Republican News · Thursday 04 May 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Government and media fan racial tensions

``The ineptitude, if not outright racialism in government, is directly to blame for what appears to be growing racial tension throughout communities in Ireland,'' says an angry Christy Burke, Sinn Féin Councillor in Dublin. ``The crisis in housing and the determination of the government to ape racist policies in England are the root cause of tensions, which the media gaily report like a pack of dogs chasing a rabbit.''

Last Sunday night, there was a widely reported attack on `Infinity Ventures', an African shop in Dublin's Parnell Street, by some 20 people, who smashed through shutters outside the premises and ransacked the contents.

This week, Christy Burke set about liasing with community groups and state agencies to bring the community together to defuse racial tensions in the area. ``The north inner city is a powder keg. Everyone must get around the table, the Guards, the Health Board, community organisations, ICON and refugee and ethnic minority groups, the business community and local political leaders, and try to resolve any problems we have before the situation flares again and someone is maimed or even killed.

``The state agencies have prime responsibility to defuse those tensions which directly result from their policies.

``The government policy of enforced `dispersal' without any adequate provision, the enforced separation of refugees by denying them their right to work and the discriminatory policy of refusing them their full social welfare entitlements, these are the policies which separate and ghettoise those seeking asylum here, inevitably fanning racial tensions, especially in those areas, like Dublin's inner city, which have been deprived of resources down the years and suffer a scandalous housing crisis that the government has failed to correct.

``These tensions are exacerbated by unscrupulous politicians whose comments, widely aired across the media, only serve to feed ignorance and hatred,'' said Christy.

As reporters and photographers swarmed over the tiny Nigerian shop in Parnell Street, the media gave widespread coverage to what Christy Burke terms the ``inane remarks of Jackie Healy Rae, and what he will be saying to Minister O'Donoghue, when they next meet up.''

``People with political responsibility should be mindful of making inflammatory comment which is racist and dangerous, when they should be giving leadership in creating tolerance and understanding,'' said North Kerry's Martin Ferris.

Back in `Infinity Ventures', amidst the good humour of the many African men and women who use the shop as a meeting point, there is fear and anger. Their hopes to find Ireland ``a generous, open hearted, Christian community, as the missionaries had promised us'', were in danger of being shattered.

The owner of the shop, Kola Ojewale, explains quietly what the papers did not report, the numerous calls, the faxes and visitors, who even brought flowers, to express their shame and sorrow at what had happened to the shop over the weekend. ``It gives me courage and inspiration'', Kola says.

The landlord of the pub opposite, who has the reputation in the area of being supportive of the African restaurant and centres opposite, invited Kola over, apologised, and said that he would do all in his power to ensure that it did not happen again. He added that it was Paul Williams in the Sunday World's allegation that the Nigerians were running a protection racket that had started the whole thing off. ``It would not have happened without the Sunday World contribution,'' he claimed.

Gabriel Olu Ohkenla, executive director of the Pan African Organisation points out that at the moment you have government drawing up ad hoc policies in isolation from the community and the people. He endorsed Christy's call for a forum, of trade unionists, business community, of ethnic minority representatives, political parties, community groups and statutory agencies to be set up, which could draw up a comprehensive policy not only on refugees, asylum seekers, but on immigration.

Abayomi Popoola, the young 17 year old who was attacked in a local chipper two weeks ago, a beautiful calm young man, who was head of his class at university in Nigeria, who came all on his own as a political refugee here, says, ``Not all the Irish are like that. It is ignorance. If people had travelled over the world they would not behave like that. But we are all the same. No person should have to go in fear.''

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