IRISH society must not "rest on its laurels" where recent incidents of religious intolerance and xenophobic behaviour are concerned, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has warned.
In an address at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin, the archbishop said we all lived with "inherited prejudices, misunderstandings and stereotypes" which can "subtly and rapidly raise their ugly heads if we are not attentive".
Elsewhere in his address at the first ever Christian, Muslim and Jewish conference on dialogue in Ireland, Archbishop Martin said Ireland had no wish to remain as a "closed monolithic culture on an island isolated from what is happening around the world".
The Primate of Ireland said dialogue between faiths was not just for scholars and theologians, adding: "It is a public good even in societies that proclaim themselves secular."
His comments were made just weeks after the Muslim community in Ireland reported a series of sickening hate-mail letters which were sent to mosques and homes.
Archbishop Martin told the Irish Independent: "Here in Ireland, we have to learn to understand one another, to appreciate one another and you can only do that if you want to come together."
He cited the example of Nelson Mandela, saying his great achievement was to teach all of us that there is only one way to respond to conflict – not by revenge, but by bringing people together.
"In any conflict, it is those who rise above the narrow confines of their own group and reach out to others," he said.
Meanwhile new figures from the Immigrant Council of Ireland show that reports of racism and hate crimes increased by 85pc during 2013.
Since January of this year, 142 incidents have been reported, compared to 77 over the same period last year. The incidents peaked during the summer months.
Most cases occurred in local communities (21pc) or workplaces (20pc) but victims were also subjected to racist abuse while accessing government or community services, travelling on public transport and on the street. The incidents related predominantly to verbal harassment but also to written abuse, the ICI said.
Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, described the increase in reported racism as "alarming". She said it showed the reality that people were facing in their communities.