Friday, 23 March 2012

Integration of Africans in Irish Society.

Written in 2011 as an essay.

There are some interesting findings here, in particular in relation to the police and the state and their treatment  of migrants.


I want to look at the development of Irish social policy in the way of immigration and integration. The typical indicators of levels of integration are education, health, culture, language and qualifications. I will look at each of these in detail. One could have excellent educational qualifications but have no English, ones culture may not be catered for in anyway by the state and one’s health care may not be catered for by the HSE. For example Sickle Cell Anaemia (a disease which mostly affects black people) treatment was not available via the medical card up until relatively recently. 

I will look at policy that impedes integration and aspects of legislation that aids it. Different people from different places have different levels of rights. Tight bureaucratic rules can impede integration and social inclusion. Bureaucratic forms and rules can cause problems for people with no English or low education.  I will look at each of these elements of integration in detail. 

Integration is not just about social inclusion, multiculturalism or assimilation but about studying migrant’s outcomes in comparison to native-born Irish. Directorate – General for Justice, Freedom and Security in the EU Handbook on Integration for policy Makers and Practitioners (2007) stated: 

“What does integration mean? The question might be expected to trigger familiar debates about assimilation and multiculturalism, but participants at the technical seminars preparing the handbook hardly used these terms. As policy makers and practitioners working with immigrant integration on a daily basis they took a rather more practical approach, focusing on outcomes in terms of social and economic mobility, education, health, housing, social services and societal participation” 
(Cited in Fanning 2011; pg. 29)    

Ireland has an interesting history in the way of immigration and integration policy and development.

In the 1930s Jewish refugees were refused because of the low employment rate in the country. 

In 1951 Ireland signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Refugees which gave Hungarian refugees the right to work. However in Ireland the Department of Industry and Commerce said that for every Hungarian that seeks employment the local Trade Union must be consulted first. Latter a number of Hungarian refugees were quarantined in Limerick. The Irish State broke international law by denying the rights of Hungarian migrants.

The majority of Irish Social Policy relating to immigration and integration has come within the last 20years. The rate of immigration at this time spiked greatly due to the economic boom and the expansion of the labour market. 

In 1996 The Refugee Act was passed which extended the 1991 Child Care Act to the children of non-citizens. 
In 1997 the National Anti-Poverty Strategy listed ‘Migrants and members of ethnic minority groups’ as a distinct group. The National Anti-Poverty Strategy “definition of social exclusion emphasised that relative income poverty and relative lack of other material, cultural and social resources precluded them from having a standard of living that is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally.” (Fanning; 2011: pg 129).

In 2000 the EU Race Directive was launched. This directive set out to implement the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin”. This directive set out to ensure that member states of the EU passed laws to protect migrants from direct and indirect discrimination. This protected all immigrants, not just EU-immigrants. (European Council Directive 2000/43/EC)

The year 2000 also saw the passing of Ireland’s Equal Status Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. 

Also in 2000 the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform (DJELR) issued a document called Integration a Two Way Process. This set out to promote the integration of refugees through employment. The opening statement on the document states “People from different backgrounds and cultures can enrich the society around them and contribute to the continued development of Ireland”. This document also looks at issues such as language fluency and non-recognition of qualifications as barriers to integration. (Integration: A Two Way Process.   Interdepartmental Working Group on the Integration of Refugees in Ireland 2000).

In the same year as the document published by the DJELR that same department was given full responsibility for the welfare of Asylum seekers. The direct provision system was born. This is a system take took asylum seekers out of the mainstream welfare bracket and gave them different rights and entitlements to Irish citizens. Irish citizens from 2000-2010 saw their benefits raise annually, while those in direct provision had their €19 a week frozen. Even with the recent cuts backs to welfare benefits, the entitlements of asylum seekers are still extremely lower than that of Irish Citizens. On paper asylum seekers were equal to all other residents in the state however in reality this was not the case, most notably those in direct provision do not have the right to work. Seen as the majority of asylum seekers in Ireland come from various African countries the direct provision legislation greatly hinders the integration of Africans.   ( 

There were some interesting developments in Irish Social Policy in 2004. There was a referendum on the citizenship rights of a child born in the state. 80% of people voted to remove the automatic right to citizenship of a child born in the state. The political propaganda urging people to vote this way was mostly geared towards asylum seekers rather than migrant workers. Seen as the vast majority of asylum seekers are African this meant that the political populism against migrants was mainly geared towards Africans. 

Also in 2004 the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) was passed. Section 17 of this act was the Habitual Residencies clause which removed access to most benefits for people who have not worked for more than 2years in the state. This does not in any way aid integration or promote social inclusion.

In 2005 the Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration in the European Union were published by the EU. This is a brief 6 page document with eleven points. The document puts heavier emphasis on the importance of social policy in way of integration. In point 6 of the CBPs it states “Access for immigrants to institutions, as well as to public and private goods and services, on a basis equal to national citizens and in a non-discriminatory way is a critical foundation for better integration.”. This was to combat the favouritism of native citizens over newcomers to a member state of the EU. Sentiments such as the phrase “British Jobs for British Workers” which have been popularised are supposed to be combated by these basic principles.

In 2007 two interesting documents were released by the Irish government. Under the National Development Plan the National Report for Ireland on Strategies for Social Protection and Social Inclusion 2008-2010. This report outlined its policy priority objectives as being “Child poverty; Access to quality work and learning opportunities (activation measures), with a focus on lone parents and people with disabilities; Integration of Immigrants and Access to quality services, with a focus on the homeless” (
This report focused on employment, access to education and training, language training, health and income support to aid integration.

Also in 2007 the Minister of State for Integration Policy launched the policy document ‘Migration Nation: Statement on Integration Strategy and Diversity Management’. One of the key principles set out in this document by then Minister Conor Lenihan TD is “A commitment to effective local delivery mechanisms that align services to migrants with those for indigenous communities” ($File/Migration%20Nation.pdf)

After all the above policy written by state departments, influenced by advocacy groups and civil society; has the life of an African immigrant in Ireland been made any easier? Is racism less of a problem? Are people integrating with ease?

There is racism in Ireland. Racism in Ireland does not manifest itself in a political form but is quite dispersed throughout communities. Racism against Africans has led to a loss of their culture. If you dress differently you are singled out or if you have an African name you are also singled out as being different. Through discrimination people are forced to assimilate into one culture rather than many cultures being expressed in Irish society. African immigrants are now giving their children Irish names and using special occasions to express their cultural differences (if expressing them at all).

The 2001 Amnesty International Report ‘Racism in Ireland: The Views of Black and Ethnic Minorities’ is based around a survey which questioned 622 people from different backgrounds, of which 44% are African (58% of the overall sample are male and 67.3% of people of the overall sample are aged between 25-44). I will try to illuminate the most outstanding statistics from this report. 

Responding to the question “Have you ever experienced racism and discrimination?” 79% of the overall sample said ‘Yes’. Out of all the Black Africans 81.8% said ‘Yes’, out of all the Black Irish 88.6% said ‘Yes’ and  out of all North Africans 72.7% said ‘Yes’. 

When asked “How often, if at all, have you heard or seen people making insulting comments about your skin colour, or ethnic background, including the way you dress?” only 13% said ‘Never’ while 38% answered ‘Frequently’. Again Black Africans were the highest when answering this question. 43.2% of Black Africans said they ‘Frequently’ experience verbal racist abuse. The report also shows that the majority of this abuse takes place on the street with 44%. 

155 incidents (Out of the sample of 622) said that they have experienced racism from the police while 121 said they have experienced racism from a government department. While 56% of respondents answered ‘No’ to the question “Do you think black and ethnic minorities are treated fairly by the Gardai?”

59% of respondents answered ‘No’ to the question “Do you think that black people and ethnic minorities are treated fairly by the authorities when arriving in Ireland”. 

When asked “Do you think that enough is being done by the government to combat racism?”
84% of the 622 ethnic minority respondents said ‘No’. (Amnesty International Irish Section; 2001; Racism in Ireland: The Views of Black and Ethnic Minorities pgs. 12-34)

But there has been legislation since 2001 so has anything changed?

In the 2011Immigrant Council of Ireland Report Taking Racism Seriously: Migrants Experience of Violence, Harassment and Anti-Social Behaviour in the Dublin Area shows the answer is NO. 

This report shows quite well the extent that immigrants experience racism which is the main factor impeding integration in Ireland. It outlines personal accounts in detail of verbal and sometimes physical racist abuse. It explains many stories concerning Africans living in Ireland. Two boys Marcus and Evan, from West Africa experienced quite serious racist abuse at school and found themselves in a very awkward situation when it came to reporting it. The incidents happened separately but both took place in 2010. Both incidents and stories showed that racism is a problem in Dublin schools and that a lack of education in the way of rights led to these assaults going unreported. The Immigrant council of Ireland was there to provide help to both teenagers. 

The report also outlines African families who have had to deal with racist abuse on a daily basis from young children and teenagers in their area. (

Both state racism and racism in our communities are problems for the integration of Africans in Ireland. We have looked at state legislation that has the sentiment in the right place in the way of aiding integration (albeit the motivation stemming from economic interests rather than cultural diversity) but we haven’t seen these polices bear fruit. We have also, quite contradictory, seen some legislation that impedes integration in quite a large way. Legislation such as direct provision or the habitual residencies clause quite clearly defines immigrants as being ‘different’ and therefore holding back Africans, and other immigrants ability to integrate.

How can this be solved? If we want real integration to take place in this country all discriminatory legislation must be removed. We need prober Ant-Racist education in our schools to combat the growing racism in Ireland. The great work done by the Immigrants Council of Ireland, The Migrants Rights Centre, Love Music Hate Racism and other organisations needs to continue and state funding needs to be provided. 

But we also need to address this issue of why so many Irish people are racist? It is hard to combat racism while people are angry about unemployment, housing, pay-cuts and other resources being removed from them due to the increasing levels of austerity. People are pointing the figure at people who are not to blame but are the most visible. This needs to be combated by communities being united and targeting the real enemy who is not those who want to make a living here but those who seek to make a killing off the back of all of us resident in Ireland while we are in crisis.


- Fanning 2011; Immigration and Social Cohesion in the Republic of Ireland. Pgs 16-36, 127-152.

- Fanning et al 2007; Immigration and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland. Pgs 214-259

-Loyal & Mulcahy et al; 2001. Racism in Ireland: The Views of Black and Ethnic Minorities. Amnesty International.

- Boucher. W. Gerard 1998. The Irish Are Friendly, but...

- European Council Directive 2000/43/EC

- Integration: A Two Way Process. Interdepartmental Working Group on the Integration of Refugees in Ireland 2000

- National Development Plan. National Report for Ireland on Strategies for Social Protection and Social Inclusion 2008-2010. 

- Migration Nation: Statement on Integration Strategy and Diversity Management 2007.

- Taking Racism Seriously: Migrants Experience of Violence, Harassment and Anti-Social Behaviour in the Dublin Area

- Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration in the European Union 2005.

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