Racism and the state
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
President of ICTU, Inez McCormick, attacks institutional racism
``All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights'' - Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
If you only oppose injustice when it is acceptable to do so, then you are accepting injustice
``Why do we find that so difficult in Ireland, especially now in the context of the new political dispensation agreed in the Good Friday Agreement?'' asks Inez McCormack. The President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which represents over 700,000 workers, has delivered a forthright and damning attack on institutional racism in Ireland.
She was addressing the launch, last Saturday, of a report from the Irish Refugee Council on the right of asylum seekers to work.
The report, which was written by Dr. Bryan Fanning and Dr. Steven Loyal, both of UCD, deals with the regulations that deny asylum seekers their right to work. It also tackles the discrimination they encounter in recruitment, the workplace, housing, access to childcare, education and welfare. Only asylum seekers who arrived prior to July 1999 are allowed to work.
On arrival asylum seekers are denied access to language courses or training. Even when they succeed in securing refugee status, they are still not entitled to join work schemes or enter PLC or third level courses, without the payment of fees.
McCormick welcomed the report as excellent, because ``of the way it did its business''. The report draws on questionnaires, but also on personal accounts and interviews with asylum seekers themselves. ``The people who practice discrimination today are the very people who came to me to ask me to go to the USA to seek work visas for their children. These very people heard the tears on the phone of their sons and daughters who had become refugees. Do they not remember what it was like to feel scared?''
The report draws a clear distinction between those who call for the right of asylum seekers to work, on the grounds of current labour shortages (PDs, IBEC and ISME), and others, such as non-governmental organisations, that have argued for the right to work in terms of a human rights agenda.
``The right to work is a means for asylum seekers to establish dignity and escape welfare dependence or poverty and to aid their integration into Irish society.'' The report recommends that asylum seekers, refugees and those given `leave to remain', should ``have the right to work as a human right on humanitarian grounds. The needs of asylum seekers should not be evaluated according to shifting economic needs of the Irish state. The right to work is a human need and a human right'', as proclaimed in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The report sets out many recommendations. ``It is important because it provides a benchmark against which we can judge whether we have only the rhetoric of change, or real change which has met these targets'', McCormick says.
In a very powerful speech, she referred to the recent Supreme Court judgement, which found the differentiation between the rights of the citizen and the rights of a human being to be constitutional. ``If that is what the constitution says, then I say we must amend the constitution. It is a deep and important debate.''
McCormick went on to criticise those who talk about racism in the confines of the conference hall, but do nothing. ``You don't change a culture by saying `I'm sorry for you. I am trying to assimilate you.' Nor does £1million set aside for anti-racism education succeed against the institutional racism in the state. There is endless rhetoric, weekend conferences and glossy reports on racism. They are not a substitute for action. If you only oppose injustice when it is acceptable to do so, then you are accepting injustice.''
``The equality agenda has to be linked to the social agenda, and no agenda has been resisted as much. Taking economic change without social change, into the corridors of power, is only going to the edges. Equality and justice are at the heart of the political settlement, of the new political dispensation. A dream. We have to make the dream work in the worst of times.''
• The report can be got through the Irish Refugee Council, 40 Lower Dominick Street, Dublin 1 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org, or, 1 Bank Place, Ennis, Co. Clare. E-mail: email@example.com.