An incident where an Indian family was verbally abused on the Belfast to Dublin train has led to a call for a more proactive approach to combating racism.
The call from the Immigrant Council of Ireland came after tourist Prasun Bhattachrjee and his parents were treated to an hour-long tirade against their accents, skin colour and culture, by a man who was drinking from a can of beer, and who sat beside them on their journey.
At one point a member of the train staff arrived but the man, who would occasionally get up to walk around the carriage, was simply told to sit down, according to other passengers who said he was not asked to desist or to leave the train.
Mr Bhattachrjee said the person had abused his family for their “skin colour, nationality and other things”. He said he believed the man was drunk.
Mr Bhattachrjee said the abuse continued as the man sat with them from about the Border and continued to insult them all the way to Dublin. “We felt so bad,” Mr Bhattachrjee said.
Mr Bhattachrjee told RTÉ’s Liveline a train guard had come along as the man was moving about the carriage talking into a mobile phone, but the man had not been put off the train and the abuse had continued.
Another passenger, who was identified only as “Peter”, said “the train guard could have done more”.
Peter said the guard had told the man to sit down but had made no intervention in relation to the man’s abuse. He said the man had been “boisterous” and Peter said he heard the man use words to Mr Bhattachrjee snr to the effect: “you might be able to tell your wife what what to do but you cant tell me what to do”.
Peter said he approached Mr Bhattachrjee and his parents when the journey ended and apologised to them.
Pippa Woolnough, communications and advocacy manager with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said the incident highlighted the need for a more proactive approach to tackling racism.
“How we respond to this kind of thing is crucial,” she said. But she said there has not been a national plan against racism since 2008 and while there were 11 separate categories for reporting hate crime on the Garda Pulse computer, this information was not recorded in a way which could make it useful to the CSO.
“So we have no empirical data on the scale of the problem which would inform policy,” she said.
Ms Woolnough said a number of measures should be put in place and these included training for frontline staff who have to deal with racism; effective legislation to handle hate crime; an awareness-raising programme and planned inter-cultural activities.
“We need to be proactive we can not wait for this to get worse. It is not what most Irish people want,” she said.
Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said it was “a shocking incident”, and Irish Rail was “ very sorry that this family experienced such disgraceful behaviour on board one of our train services”.
He said on board personnel did endeavour to stop the racial harassment, and also arranged for security to meet the train at Connolly upon arrival.
Irish Rail has been contacted by the customer directly on social media, and has asked for further information to assist in the investigation.
“We have also been contacted by other customers with information. We will also provide gardaí with CCTV footage to help identify the individual involved. Abuse of this nature has no place on our trains or anywhere in our society,” said Mr Kenny.