Attempts to address systemic inequality and racism in Ireland are being neglected by an “arcane” system, experts have warned.
They say people facing racial discrimination in work, education or when accessing healthcare and housing are failing to seek help because of huge barriers in getting information and guidance.
They described the process as “exhausting and humiliating”.
Cases of racial discrimination, against colour, race, nationality, ethnic or being a member of the Traveller community, can be taken through the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
It's difficult to navigate the hundreds of different procedures, there are no central supports for people to get specific helpLucy Michael, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
Lucy Michael, a commissioner with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said part of the problem is that the migrant and anti-racism NGO (non-government organisations) sector is systemically underfunded.
The number of people seeking advice for issues at work, school and accessing services because of discrimination and racism is rising.
Ms Michael said: “These are problems that are not necessarily easy to solve.
“Getting a remedy is not easy and it needs caseworkers who can go through the facts and discuss the outcomes and the risks the person is prepared to take.
“If you are going to take a case against your employer, that’s quite risky.
“It’s difficult to navigate the hundreds of different procedures, there are no central supports for people to get specific help.
“In the early 2000s the government made a strategic decision to support an NGO sector that would gather the expertise that would need it to address racism and discrimination. Those supports were never absorbed into government or public sector services.”
Figures from by the Workplace Relations Commission show cases of racial discrimination were down last year.
Ms Michael described the figure as “very unusual” as anecdotal evidence shows racial discrimination is rising.
“People don’t understand the procedures and there are a lot of time limits that apply that as soon as you understand the pathway it has expired,” Dr Michael added.
“The government needs to make the procedures easier and simpler to help relieve the pressure on the NGOs.
“The pattern is the length of time and difficulty in getting remedies across so many sectors, whether it’s access to healthcare, housing, education and issues in the workplace.
“People are the point where they are most vulnerable and they are being made to find their way through hundreds of different organisations and a system that is designed to exhaust people.”
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Shane O’Curry, director of Irish Network Against Racism, said the low number of cases taken on grounds of racism or Traveller discrimination to the WRC needs to be addressed.
He said there is a lack of awareness and capacity to deal with the issues.
“We want to see our own network (NGO) members having the confidence to navigate the arcane workings of the WRC council,” he added.
“There’s a huge barrier to people finding effective remedy. People are excluded and legal aid is only available in certain circumstances.
“People give up and are very demoralised.”
Figures show around two-thirds of people do not report instances of discrimination through the relevant authorities.
“They think there is no point going through an exhausting and humiliating process,” Mr O’Curry added.
“There is a blindness to discrimination and failure to understand it.”
The Workplace Relations Commission has been contacted for comment.