UN World Conference Against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Statement by the Human Rights Commission of Ireland

Michael Farrell, Commissioner

Madam President, honoured delegates and representatives of UN agencies, National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs:

The Irish Human Rights Commission thanks the government of South Africa for agreeing to host this World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. It is an inspiration to us all to meet in this country which so recently was still in the grip of the most vicious system of institutionalized racism since the Nazi regime in Germany.

The success of the South African people in overthrowing the tyranny of Apartheid and their determination to build a multi-racial and multi-cultural society must give us hope that one day the scourge of racism and similar hate-inspiring ideologies will be but a bitter memory.

I want to address my remarks now to the topics of provision of effective remedies and strategies to achieve full and effective equality.

Ireland is a small country which itself suffered under colonialism in the past, while large numbers of its people migrated all over the world fleeing poverty, hunger and oppression just as millions of refugees and migrants are doing today. Sadly, however, in recent years when for the first time significant numbers of asylum-seekers fleeing persecution and poverty have begun to arrive in Ireland, we have not shown them the understanding and compassion that we should have learned from our own history.

Official attitudes to asylum-seekers were grudging and unwelcoming. Official pronouncements proclaimed that the vast majority were "bogus", sending very negative signals to the population as a whole. Despite recent improvements in official policies, asylum seekers are still refused the right to work and many have been treated without sensitivity to their customs and culture. Parallel with this there has been in Ireland a very disturbing rise in racist incidents and attacks, verbal and physical, upon people of colour or different ethnic origin.

In addition, Ireland has a long-established minority of Travellers who for many generations have been subjected to gross discrimination by public authorities and the settled community as a whole. They have been excluded and marginalized, suffering shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality, illiteracy and unemployment than the settled population. In particular Traveller women have suffered from multiple discrimination and disadvantage.
Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are real and present evils in Irish society, not theoretical possibilities that we might face in the future. They must be combatted now.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has been established only very recently with a broad mandate based upon the Paris Principles. A key part of our work will be opposing racism and related intolerance and working with related agencies, NGOs and the Irish Government to create a culture of rights and build a society that values diversity and difference and sees it as a resource and source of strength rather than a threat.

In that context we warmly welcome the work of the World Conference and are proud that the initiative in organizing it has been taken by the distinguished former President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary Robinson.

We strongly support the proposal that all states should adopt national action plans to implement the decisions of the World Conference and we welcome the recognition given to the role of National Human Rights Institutions in combating racism, monitoring the policies and actions of their governments and helping to develop a culture of rights and respect for all.

We support the Statement by National Institutions to this Conference and urge delegates to ensure that the Declaration and Programme of Action contain an effective and fully resourced follow-up procedure that involves assessment of the impact of the measures proposed, including from a gender perspective, and of the effectiveness of the actions taken. We also support the call for adequate resources to be provided to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Finally, we would like to say that the Irish Human Rights Commission was established partly as a consequence of the peace agreement reached three years ago in relation to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland. That Agreement proposed the establishment of parallel Human Rights Commissions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with a Joint Committee to be drawn from both Commissions.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has been established for two years now. Relations between the two Commissions are very close and the Joint Committee between our Commissions will be established within weeks. We have learned a great deal from the experience of our Northern Ireland colleagues and we hope that the work of our two Commissions may set an example of how the establishment of independent National Human Rights Institutions might contribute to the resolution of conflicts that arise from deep divisions between communities whether based on race, ethnic origin or other divisions.

Thank you.