Some weeks ago (on Good Friday, in fact) a 15-year old boy was killed in Tyrellstown, Co Dublin. Toyoshi Shittabey was walking home from the swimming pool when, it is reported, he and a friend were subjected to a racist verbal assault. It has been reported that while Shittabey and his friend walked away from the scene, the assailants went to a house, acquired a knife, followed the youngsters to their car, and stabbed Shittabey in the heart. The Gardaí have charged one young man with manslaughter. Although there has been a huge public outpouring of grief and solidarity with the family of Toyoshi Shittabey and with the Nigerian community in Tyrellstown in the wake of the stabbing, this murder exposes potentially deep racial fault-lines in Irish society and poses difficult but important challenges for the Gardaí. It also poses difficult questions for the criminal law in this jurisdiction.
The Gardaí’s investigation has not officially ended, and it is possible that the final charge will in fact be murder and not manslaughter, but the investigation of this crime takes place within a palpable atmosphere of racial tension and poses challenges that one hopes the Gardaí will be able to face. Should it come to that point, the sentencing process will also be challenging for the court. If it is established in the course of the trial (whether that is a trial for manslaughter or for murder) that this homicide was racially motivated, ought that to be taken in to account in the sentencing decision? We previously discussed the lack of hate crimes legislation in Ireland here, and this may well be a case that helps us to gauge how well our criminal justice system can calculate prejudice in sentencing without specific law in this relation. However, the killing of Toyoshi Shittabey is not only a challenge for the Gardaí and the Courts; it is a challenge for Irish society in and beyond Tyrellstown. Read more…
We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Siobhan Cummiskey, managing solicitor of the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre. You can find out more about Siobhan on the Guest Contributors page.
Travellers have once again been both literally and figuratively sidelined by the Irish government upon being consigned to the Appendix of Ireland’s State Report to CERD (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) in their combined 3rd and 4th report to the CERD Committee submitted in December 2009. The consignment of Travellers to a mere Appendix of a state report on racism is a most overt method of affirming the policy-endorsed position that Travellers are social dropouts, failed settled people and an economically deprived social group, as opposed to an ethnic minority.
The Irish government reiterated its tired mantra on the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority in their 2009 state report:
“The exact basis for this claim is unclear. The Irish Government’s view is that Travellers do not constitute a distinct group from the population as a whole in terms of race, colour, descent or ethnic origin.”1
Our neighbour, the jurisdiction of England and Wales, has recognized Irish Travellers as an ethnic minority through the courts2 and Northern Ireland expressly includes Irish Travellers in their equality legislation under the definition of an ethnic minority3. Our own Equality Acts 2000-2004 fail to include Travellers as an ethnic minority and instead list them as a separate group to whom protection will be provided in that particular legal instrument. The Irish government maintains in their 2009 report to CERD that equality legislation that fails to define Travellers as an ethnic minority but instead singles them out as a separate group worthy of protection, “does not provide a lesser level of protection to Travellers compared to that afforded to members of ethnic minorities. On the contrary, the specific identification of Travellers in equality legislation guarantees that they are explicitly protected.”
On International Women’s Day, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg released a viewpoint which argued against restrictions on women’s religious dress. He stated that:
Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing. Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure – but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women.
Hammarberg seems to be in something of an unfashionable minority.In the past fortnight, three significant stories have broken about the regulation, in France, Belgium and Quebec, of the niqab and burqa worn by some Muslim women.
Two important new reports have been published this month which may be of interest to readers.
Travellers’ Health Matters (available here with an accompanying briefing on Traveller accommodation and planning) links poor halting site accommodation to depression, anxiety, diabetes and kidney problems. Findings on the terrible living conditions at the Carrowbrowne halting site are available here. For further reports on Irish Travellers and government policy, see the website of the Irish Traveller Movement.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All (available here with a press release here) is a FLAC report which ‘critiques the system of direct provision and dispersal as one that serves the needs of bureaucracy rather than the needs and rights of a vulnerable group of people to whom the State has a defined duty of care.’ Media coverage of the report is here , here , here and here. Liam highlighted the issue of direct provision on this blog in September, October and November of last year and it was the subject of two posts in our Immigration and the Politics of Belonging carnival.
We hope to have further analysis of the issues covered in these reports in due course.
Launch of Report: ‘One Size Doesn’t Fit All’. Accompanied by a screening of Living in Direct Provision
18 February 2010
This event will take place on Thursday 18 February 2010 at 11am in the Georgian Suite, Buswell’s Hotel (23-25 Molesworth Street, Dublin)
Launch of ‘One Size Doesn’t Fit All’
FLAC will launch their new report ‘One Size Doesn’t Fit All’, a legal analysis of the system of direct provision and dispersal in Ireland, 10 years on. The report updates and elaborates on some of the key concerns about the system of direct provision and dispersal identified in FLAC’s 2003 publication, Direct Discrimination? and examines the system of direct provision in the context of government policy, domestic law and international human rights standards.
Screening of ‘Living in Direct Provision’
‘Living in Direct Provision is a series of short films speaking to a variety of issues affecting asylum seekers and families living in the direct provision system. Filmed over a 6 month period through digital storytelling workshops, the DVD was produced by Integrating Ireland and the Refugee Information service in collaboration with FOMACS.
The event will be chaired by Noeline Blackwell, FLAC. There will be contributions from Josephine Ahern, ISICI, Sue Conlan, IRC, and Saoirse Brady, FLAC. The launch also marks the UN’s World Day of Social Justice which falls on 20 February.
Tea, coffee and sandwiches will follow the launch.
As spaces are limited please RSVP to:
email@example.com or at (01) 874 5690 by Friday 12 February 2010.
A regional launch will take place in Limerick on February 22 2010, see here for more.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland recently briefed delegates from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) during their recent ‘periodic visit’ toDublin. You can find the Irish reports and responses from 2002 and 2006 here. The ICI says in its latest newsletter that :
At the meeting, the ICI highlighted existing legislative provisions for immigration-related detention in a wide range of circumstances, as well as the proposed provisions in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008. The ICI also highlighted the ongoing difficulties in monitoring the welfare and conditions of migrants in detention due to the lack of official data recorded by the Irish Prison Service or other agencies…In addition, the ICI raised concerns about victims of trafficking being kept in detention and charged with immigration related offences, concerns which were also expressly highlighted by the US Trafficking In Persons Report (2009)
Via Irish Press Releases comes the news that Anastasia Crickley has been elected to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for a four year term. The press release from the Department of Foreign Affairs says:
Ms. Crickley has a distinguished international record in working against racism and discrimination. She served until very recently as the Inaugural Chair of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency and previously as Chair of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
At a national level, she has been a founding member and chairperson of a number of innovative agencies devoted to promoting the rights of minorities and the marginalised, and to combating racism in Ireland. She is currently the Head of Department of Applied Social Studies at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. She is also a member of the Council of State.
Ms Crickley also served as head of the ill-fated National Consultative Committee on Racism and Inequality. Her other achievements are set out here and here. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is composed of ’18 independent experts, who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights’.
In the UK, the Court of Appeal has reserved judgment in the case of Davender Ghai (pictured left, centre), an elderly Hindu man who is challenging a decision of Newcastle City Council refusing permission for the construction of a site on which traditional Hindu funeral ceremonies could be celebrated. Such ceremonies involve the cremation of the deceased’s remains on an open-air funeral pyre, which is set alight by the eldest son or other appropriate relative. Mr. Ghai explains the ritual, which includes the breaking of the deceased’s skull, here. In 2006, Mr. Ghai was involved in the illegal Northumberland funeral rites of Rajpal Mehat, which included an open air pyre. The BBC reports with footage of the event here. The local police did not intervene and the Crown Prosecution Service determined that prosecution would not be in the public interest.The Council argues that the burning of human remains other than in a crematorium is prohibited by legislation. Mr. Ghai was unsuccessful in the High Court. The judgment of Cranston J is here and a shorter case note is available here.
Jean-François Copé (pictured left), of the conservative French political party, the UMP, has recently tabled legislation that would make wearing the burqa or niqab in public an offence punishable by a fine of 750 euro. The draft text reads: “No one may, in spaces open to the public and on public streets, wear a garment or an accessory that has the effect of hiding the face.” André Gerin, chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into the use of full face veils in France, ruled out the possibility of a total ban in November of last year. We blogged about the Gérin Commission here. It is expected to report some time this month. The New Zealand Herald translates an interview which Copé gave to Le Figaro explaining the rationale behind his proposal:
“The parliamentary resolution will help to recall the fundamental principles of respecting the rights of women as a key element of the Republic. The law will respond to the question of security… How can we imagine that a teacher can let a child go out of school and be handed over to someone whose face cannot be seen?… At a time when we are developing the means of video-protection, how can we think of people walking around with their faces covered?..Exceptions to the ban would be made for “carnival or cultural events” where people were masked, he said.
According to figures published by the Office of the Reception and Integration agency, asylum applications in Ireland have reached their lowest level in over ten years. 2,689 people sought asylum in Ireland in 2009. This represents a 30% drop from the 2008 figures. Just 7 years ago, asylum applications had risen to an annual figure of over 11,000. The number of asylum applications has been falling continuously since then.
The Irish Independent attributes the drop to ‘a crackdown by immigration authorities’. The Department of Justice has said that roughly 1 in 10 of all asylum applicants achieve refugee status on ‘the first attempt’. Deportations of unsuccessful asylum seekers rose in 2009 by roughly 80%. The Irish Times reports that ‘In total, 681 persons were either assisted to return home voluntarily or were removed from the State in 2009, representing an increase of 24.7 per cent on the corresponding figure for 2008.’
Roisin Boyd of the Irish Refugee Council has warned that the system must not be geared towards deterring people at risk from making asylum applications in Ireland at all:
“The reasons that applications for asylum to Ireland appear to have dropped are numerous — including increased security which makes it harder for asylum seekers to access EU territory…But those who seek protection will never stop seeking it no matter how many barriers are erected. No asylum seeker must ever be returned to a country where their life is in danger…At this time of year in particular it is important that we cherish the fact that we in Ireland live in a democracy and enjoy the freedoms that entails — many asylum seekers do not have these freedoms and we must ensure they are allowed to apply for asylum and to have their cases heard in Ireland.”
Fine Gael, responding to the Minister’s expression of satisfaction at this year’s figures, have been most concerned about the expense associated with the asylum process. Political attention ought also to turn to the human impact of the direct provision system, highlighted by Liam here as well as in this recent article in the Irish Times.