Fewer of the people who reported racist crimes to the Irish Network Against Racism also went to An Garda Síochána about them in 2021, a new report from the alliance of anti-racism non-profits says.
In 2020, 43 percent of the people who told INAR about racist crimes via its website went to the guards. Last year, that figure fell to 25 percent.
“Those who … reported expressed extremely low levels of satisfaction,” the report says.
The new report looks at the accounts people submitted of racist incidents in Ireland in 2021, including criminal offences, hate speech, and discrimination.
Chinese, South Asian and Other Asian groups were most targeted in racist crimes in 2021, the report suggests, attributing that pattern to Covid-related abuse.
Meanwhile, Black people bore the brunt of discrimination in 2021, according to the reports INAR received.
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said that it consistently encourages victims of any crime, including those that “may be perceived to be racially/or hate motivated” to come forward and report it.
Siphiwe Moyo, one of the study’s peer-reviewers, says that people can decide against that because of worries around the impact on their immigration statuses and citizenship applications or lack of trust in the Gardaí based on past experiences.
“Sometimes you’re an immigrant, and you decide to keep quiet, that in the end, I’m going to get my citizenship and move on,” she said. “It’s a matter of moving on, but the issue stays.”
Confidence in Gardaí
The report looks at the 404 accounts submitted to INAR in 2021, with 154 concerning criminal offences, 113 about hate speech, 90 about discrimination and 31 descriptions of other racist incidents. (The other 16 couldn’t be easily classified, they said.)
Stories from the reports submitted by victims highlight Garda inaction and the sinking levels of trust that deter some people from reporting.
A mother said that her six-year-old girl was dragged in a noose by a neighbour’s adolescent son. The same boy attacked the family with rocks months after. “Gardaí have failed to investigate,” it says.
A Black man was called a racist slur and attacked by two people. One of them threatened to break his skull, it says.
“He escaped after a passer-by intervened. The passer-by reported it to Gardaí, the City Council and Community Housing Liaison Officer, but no response was received,” the report says.
A woman had said that while shopping in a supermarket a stranger asked about her background and sexually assaulted her. “She did not report to Gardaí, as she does not trust them since George Nkencho’s death,” it says.
Reporting of racist abuse and crime among Irish Travellers and Roma also remained low “consistent with 2020”, says the INAR report.
One account was relayed, though, about Two Traveller boys who were consistently abused in different ways, from bullying to online hate.
The older of the two was ambushed on school grounds, and many students saw the ensuing assault, which left a cut under the boy’s eye.
But their school principal told a different story to the boy’s mother and shouted at her, the report says.
A Garda spokesperson said the force can’t comment on “anecdotal reports attributed to anonymised parties which may or may not have been directly reported to An Garda Síochána”.
But they said that Gardaí’s Diversity and Integration Strategy for 2019–2021 lays out a policy for improving current practices of identifying, reporting, recording and investigating hate crime.
“It contains a working Hate Crime definition in line with best international practice, recognises the current and emerging diversity of our communities and aims to protect all diverse and minority groups in society,” the spokesperson said.
Between 21 July 2021, when it launched its hate crime online portal, and 28 February 2022, Gardaí have received 348 reports through it.
However, it judged only 40 of those to have been “hate crimes” and another 33 “hate incidents”. Most, it classified as either “duplicate” or “non-actionable” reports (111) or “non-hate-related reports” (164), according to statistics on its website.
A spokesperson for the Gardaí listed policies adopted to encourage reporting of crimes among minority groups.
Those include perception-based recording (giving all allegations of hate crime a chance to be reported and investigated), broadening the definition of hate crime, reviewing its current diversity training programmes, and introducing the online hate crime reporting portal, they said.
Establishing a national diversity forum that includes groups like INAR, and sharing hate crime information with various non-profits, are also among its efforts for improvement, the spokesperson said.
Lucy Michael, a sociologist and one of the new INAR report’s co-authors, says there have been efforts to encourage people to report. But there’s room for improvement too, she says.
Follow-up is crucial, says Michael. “And we still don’t have a Garda policy on addressing repeat racial harassment.”
Victims could also feel especially helpless when it comes to online hate, says Michael.
Online hate can and does escalate to real-life violence, says the report. But despite the adoption of the new Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 into the law, trust in Gardaí for reporting online harassment has dropped, says the 2021 INAR report.
“Levels of trust in Gardaí to address racism continue to be low in relation to harassment,” the report says.
Its definition of harassment is in line with what’s outlined in a 1997 law, meaning bothering someone with unwanted contact with no reasonable excuse by various means including through the phone.
“Even where cases are attended by Gardaí in accordance with good practice, there is continued evidence that the responses are inadequate to protect victims from ongoing abuse and violence,” the report says.
It stresses a need to draw up a “good practice handbook” about repeat harassment and to regularly review guidelines on identifying the risk of online hate escalating to real-life violence.
Michael says that “reporting fatigue” deters people from letting the guards know they’re experiencing online hate. “When people don’t see a purpose in their reporting, they don’t report.”
Why Don’t Some People Report?
There can be a wider reluctance to flag racist incidents that goes beyond Gardaí, too.
Moyo, one of the report’s peer-reviewers, who also works as a community development worker at Empower, a social inclusion non-profit in the city, says she knows many others who could have contributed to the INAR report but didn’t.
The harassment can happen at work and if somebody’s immigration status is tied to a job, people decide to keep schtum, says Moyo.
“It’s so difficult in the workplace because you’re thinking I’m a student or I came here to work. Where do I go if I lose this job?” Moyo says.
Accounts in the latest INAR report tell of companies refusing to hire job-seekers because they are particular minorities, and of racist bullying in offices.
A colleague asked a refugee in Galway if they came from a “terrorist country”, and the bosses had been unhelpful, it says.
A tech firm told someone born in Bangladesh, after three rounds of interviews, that Irish people were preferred for the role “because of their professional connections”, says the report.
Cases like that are likely to be underreported because sometimes it’s challenging to prove hiring biases, says the report.
Moyo says that people can avoid going to the guards, fearing that the contact would complicate their citizenship applications.
“Your criminal record, your behaviour, counts towards that, so if there’s anything you’re involved in, you feel that it might impact negatively,” she says.
Some have said that ambiguity around what “good character” requirement for Irish citizenship means stops them from criticising shortcomings of even the immigration system.
Experiences of racial profiling also lower trust in the Gardaí, Moyo says. Although it goes beyond the police force, she says.
She walked into a shop in Dublin once and a security guard began tailing her, she says.
“Maybe they already think I’m going to pick up something and put it in my bag,” she says. “You have to say, ‘Look, stop, I’m just here.’”
Michael, the report’s co-author, says she is especially worried about racial profiling experienced by bus passengers travelling to Dublin from Belfast and so over the border.
“This is a problem that has been brought to the attention of the UN and continues to affect cross-border passengers,” she said.
These checks have been carried out in line with immigration laws for years to identify and prevent people from illegally entering the jurisdiction, said a Garda spokesperson in an email on 4 October 2021.
“Since 2018, the Immigration Unit attached to Louth Garda Divisions has detected 336 persons attempting to enter the State illegally,” they said.
Moyo says it matters if more people reported racist abuse even just to INAR, even if they don’t want to also go to the guards. The reports can help inform policy even if the guards dismiss them because they are anonymous.
“It’s about working together to think, ‘What is the right solution?’ Even if the reports are anonymous, it’s a way to understand that something has happened, how can we help now?” Moyo says.