Republican News · Thursday 24 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Challenging racism

In an article written this week, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams calls for a public stand by all sections of society against racism in Ireland

``The vicious attacks on foreign students in Dún Laoghaire last weekend were not isolated incidents. Every day, refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, people on holiday - generally anybody whose skin colour or background does not fit - have to put up with attacks, degrading abuse, insults and harassment.

But we should not be fooled into thinking that racism is a recent arrival on our shores. Ten years ago, racism had already taken a noticeable hold on Irish society; physical racist attacks, although sporadic, were no less real for that. At that time, challenging racism was a question of legislation but, more importantly, it was a question of challenging attitudes. Unfortunately, save for a few lone voices, the response to this growing problem was a sense of detachment and casual indifference.

Ireland cannot be some kind of fortress, oblivious to the rest of the world and forgetful of the emigration which has plagued our own society in the past. Some of us seem to have forgotten our own history
Ignorance and hatred are at the heart of racism, but there are other underlying factors that have led to the rise of racist attitudes in Irish society.

One is the use by government ministers and some sections of the media of terminology to demonise people of colour and reinforce prejudice. These are calculated actions by officials and editors to further their own particular agendas. But they also stoke the fears and hatreds of people who are told their communities are being ``flooded'' and threatened by ``tidal waves'' of undeserving ``bogus'' asylum seekers intent of stealing a part of the national cake that was never big enough in the first place.

other factor is the policy of segregating asylum seekers from Irish communities through devices such as flotels, food vouchers and spot checks at ports of entry clearly on the basis of the colour of a person's skin.

How many white South Africans, Americans or Australians are `spot checked' by immigration officers?

other of the reasons underlying racism is the ghettoisation of refugees - the housing of large number of asylum seekers and immigrants in communities that are already been marginalised and ignored and have been given no understanding or preparation about the whys or wherefores. Racism often occurs when people cannot understand the reasons for their social problems and want to find someone vulnerable to blame.

d then we see residents of Ballsbridge, Dublin in the past few weeks using their wealth and privilege to marshal the legal system to avoid sharing the responsibility for helping people fleeing famine, deprivation and war throughout the World.

But it is up to those in leadership positions - in political parties, the churches, trade unions, sports and community organisations - to state quite clearly that refugees and asylum seekers are not to blame for the current housing crisis - successive governments are. Refugees and asylum seekers are not responsible for the disgracefully low levels of social welfare - successive governments are. Refugees and asylum seekers are not responsible for the long delay in the processing of their applications - successive governments are.

While Ireland's economy continues to grow, so too will our intake of immigrants. Some will be fleeing from persecution. Some (like millions of Irish people over the centuries) will just be hoping to make a better life for themselves. Others will be from stable economic backgrounds but attracted to Ireland for other reasons such as contributing their skills to our economy while gaining experience of a country famed for its friendliness. Whatever the motivation, people must be seen as exactly that - people, whose race or creed is incidental and who will, if allowed, enrich our society.

Ireland cannot be some kind of fortress, oblivious to the rest of the world and forgetful of the emigration which has plagued our own society in the past. Some of us seem to have forgotten our own history. In years gone by, we suffered racist abuse in our own country from colonial occupiers and we were subjected to racial discrimination in other lands. It is not so long ago that signs saying ``No Dogs, No Irish, No Blacks'' were displayed in boarding-house windows in England. It is not so long ago that thousands of young Irish people departed our shores for the United States to work illegally.

But it is important to point out that racism does not grow by accident.

Everywhere it has taken hold it is because unscrupulous people in politics and other spheres of society have nurtured it for their own cynical interests. It is up to politicians and people of influence to make their positions clear against racism. Pandering and dithering for electoral gain, or expressing opinions which are clearly racist has been the status quo for too long.

This doesn't just lead to racism - it leads to violence and death.

The time has long past for the civic leaders of Ireland to make a united stand against racism. We should all come together to make a public declaration that we will not tolerate racism in our parties, our workplaces, our clubs or our streets. And that we will actively confront the prejudice - sometimes the almost casually expressed prejudice - that leads to hate crimes and will almost certainly lead to racially-motivated murders.

I urge the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to take a public lead on this issue through the Oireachtas, the all-Ireland institutions and in wider society.

He is in a position to bring together all the other leaders of of civic society - the political and church leaders, trade union and community networks, media personalities and music, cultural and sporting heroes - in a public event declaring our united stand against racism, in all its forms and wherever it appears.''

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