

Michael Farrell
Michael Farrell
Michael Farrell is the Irish member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.