Racism is a global issue that affects every human being in every culture, country, and community. It is not confined to any one ethnic or social group. Racism is one of the most damaging and dangerous issues facing the world today, fuelling hatred and anger on a local and global scale.

What is racism?

The United Nations defines racism as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.

Racism is generally due to a person’s (or people’s) fear, suspicion and ignorance of another person or group that look different, speak with a foreign language or accent, or have a different culture or lifestyle to themselves (i.e. race, gender, cultural, ethnic, economic, political or religious background). A person is not born with prejudices; they are learned.

 An photo of an old sign: "Help wanted. No Irish need apply". Let’s make Racism (like this sign) a thing of the past! Racism takes many different forms:

  • Teasing
  • Bullying
  • Name calling
  • Physical & Psychological Abuse
  • Social Exclusion
  • Loss of Employment Opportunities

 Racism is considered to exist on three different levels:

  • Individual (Personal bias or prejudice against a social or ethnic group)
  • Institutional (Working practices of organisations that disadvantage certain groups within society)
  • Cultural (Racism on a social level against a particular race or ethnic group)

Impacts of racism

Racial and ethnic intolerance has lead to extreme violence and death throughout history. Some of the greatest racially motivated atrocities in the last century include:

  • Europe (1939-45): An estimated 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust in World War Two.
  • Bosnia (1992-95): It is estimated that over 100,000 Bosnians died in the civil war between the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Serbs.
  • Rwanda (1994): It is estimated that over 800,000 Tutsi were massacred by members of the Hutus tribe is 100 days.

Am I a racist?

Most Irish people would not like to think of themselves as being a racist. However, this is not always the case. The following list consists of different ethnic and social groups that are living within Irish society. As you read through them please note your initial impressions and/or feelings related to each group.

  • Traveller
  • Asylum Seeker
  • Refugee
  • Migrant Workers

Did you experience feelings of prejudice, anger or fear? If you did, then you could be classified as a racist or as being intolerant of different groups within your community. If you had an initial negative perception of any of the groups, you need to examine the reasons why these negative feelings exist, and, what you need to do to overcome these feelings in a positive manner.

Racism is man’s greatest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason” - Abraham J. Heschel

Racism in Ireland

Irish society has changed significantly over the last 20 years. Due to the substantial growth of the “Celtic Tiger” economy, Ireland experienced an unprecedented level of immigration, and is now a multi-cultural state. However, with the rapid increase of immigrants now living in the country, Ireland has seen an increase in racial tension and racially motivated crime and violence.

A lot of negative anti-migrant and anti-asylum seeker sentiment was due to the perception that millions of euro of Irish taxpayers money was being “wasted” on migrants and asylum seekers coming into the country looking for hand outs and abusing the Irish system for all it was worth. This was simply not true.

A sense of irony cannot be lost when considering the rapid increase in racial discrimination in Ireland. Before the economic boom in Ireland in the late 20th century, Ireland was an emigrant state, with hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens emigrating to find a better life abroad. The Irish were subjected to racial prejudice, which condemned many to a life of hardship and poverty.

Members of the Travelling Community were traditionally the main social group that were victimised and racially segregated in Irish society.

The Travelling Community is still not recognised as an “ethnic” group within Irish Society despite the group sharing common cultural traits (i.e. customs, language, traditions, unique language) that would classify them as an ethnic minority in Europe.

Average life expectancy is lower and infant mortality rates are significantly higher within the Traveller community compared to the national average.

Each year, Childline (Ireland) receives over 500 calls from children stating that they are victims of Racist Bullying, with a further 50 calls related to other issues involving racism.

The Irish Government’s National Action Plan Against Racism was designed to encourage cultural diversity in Ireland and to try to eliminate racial discrimination and tension.

Full integration of migrants and Travellers into Irish society is the key element to prevent racial segregation escalating in Irish society. The key to successful integration is the mutual involvement of Irish society and the traveller/migrant communities in building a better future together.

I hate racial discrimination most intensely and all its manifestations. I have fought all my life; I fight now, and will do so until the end of my days” - Nelson Mandela

What can I do to stop racism?

  • At home: Responsible parenting- teach children to value all groups within society and promote openness and acceptance.
  • In the workplace: Promote equality, mutual respect and solidarity amongst all people within the workplace.
  • In the community: Raise awareness of anti-racist causes within the community. Join a solidarity group working with immigrants in this country or an intercultural group in your community. Promote inclusiveness in local sporting and social events.
  • Overcome fear and bullying: If a family member or friend is passing racist remarks, highlight the issue. If a co-worker is bullying or insulting someone about their nationality, accent, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, report that person to management and encourage other co-workers to do the same.
  • At School: Emphasising multi-racial awareness and acceptance within the education system is essential. Children in their early formative years must be taught about social integration and acceptance of all different ethnic groups. Irish schools (both urban and rural) are now more racially diverse, with children of different ethnic backgrounds more common now than in the past. It is up to the education system to promote intercultural dialogue within the classroom and educate children (and parents) to respect the cultures and diversity of all their classmates.

Useful Websites

Sport Against Racism Ireland - SARI supports and promotes cultural integration and social inclusion through sport. SARI is a not for profit organisation with Charitable Status that was set up in July 1997 as a direct response to the growth of racist attacks from a small but vocal section of people in Ireland.

National Youth Development Education Programe is the website of the Development Education Programme of
the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), where you will find all
you need to know about development education in the youth work sector.
The site explains major issues in development education, has a number
of resource and activity packs about these issues that you can download
or borrow and up to date information about activities and events of

The Irish Refugee Council - IRC is an independent non-governmental
organisation advocating on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees.

Show Racism the Red Card - harnessing sport to educate people about racism.

National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism - the NCCRI is an independent expert body that seeks to provide advice and to develop initiatives to combat racism and to work towards a more inclusive, intercultural society in Ireland. Unfortunately their funding was cut at the end of 2008, however the website hosts a number of documents that may be of interest.

Integrating Ireland - an independent network of community and voluntary groups working in mutual solidarity to promote and realise the human rights, equality and full integration in Irish society of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland - information on immigrants' rights in the areas of immigration law, employment, accommodation, social welfare, health care, education, and equality legislation.

Nasc - an Irish Immigrant Support Centre is a non-Governmental organisation that seeks to respond to the needs of immigrants in the area of Cork, Ireland.