Ireland experienced its first major phase of immigration in the mid to late nineties. Racist abuse and assault on the streets of our towns and cities, but also at the hands of the state and the media, is nothing new here. David Fleming tots up the figures and looks at the facts.
Statistics released by the Immigrant Council of Ireland show a disturbing 85% increase in reports of racist incidents in the republic for 2013. More recently the same organisation released stats which indicate that these incidents continue to rise in 2014, with 137 incidents in the first 6 months of the year.This is a rise from 64 for the same period last year, bringing the total increase to a shameful 114%.
Why is there such a jump in the numbers from the previous year? Are more people willing to speak out about abuse? Have reporting systems changed?
I spoke with Luke Bukha of the Anti Racism Network (ARN), a grassroots organisation of migrants in Ireland. The ARN continue the good work to highlight racism against migrant communities carried out by the late Pat Guerin and others in the nineties. Up until his death last year Pat Guerin worked closely with perhaps the most alienated community on the island, the Roma.
Luke explained why he thinks racist incidents are on the rise:
“I think it is happening because of the economic crises, there is no doubt that this has contributed a lot to it. Many people thought that this [recession] would only be for a short time but over the last four or five years many people have been very seriously affected.” He continued, “If you look on a personal level people are losing their homes, homelessness has risen, the cuts in social welfare even for people with disabilities, lone parents and for pensioners… all of this has created so much anger and that anger is going everywhere and in many cases it is people like us, the immigrants, who are the easiest to be targeted.”
In conjunction with the daily abuse suffered by many immigrants there has also been a number of high-profile racist incidents that have made headlines. In 2011 Darren Scully, then Mayor of Naas in Co Kildare, said that he would no longer represent “black Africans”. He resigned almost immediately, but after some soul-searching and “reflection” he realised that he shouldn’t have said all Black Africans just “certain people from a certain part of Africa”.
Scully was welcomed back into the Fine Gael party last November in what some saw as a cynical ploy by the party to get him re-elected in this year’s local elections, due to his popularity in Naas. He was predictably re-elected, this time to the county council, where he will undoubtedly continue to represent only those he sees fit.
In April of this year the immigrant council released figures that showed over a quarter of victims of racist abuse were children, including one incident of a young child being beaten by a man in his late thirties. In May graffiti which read “Feel like a Stranger in Your Own Country?” was daubed on the N7. Painted beside this ridiculous statement was a St Brigid’s cross surrounded by a circle, which looked suspiciously, and obviously intentionally, like a swastika.
In July graffiti was sprayed beside the convention centre in North Wall as 3,860 people were gathered for a citizenship ceremony. The graffiti, spelled incorrectly, intended to say “Population Replacement Centre”.
Perhaps the most high-profile case happened in October of 2013 and involved the removal by Gardai of two Roma children, from two different families, in the midlands and Dublin. In late October Gardai, acting on a tip-off posted on TV3 journalist Paul Connolly’s facebook page that a Roma family had a blond-haired, blue-eyed child, went to the home of the Roma family in Tallaght, Dublin and removed the child into custody. The distraught parents produced both a birth cert and a passport but were not believed. They then had to provide DNA samples to prove that the child was theirs. The child was returned to them when the DNA test proved positive.
To put this incident in context, a month before these children were removed from their parents the Sunday World ran a series of articles criticising a free GP service, once a week for three hours, operating on a bus on the grounds of Tallaght hospital for members of the Roma community.
Coupled with the Irish Independent’s resident Jeremy Clarkson impersonator, Ian O’ Doherty’s, comment piece in which he says, “To be clear – I think it’s basic common sense to expel any Roma who doesn’t have a job from this country, and I think France has the right idea when it comes to them,” the media have arguably created yet more prejudice towards the Roma community, mirroring the discrimination that Irish travellers know all too well.
In another piece O’ Doherty claims that Darren Scully, the ex-mayor of Naas, “found himself the victim of a quite extraordinary campaign of vilification and persecution that was completely disproportionate to any perceived offence, and one that eloquently exposed the essential sickness and cynicism at the heart of what passes for the Liberal/Left in Irish politics.”
Needless to say he has not let up in 2014 and in a recent opinion piece entitled “Now They’re Criminalising Opinion” he once again stands by the “hapless” Darren Scully. O’Doherty was also the subject of a complaint made to the press ombudsman by the European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR) regarding his comments in which he said the Roma are “a parasitic, ethnic underclass who look on this country as a giant stupid cow to be milked whenever they see fit”. This complaint was thankfully upheld, yet no apology was made.––
I spoke with Shane O’Curry, director of ENAR and co-author of Reports of Racism in Ireland. The most recent of these is the third quarterly report conducted by the group and covers the period January – March 2014. The ENAR collect data through the use of the new ireport system by victims, or those witnessing racist incidents, which has logged a total of 300 reports since it was launched last year.
“The state needs to look at itself. There are a range of ways in which state institutions are institutionally racist, both in terms of their practices and ethnic make-up and the outcomes that people have when they come into contact with them. You need to look at legislation that frames and racialises whole sections of the population like the immigration and asylum laws, the system of direct provision which puts people in open prison type accommodation during the asylum process sometimes for as long as ten years.”
Shane continued, “It is really degrading and inhumane, people living on 19 euros and 10 cent a week and where there are no resources and no measures for police to deal with racism adequately and so in that context you get things like the kidnapping of the two Roma children at the hands of the Gardai which happened in October last year.”
Considering that we have traditionally been an emigrating nation that faced discrimination wherever we went, the racism perpetuated here is particularly hypocritical. Lest we forget the days of the “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” and “Help Wanted, Irish Need Not Apply” signs that adorned pub and shop windows in the UK and USA.
With so many Irish still emigrating how can we complain when people immigrate to our little island to better their own lives?
Photos via The Anti-Racism Network.