This article addresses understandings of and responses to racism in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We examine how civil society actors in both jurisdictions have sought to influence institutional actors. Our comparative analysis also examines a wider picture of state and institutional failure to undertake basic obligations under international rights treaties, such as ethnic monitoring in state institutions, equal provision of state services and promoting responses to racism in areas such as policing. Northern Ireland has been belatedly influenced by United Kingdom law and policy norms whilst the Republic of Ireland was much quicker to introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. Yet, in 2008, the Republic dismantled much of its institutional infrastructure for responding to racism. In Northern Ireland, the political priority of addressing sectarianism through community relations measures considerably supplanted policy and legislative focus on racism.