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The  article below is from 2004

Comment: The Many Facets of Racism Part 1

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June 21,2004--As the results of the referendum to amend the Irish Constitution in respect of citizenship rights confirmed that it would be passed by a margin of four-to-one, the man who had pioneered the change was apparently experiencing a high temperature.  On RTE Radio the results of RTE's exit poll of 3.300 voters had been presented with 36% of yes voters at 166 polling stations having given the main reason for their vote was because 'the country is being exploited by immigrants.' Another 27% had agreed with the statement that 'there are too many immigrants in the country.' The news of the high colour of Michael McDowell, the Irish Minister for Justice was conveyed to listeners by his parliamentary colleague Ruar Quinn. McDowell was uncomfortable with the results of the exit poll and he did his best to rubbish it by stating that too much should not be read into the reactions of tired people 'after a long day at work.'

It would be no news to discover that at least a quarter of the adult Irish population hold racist views. While McDowell is not a racist, both he and his Government colleagues can be faulted for the ignorance among some of the population concerning the immigrants who moved to Ireland during the past decade of the Celtic Tiger boom. The large majority of the foreign residents have been in Ireland on work permits and have made a significant contribution to the success of the economy. The take off of our economy had coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and turmoil in the Middle East and Africa. In common with other countries of Western Europe, we have had to contend with the large movements of population following the collapse of the prison that was Eastern Europe. 

In low income Irish urban areas where there is competition for limited State resources, there is often no distinction made between legal and illegal immigrants. Rumours that immigrants get priority on the public housing list and get welfare payments that are much higher than available to locals, are accepted as fact. In a letter to an Irish newspaper last year, a young Portuguese man, a citizen of the European Union, wrote of the regular verbal abuse which he had to put up with from children in his neighbourhood. His only crime was that he looked 'foreign.' In Northern Ireland in recent times, there has been a marked increase in violent racist attacks. President McAleese has eloquently condemned such activity and has also been a prominent voice in warnings against the evils of racism in our part of the island. The focus of Michael McDowell who has a background of privilege, is on the control of illegal immigration and in a recent newspaper interview, he referred to the Equality Authority as a 'ginger group.' He could do well to give thought to the character Atticus Finch's line in Harper Lee's celebrated novel To Kill a Mockingbird: 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.'

Until a short time ago, a sign over a photography store on Dublin's Grafton Street carried the line: Morrison Visa Photographs Immediately. In the 1980's Congressman Bruce Morrison had sponsored a Bill in the US Congress to provide for special work visas to be issued to Irish citizens.  Almost 50,000 Irish took advantage of the special visas and as recently as 1997 the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ray Burke said that the status of illegal Irish immigrants in the United States would be one of the issues that would be discussed during a trip to Washington D.C. In the 1990's our switch from emigrant to immigrant nation happened very fast as did the memory of our own past history of emigration.

Racism knows no boundaries in a society and formal education is certainly no barrier.  When a person with no shortage of university degrees says that it's incongruous to be served by a Chinese person in Dublin's Foggy Dew bar because it's a shrine to the 1916 Easter Rebellion, one can only wonder about human nature. I assume that Michael McDowell was never stopped by a door 'bouncer' at a Dublin pub and asked: 'Who are you meeting here?' This was the recent reaction to three very sober Chinese who were stopped at the entrance of the Break for The Border pub in central Dublin during the Euro 2004 football championship. The combination of a poor atmosphere in the place and the welcome that they received, prompted them to move elsewhere.  I have a particular interest in the issue of racism because my two children were adopted in the Philippines. It's a subject which I will return to next week.


- Michael Hennigan

Our Comment feature has been incorporated in the:

The Finfacts Ireland News & Comment  Service from October 2004


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September 2004:

Ireland Tops Cash per Head Income Aid from European Union
Can Vincent Browne Shake Up a Cosy Irish Media?

Get an Education and Make Crime Pay

August 2004:

America: Celebrities, Politics and Money
Is Saudi Arabia on the Brink?

The Manchurian Candidate and the Evil Corporation
Darfur, the Media Loop and When News of Mass Killings is News

July 2004:

Incendiary Money Spinners: Fahrenheit 9/11 and President George W. Bush Assassination Novel Plot
Aer Lingus Management Buyout/MBO-A Contrarian View

UN Human Development Report 2004 and Ireland
Should Bertie Ahern Sack Mary Harney from the Irish Cabinet

June 2004:

Senator Joseph McCarthy: The Implosion of an Irish American Demagogue
Irish Media-Caged or Paper Tigers?
The Celtic Tiger and Public Squalor in Modern Ireland
The Many Facets of Racism Part 1
The Many Facets of Racism Part 2

May 2004:

Balancing Frugality and Miserliness
The Gekko Doctrine-Fair Pay in an Age of Greed 
The Genesis of American Foreign Policy
In an Age of Cynicism: Trust me, I'm a Politician!

April 2004:

Dealing with Al Qaeda Terrorism
Employment Rights and Human Rights
The Opiate of the Masses
Prison of Culture-Japanese Hostages Get Icy Welcome Home 

March 2004:

The Irish Abuse of Power Tribunals
1989-A Year of Irish Corruption and Freedom
Iraq War and Embittered Tit-for-Tat
Irish Corruption and Morality: 'But sir, don't they all steal?'


US Corporate Scandals and the Laws of Unintended Consequences
Self Interest - Common Interest Imbalances

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