(en) Rise of racism in Ireland

Andrew Flood (andrewflood@geocities.com)
Wed, 11 Jun 1997 10:26:25 +0000

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Rise of racism in Ireland ---- Dublin 11 June 97 written for A-Infos by Andrew Flood

Ireland has seen an extraordinary upsurge in racism here over the last couple of months. Radio chat shows have been inundated with calls from racists and the media has uncritically repeated stories of refugees 'swamping' the country, 'flooding' social welfare offices and creating a situation which in the words of one paper could lead to a 'race riot'.

Politicians from almost all political parties have jumped on this racist bandwagon, most cynically when on the eve of the election the Department of Justice announced it had violently deported a Romanian refugee (in their terms he 'attacked several Gardai'!!) and had 500 more deportation orders ready to go. This was no more then a brutal attempt at courting the racist vote by the parties of the 'Rainbow coalition' (Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left).

In fact no more then 3,000 refugees are currently in Ireland, a minuscule percentage of the tens of millions of displaced people in the world. Many of these arrived over a year ago, the recent racism has been whiped up by politicians and the media. The state also deliberately engineered a crisis situation by placing most of these refugees in three of the poorest areas of Dublin, the north and south inner cities and West Tallaght. Because refugees are forbidden to work before their cases are heard this has meant that the already overstretched social welfare services in these areas are in a state of near collapse The result; conflicts between the refugees and local people on the one hand and between different groups of refugees on the other.

This 'crisis' has been developing for over two years and was entirely avoidable. Social welfare workers have been demanding extra staffing and funding to cope with the increased numbers for over a year. It suited the state to ignore these demands as the 'crisis' in services it allowed to happen creates a situation where people blame 'too many refugees' rather then under funding of the social welfare system.

Since the 1840's when the Great Hunger resulted in the death by starvation and disease of over one million people Ireland has been a source of refugees. A tiny percentage of these would now be considered 'political' refugees, most were fleeing starvation at the time of the famine and after this period poverty. Despite this Ireland has always been hostile to refugees arriving here, as late as 1943 Jews fleeing the holocaust in mainland Europe were being refused entry to Ireland

Internally Irish Travellers an ethnic, nomadic group continue to be subject to racism from the state, the media and many of the population. Many of the 'social statistics' of this group, including life expectancy are far more typical of what might be expected in a 'third world' country. They are routinely denied access to education, housing, clean water, rubbish and sewage disposal. Many shops, restaurants and pubs refuse to serve them and when Travellers attempt to organise themselves to resist this racism they are greeted with physical attack's from the Gardai or vigilantes.

This manufactured crisis makes it clear that the 100,000 welcomes promised by the Irish Tourist board only applies to those arriving with money who will stay a couple of weeks, take a few pictures and depart. The hostile atmosphere towards refugees arriving here in the hope of a better life represents the worst form of hypocrisy. There is scarcely a family in Ireland without at least one relation that has left Ireland in search of a better life elsewhere, until recently many of them going illegally to the USA in search of work.

Alongside this we have a government committed to attacking social welfare and the living standards of workers in order to attract more multinationals into the country. They have manufactured this crisis because as the welfare system starts to collapse under their attacks they will need a scapegoat to divert people anger away from their policies. Racism against refugees has already started to fulfil this function.

This means it is vital that those concerned with fighting against government policies make links with and fight alongside the refugees against the attempt to stir up racism here. This has started to happen, Inner City News (a free paper issued by the network of community groups in Dublin's inner city) has published several pages of articles on what the real situation of refugees is here and the parallels with previous waves of emigration from Ireland. Speakers are likely to address the mass meetings of community anti-heroin activists in the north inner city and ways to incorporate a multi- cultural aspect into the Monto festival (a local festival which happens in mid-July) are also being looked into.

Beyond this creating a lasting anti-racist movement in Ireland will mean looking at and opposing those forces that are trying to scapegoat refugees. As well as the politicians this includes newspapers, owned by big business that are seeking to blame refugees for racism and poor people for poverty. We must reject any attempt to divide people into 'deserving' and 'un-deserving poor' or into refugees and economic migrants. We need to look at ways of fighting for the things we all need, more housing, better social welfare, more well paid jobs rather then fighting each other for crumbs.

Glossary of terms

Gardai - Police force Rainbow coalition - out going government, a coalition of left and right parties. Fine Gael - right wing party Democratic Left - social democrats who split from the stalinist Workers Party Irish Travellers - ethnic group with about 22,000 members sharing some common cultural features with the Gypsies in mainland Europe. See http://www.geocities.com/Paris/2159/travrbr2.html The Great Hunger sometimes called The Famine occurred with the failure of the potato crop and the export under armed guard of other foodstuffs which had been used to pay rent to Irish and British landlords. The worst year was 150 years ago in 1847

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