Ethnic Tension: Ireland to Fight Racist Attacks with New Campaign ; ETHNIC TENSION: Asylum-Seekers Lured by Celtic Tiger Economy Face Assaults and Abuse, Say Immigrant Support Groups

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THE IRISH government is mounting a campaign against racism amid fears that the growing number of attacks on ethnic minorities will harm the booming economy.

This month, a black Briton was driven out of Ireland by racist persecution, weeks after his father was stabbed in a separate assault in Dublin. The incidents are seen as part of a trend which is embarrassing a country that has traditionally prided itself on its hospitable image.

Immigrant support groups cite racism as one of the biggest problems their nationals will encounter in Ireland, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has accused the government of "falling down seriously" on its responsibility towards incomers. "Ordinary people take their tone from their leaders and the government needs to be seen to be condemning racism," a spokeswoman said.

Although some tourist brochures still sell Ireland as a sleepy backwater of Europe, recent prosperity has brought rapid modernisation and forced the country to embrace multi-culturalism as reliance on foreign labour has increased.

The strength of the "Celtic tiger" economy has brought an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers and other immigrants to Ireland. The home affairs department processed 39 applications for the whole of 1992; now it is handling up to 1,000 residency applications a month. For Ireland, with no history of colonialism or heavy industrialisation, the extent of the demand is new.

Government and support agencies have criticised the processing of applications, which can take up to two years, as "painfully slow". The recent suicide of a young African woman who had been waiting for a date for her appeal has been seized on by refugee groups who say that the system is inhumane. Asylum-seekers, unable to work while their documents are being processed, are given an allowance of pounds IR15 (pounds 12) a week, and their enforced unemployed status fuels accusations that they are sponging off the state.

Gabriel Olugboyega OhKenla, director of the Dublin-based Pan African Organisation, said asylum-seekers' problems did not stop at economic hardship. "People are so hostile to us here, the way they look at you. You have to think they don't want us around."

Apart from increased reports of physical assaults, racist graffiti has been daubed on walls and right-wing literature pushed through doors in the working-class areas where most immigrants live. Verbal attacks are common. …