Note: I am fully aware that my use of a certain word in this article might be construed by some as offensive, so to those that are truly offended by the word I apologise and ask you to please consider the context and the overall message of this article. I do however avoid using what in certain ways is a more offensive descriptive term – a certain ‘M’ word used nowadays to dehumanise those less privileged than us!
“The Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads.” – Jimmy Rabbitte
I’m sure most of us will be aware of the above line from Roddy Doyle’s novel The Commitments, or at least the more PC line from the film adaptation of said novel. But what relevance does such a statement have in the post-Celtic Tiger Ireland of today? From the dank streets of Dublin’s north-inner city in the mid-80s, with unemployment and drug-use spiraling, an ever growing social isolation being faced by many working-class people, and an island still very much in the midst of a bloody conflict born out of the legacy of slavery and colonial rule, then perhaps such a statement resonated with some truth. But does it carry any weight today? Are the Irish still viewed with such derision, as we were once arguably viewed by some?
Undoubtedly the colonial conquest of Ireland by the British empire bears many resemblances to the European conquests on the African continent. Although largely overlooked, and unfortunately misrepresented by some on the right, there was indeed a large Irish slave population transported to the West Indies and the Americas. Now I know that line is gonna draw criticism from the uber-leftist elite (all praise be upon them), so allow me to clarify; I am well aware of the privileges my pigmentation grants me, it is what allowed many of the oppressed Irish and their ancestors in the colonies to become apart of the oppressive system, and it’s fair to say that the contemporary benefits are undeniable. But there was as Irish slave trade. Not on any comparable level to the African slave trade, but to completely deny its existence defies all logic and historical records. The Gaels, with our unique language and culture, were absolutely hated by the British empire and its establishment. Our ancient tongue and customs are what prevented the colonisers from easily conquering the people, and as such it was necessary for the Gaels to be portrayed and treated as less than human and for the Anglicising of our nation to ensure the pacification of the people. This treatment and the crimes of colonialism have no doubt left a lasting legacy which still effects the Irish psyche today. How else do you explain why we are allowing one of the oldest living languages in the world to die out? And perhaps it is why Ireland has a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse than most European countries?
However in the Euro-centric Ireland of today where we are constantly reminded that we are all Europeans and that we owe our very means of existence – from our jobs to our roads – to our overlords in Brussels it would be extremely disingenuous to think that we are in any way on a lower pegging than our brothers and sisters in Europe. Like the other peripheral states we may be treated with more contempt than the Brits, Germans and French, but so long as our esteemed elected representatives keep us in our place and we continue to mass no real resistance to the EU’s right-wing master plan it is reasonable to say that the Irish are well and truly immersed in and equal citizens of the greater European community. Except of course those whose first tongue is an teanga Gaeilge who, arguably, rank among the most discriminated against in our State – but that’s an argument for another day. So while this generation of Anglophone Irish enjoy the privileges of the neocolonial take over of our country and the short-sighted economic policies it offers, only the ignorant – either by choice or by apathy – would deny who the most vulnerable and oppressed of peoples in Europe are today…
From the modern day coffin ships in the Mediterranean to the shanty town refugee camps in Calais tens of thousands of human beings are traveling to Europe from all over the Global South seeking the opportunity to taste the privileges we enjoy as Europeans. It is not difficult to find images and tales of the suffering being faced by the many people forced to flee their homelands because of war and poverty that is largely if not wholly due to the actions of western governments and military, however, it is saddening that so many here choose to ignore the human side of it all. It is shameful that many Irish people do not accept our shared responsibility for the suffering of other human beings, especially when our very own ancestors fled this island for many of the same reasons as those attempting to enter Fortress Europe today. People will drop a coin into a Trócaire box or support an event hosted by GOAL and actually believe that they are contributing to help build a better life for people in impoverished nations. Yet when we have a real opportunity to not only improve the lives of other human beings, but in many cases actually save lives, otherwise caring and decent people hide behind baseless and reactionary rhetoric fueled by right-wing rags and fear-mongering racists. As such it is very alarming that for the first time in a long time we now have in this State an openly racist political party seeking to contest the upcoming elections. Though we have our fair share of overtly right-wing and right-of-centre political parties the newly formed Identity Ireland pose a much more serious threat as their openly anti-immigration stance and backwards views are shrouded with tokenistic sentiments of patriotism, sovereignty and protecting our culture. Funnily enough though, I can only find three Gaelic words on their website.
It is understandable that working-class people who are struggling to keep their heads above water would seek to vent their frustration caused by the oppressive class-system that keeps us enslaved to debt and ever-increasing bills. Unfortunately though due to inaction from those in power, the actions of a bigoted few and the failings of the Irish left many people fall for the easy option of blaming others who are struggling instead of those in control of the power and wealth. Poor people blaming poor people for them being poor, while rich people go about business as usual. However the simple fact is that the people arriving on our shores from Africa, the Middle East and Asia – whether fleeing for their lives or simply seeking a better life – are not to blame for the homelessness crisis, extortionate rents, cuts to public services nor even water charges! When you cut through all the bullshit scare tactics of the right the truth becomes much more clear. These are ordinary people seeking out a better way of living. They are not trying to destroy our culture – it is Irish people that have allowed our language, one of the oldest living languages in the world, to decline to the point of near extinction. They are not forcing our fellow citizens onto the streets – it is parasitic Irish landlords and a corrupt and inept social housing system which is to blame for that. They are not stealing our resources and national wealth – again it is Irishmen and women that are to blame for that, such as the great gas giveaway in Rossport and the flogging off of State assets. And believe it or not, they are not stealing our jobs either, in fact research has shown that immigration can lead to the creation of more jobs. Which begs the questions; why is it okay for Irish people, many with qualifications, to fly off to the UK, USA, Canada, Australia etc to work and have a better quality of life than they would have here? Why was it okay for our ancestors to sail across oceans and seas to seek our a better life in the New World? Which reminds me, immigrants aren’t to blame for the mass-emmigration of our youth either! Yeah, we can blame that one on the policies of very Irish politicians and businessmen too.
When you look at the danger these human beings put themselves through and the conditions in which they have to live in on their travels and even when they reach Europe then how can we believe the lie often thrown about that they have comfortable lives in their homeland? Even research into the Direct Provision Programme – the Irish State’s highly-criticised Céad Míle Fáilte for those people seeking asylum – has found that the people that inhabit these centres often experience psychological damage and even food poverty. Of course the right-wing lack the empathy to really give a shit about the suffering of these people, especially when they are busy feigning concern for those that are homeless on our streets. But I guaran-fucking-tee that were these homeless people housed and more than likely, and rightfully, put on state support these same boneheads would be cursing them as welfare spongers!
Under the EU’s “resettlement plan” for the tens of thousands of people seeking refuge in it’s borders this State has agreed to take in around 600 of those. We live in a nation of over six million people, and some would have you believe that this tiny number of new arrivals is going to turn Ireland into some post-apocalyptic wasteland? Pull the other one, mate! A favourite of the right in England, the ould Muslim card, is often played by the wannabe EDL-for-Paddy micro-groups that are active (mostly online) here. But truth be told there have been Muslims living in this country for a long time, and probably due to our mostly welcoming nature there have been no significant attempts to change our “way of life”. You know, that Anglo-American way of life of ours. In fact, if any of you have to pay a visit to one of our under-funded and under-staffed hospitals (again, the doing of those bloody gombeen Irishmen) there is a good chance that you might end up in the care of a Muslim doctor! Or perhaps even a Filipino or Indian nurse, such is the extent of the value that the New Irish offer to our health service. Kick all the immigrants out and see how fast that house of cards falls down.
Little over 150 years ago our ancestors were making their perilous journeys in over-crowded and diseased-ridden coffin ships, fleeing the man-made and greed-fueled starvation and death that drove them from the land they loved, hoping for a safe passage and a welcoming arrival at their destination. In that moment of human-suffering and desperation that these Irishmen, women and children were experiencing, more than likely with Gaelic as their mother-tongue and carrying customs and religion so very foreign to those of the people that awaited them, they must truly have feared for what was to come. Yet history has shown, despite the prejudice and abuse they received by many on their arrival, that these immigrants were capable of contributing so much to their new homelands. Why should we believe the New Irish will be any different given a proper chance at life here? And what gives us to right, with our long history of mass-emigration, to turn these people away? James Connolly himself when asked “Who are the Irish?”, answered clearly and concisely – “The native-born Gael and the stranger within our gates”.
So far this year there have been close to 2,000 people drown while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, and in a single week in mid-April alone there was 1,200 people drown. Every single one of those people, despite their complexion, religion, spoken language or country of birth, were a father or mother; a brother or sister; a son or daughter – a human being, designed to love and be loved. A human being with fears, hopes, ambitions, and talents. Many of these people possibly never even seen the ocean or the sea until they arrived at the north African coast, and probably had never intended to leave their homes behind had it not been for the war and poverty inflicted on them with the complicity of the EU. Too often our media dehumanises these people with labels such as “migrants” and language such as “swarms” used to describe them and their situation. This is really no different than how the word nigger has been used throughout history to dehumanise black people so as to solidify white privilege and justify slavery and lynchings. So to conclude I’ll answer the question posed in the opening of this piece – it is the migrant, the immigrant, the refugee, the asylum-seeker, the deportee, the illegals – these are the niggers of Europe! And we will stand on the wrong side of history with the slave-owners and lynch-mobs if we do not take a stand to help our fellow human beings in this time of crisis.
Lar Ó Tuama