THE economic downturn is fuelling racism against minority groups and the Roma community in particular, according to a report by the Council of Europe.
The findings come at the end of a week where two Roma families had children taken from them due to doubts over their parentage, only for the children to be returned when those fears proved unfounded.
The embarrassing episode has led to accusations in the Dail that racial profiling occurred.
According to the report, published yesterday, acute financial instability is pushing people "to seek easy targets of blame and makes them more open to extremist ideologies".
It found grievances increasingly aired against immigrants and Roma in particular, while Muslims were "frequently projected as a threat to national identity".
The increased use of the internet to spread racism was also noted as a worrying trend.
The findings – contained in the annual report of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance – were made after monitoring visits to nine countries, including Ireland, in the past year.
The council said its inspectors found "intolerance of Roma and discrimination in all fields of life".
In particular, it said Roma children often face obstacles accessing education.
Siobhan Curran, Roma project co-ordinator at Pavee Point, said the findings of the report were unsurprising.
"Austerity has had a huge impact on the Roma and Traveller community in Ireland," she said.
"There has been an overall row-back on equality infrastructure and funding for organisations that would support vulnerable and marginalised groups."
Ms Curran said it was hard for the most vulnerable Roma children to access education as their families did not have the money to support their schooling.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said the report needed to be immediately considered by the Government.
"The impact of the economic crisis and the targeting of minorities, such as Roma people in particular, is the main warning from the report.
"In particular, there is a warning of hate speech and the perception that minorities are easy targets," said Immigrant Council chief executive Denise Charlton.
She said cyber racism now accounted for 16pc of complaints received by the council.
"Extremists, often under false names, seem free to spread their message of hatred with a click of a mouse," said Ms Charlton.