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Racism in Modern Ireland

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

13 February 2023

National Party banner being carried in Ballymun.

For a long time in Ireland, certain sectors of the left used to like to boast about how Ireland was immune from widespread racism and the rise of far right or fascist movements.  No one clings to that illusion anymore, though some of those who proclaimed loudest that it couldn’t happen, are now central to the campaign against this movement, which is very real.

Ireland has a long and noble tradition of fighting against racism.  It was 1984 in Dunnes Stores in Henry St. that the workers refused to handle South African goods in solidarity with the people of South Africa and the struggle against Apartheid.  Solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles around the world was high.  Even the Bishops shock troops in Trócaire made statements in support of the ANC or the FMLN, amongst others.  Those times are long gone.  The movements and struggles in Ireland itself which sustained those positions and forced right wing organisations such as the Bishops to adopt more progressive positions have vanished or in cinemagraphic terms have gone over to the Dark Side.

The rise in racism in Ireland is linked to an increase in migrant populations but particularly the recent influx of Ukrainian refugees, which the Irish government has handled very badly.  To be clear, though the South has accepted a significant number of Ukrainians the Irish government is not generally welcoming of migrants or refugees.  Whilst Ukrainians are being welcomed as part of the war effort, the government maintains the Direct Provision system for refugees from other parts of the world.  In the midst of this shambles the far right have tapped into a nerve in Irish society.  As is frequently the case, the far right tap into real issues and put forward simple solutions with easy targets to blame.

The Left’s response to this has been as pathetic as the Irish government’s.  Under banal slogans of Everyone is welcome and the like they have little to say as an alternative to counter the Right’s simplistic answers and blame game.  They have past form on this.  When McDowell introduced his constitutional amendment to take away the right of children born in Ireland to automatically have citizenship, they ran with a banal attempt at some heart warming cheer.  The campaign slogan was Every Child is Equal with a photo of a black child alongside a white one.  At the founding of the campaign to oppose this amendment, they argued it was something everyone could get behind.  Except of course, all children are not equal in Ireland.  Families in Tallaght knew their children were not equal to the well off Celtic Cubs in Monkstown.  The left opted to keep it banal and abstract and shied away from looking at the class basis to racism: divide and rule.

Now in the midst of a severe housing crisis, they don’t want to put forward common demands for migrants and people already here, like universal public housing.  There are also demands that could be made in relation to healthcare, like free universal public healthcare and the take over of all private facilities, the sacking of fat cats.  The subtext to the marches does mention housing for all, healthcare for all, but these are demands made within the constraints of the current system, there is no radical break.  Migrants have to have a common cause with Irish people, housing for all in the current context means housing for a few.  Healthcare for all means long waiting lists.  The left does not propose a radical break with the current set up.  The right meanwhile makes concrete demands that are wrong but resonate as in the context of housing for all when that is problematic, they have a simple solution; housing for the Irish.  A real housing for all would mean tackling the bankers and speculators.

If we are to have a meaningful campaign it must make meaningful proposals for Irish people and migrants around common demands that challenge the status quo.

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