The strongest protection offered to minority groups in Ireland comes from the Equal Status Act (2000). The Act compliments the Employment Equality Act of 1998. Under the Equal Status Act, it is illegal to discriminate on the nine grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the traveller community within the context of:
- the provision of goods, facilities and services available to the public generally
- schools and other educational establishments
- the provision of accommodation
- relation to membership of private registered clubs.
The act also sets forth the obligations now imposed on the owners and operators of businesses (including cultural) that supply goods and services, on those who provide accommodation, on the management of schools and educational establishments, and on the boards of private registered clubs.
Cultural and social inclusion is one of many issues facing refugees within the Direct Provision system in Ireland. This is a system of asylum seeker accommodation in Ireland operated by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality. The majority of centres are privately owned and operated and the standards of accommodation and living conditions vary considerably. While the system provides asylum seeker residents with accommodation and a small weekly living allowance, there are a number of limitations placed on asylum seekers, which act as barriers to participation in the cultural and social life of Ireland. The National Integration Strategy (2017-2020) of the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration was published in 2017 and sets out the Government’s approach to integration. Culture is specifically mentioned in the strategy’s vision and includes participation in cultural activities, development of language skills, while preserving also their own traditions. The newly elected government of 2020 acknowledges that the Direct Provision system is not working and is now working to create major reforms.
A number of artists and arts organisations have sought to engage with people living in direct provision as well as give voice to artists within the direct provision system. The Asylum Archive consists of accumulated documents, artefacts, oral histories and photography created by Dublin based visual artist and researcher Vukašin Nedeljković. The archive engages directly with the everyday realities of asylum seekers, drawing on Nedeljković’s personal experience of being an asylum seeker. The multidisciplinary collaborative art project involved working with asylum seekers, artists, academics, civil society activists and immigration lawyers, amongst others, with a view to creating an interactive documentary and cross-platform online resource, critically foregrounding accounts of exile, displacement, trauma and memory. The work has been exhibited throughout Ireland. The Glucksman Gallery in Cork supported a project working with children living in direct provision. The project sought to offer a marginalised community a creative and positive experience within a museum environment. Many other arts institutions have attempted to reach out to the asylum seekers living in direct provision.
To focus specifically on social inclusion measures within cultural policy, the Department of Arts, Heritage, and Gaeltacht’s Culture 2025 policy framework states:
“Culture also has an important role to play in promoting tolerance, inclusivity and social cohesion in our increasingly diverse society. It should be accessible to everyone, irrespective of origin, place of residence, religious beliefs, or economic or social background. Culture also has an important role in social integration. It must reflect Ireland’s shift to a multicultural society and recognise the value of diverse cultural influences. Interaction, equality of opportunity, understanding, respect and integration all contribute to the enrichment of our culture.”
However, many local diversity issues remain despite the explicit reference to the importance of cultural diversity made by the Department as well as the Arts Council and Creative Ireland in several policy and strategy documents. For example, the historic difficulty of the Traveller community to freely express their distinct culture continues as a cultural rights issue. One recent positive change has been the official recognition of the Traveller community as an ethnic minority group in 2017. By taking this step, Ireland has shown its determination to value the unique culture, identity and heritage of Travellers in the country. This has offered better protection of the group’s cultural rights. But it must be noted that this protection is very late in relation to the rights of minority groups internationally. The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2021 was published in 2017 by the Department of Justice. Roma people are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as any other European Union citizen when in Ireland.
The diversity policy emphasis has recently shifted away from ‘integration’ and towards ‘inclusion’. Cultural identity is recognised as one of ten strategic themes within the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy along with objectives related to supporting Traveller and Roma culture, identity and heritage to be valued within Irish society while also preserving Traveller cultural heritage.
The 2010 report of the Arts Council on Cultural Diversity and the Arts, while acknowledging the wider socio-economic, educational and health factors, listed a number of barriers specific to the area of cultural diversity: lack of knowledge and capacity among those charged with arts provision at both local and national level; lack of clarity about the arts agenda vis-à-vis the cultural diversity agenda; lack of funding and support; and overdependence on short term projects and ‘celebratory’ approaches. The Arts Council has responded to the first of these barriers by now providing demographic cultural mapping information for local arts programmers to better understand the diversity of the communities that may engage with arts programmes. Within the Arts Council’s plan for 2020-2022 it is stated that “we live in a republic of equals, where the arts are for all. But there are still communities in Ireland where access to the arts continues to be a challenge. Barriers to participation in the arts include geography, demography, socio-economic background, gender and disability.” In response the Council has adopted a new Equality, Human Rights and Diversity Policy to be integrated across all of their work.
 Department of Justice and Equality (2017) National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2021.