BLAME THE BOSSES NOT THE FOREIGNERS
Why Ireland Should Welcome Immigrants
Introduction: Are Foreigners Favoured?
1. Jobs, Housing and Health
2. Where Racism Comes From
3. How Racism is Promoted
4. Travellers, Roma, Jews, Muslims
5. Do We Need Immigration Controls?
6. The Fight Against Racism
Introduction: Are Foreigners Favoured?
‘The trouble with Ireland these days is that the foreigners are getting everything.’ This is a sentiment that can be heard in many a pub and many a workplace in Ireland today. However, in the same pub or workplace there are likely to be people who dislike this sort of comment, who instinctively feel it is wrong to be blaming or ‘giving out’ about immigrants and think it smacks of bigotry.
One of the aims of this pamphlet is to show that their instincts are right and that those who blame the foreigners or believe they are somehow favoured over the native Irish population are seriously misled. Another is to argue that this whole way of looking at society is mistaken and that the real division in Irish society, and pretty much everywhere else, is not between people born here and people born elsewhere, but between the Irish (and foreign) rich or bosses and the Irish (and foreign) workers and poor.
So let’s begin by accepting that there certainly are a group of ‘foreigners’ who are favoured and ‘given everything’. These are the multinational corporations, their executives and senior managers. Companies like Facebook, Starbucks and Pfizer are able to get away with paying almost no tax – Facebook paid only 0.6% corporation tax in 2012 and Starbucks paid only €35,000 over five years – and their executives are given virtual bribes in the form of tax breaks and having their school fees paid. Similarly every foreign bondholder, like the ridiculously wealthy Bill Gates, was protected when the banks crashed in 2008.
But is this who our pub pundits and canteen complainants have in mind? Not at all. Generally speaking it is the ordinary Polish, Romanian, Nigerian or Asian immigrants they are having a go about – the people they say they have seen drawing benefits in the post office, filling up the A&E departments in the hospitals or getting the jobs driving taxis. And here it is necessary to say very firmly that the idea that ordinary immigrants are somehow privileged or favoured over the so-called native Irish is completely false.
The large majority of ‘foreigners’ who come to Ireland do so for one of two reasons. Either, a minority, they have fled circumstances that were life threatening or intolerable (like war, famine, persecution, torture) or, the majority, because they hope to get work and build a better life for themselves and their families. The former are what are usually referred to as asylum seekers or refugees and the latter are what are called ‘economic migrants’.
A moment’s thought should remind us that these are precisely the same reasons that Irish people have been emigrating en masse to Britain, America, Australia and elsewhere ever since the Famine. A moment’s thought will also tell us that as people who come from countries that are substantially poorer than Ireland (Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, every African country) they arrive here, just like the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in New York or in Camden Town or Kilburn, as among the poorest, least advantaged members of society. And that is what they remain.
The idea that the Irish government which devotes its energies to bailing out bankers, and pampering the corporations, while cutting the wages of PAYE workers and cutting the benefits to lone parents, the unemployed, and people with disabilities is somehow dishing out special privileges to people because they are ‘foreign’ makes no sense at all and is simply not true.
The claims about immigrant privilege and favouritism are usually anecdotal – people say they ‘heard’ about this case, or read about such-and-such an example or ‘saw loads of foreigners in the dole office’ – which makes them hard to check or answer, but the overall evidence is very clear.
In 2006 a major study was done of the data in the census called Multiple Disadvantage in Ireland – an equality analysis of the Census 2006. It showed that all the main immigrant communities were more likely than Irish nationals to be suffering poverty and deprivation. For example, it showed that White Irish aged 25 to 44 had a 17% chance of being in the lower manual social class, ie at the most deprived end of society. The rate for Africans was 33%, for Chinese 26%, and for non-Irish whites (eg Polish) 29%. Similarly it recorded that in terms of lack of access to a car – a good measure of poverty – only 8% of White Irish lacked such access, whereas the rate for Africans was 23%, for Chinese 42%, and for non-Irish whites 29% (www.equality.ie/research and www.esri.ie).
More recent data confirms this pattern. In 2010 median household income for Irish nationals stood at €42,252, nearly €5,000 a year more than the €37,642 median for non-Irish, and whereas 21.8% of Irish nationals were held to be suffering deprivation (a shocking statistic in itself) the rate rose to 31.0% for non-Irish (Frances McGinnity et al, Annual Monitoring Report on Integration 2012, ESRI.pp.41-43).
In other words the basic picture, exceptions aside, is that the majority of foreigners and immigrants, far from being privileged, are in fact among the most disadvantaged.
Equally this pamphlet will show that it is quite untrue that the numerous serious problems in Irish society – the lack of jobs, the housing crisis, the deterioration in the health service and so on – are caused by immigration or immigrants, and that to blame them for these problems is simply to let those really responsible off the hook.
At the moment it is clear that hostility to foreigners and the racist attitudes that go hand in hand with this are on the rise in Ireland. This is shown by the sharp increase in racist incidents reported in 2013, almost double the figure for 2012 (Independent.ie, 7 December, 2013), by the surveys of public attitudes to immigrants (Annual Monitoring Report on Integration 2012, as above) and by a study of migrants’ own experiences by Dr Patricia Kennedy of the School of Applied Social Science in UCD, which found that 60% of foreigners had experienced discrimination.
Shop in Tallaght after a Racist Attack in 2014
The increase is from a low base. Ireland has a strong tradition of anti-racism and, compared to many European countries including Britain, was relatively welcoming to immigrants, but it is an increase. The reason for it is clear. It is that the establishment and their media have been able to deflect some of the anger at the pain inflicted on people by the recession and the government’s austerity policies onto ‘the foreigners’.
This pamphlet aims to provide the facts and arguments to help combat this growth of racism and redirect that anger back to where it belongs.
1. Jobs, Housing and Health
‘They are taking our jobs!’ Is there any truth in this familiar cry? No, there is not. In 2001 unemployment in Ireland stood at only 3.6%. In October 2012 it was 14.8% and as I write it remains over 12%. Did immigration cause this dramatic increase? No, it did not. Immigration was relatively high between 2000 and 2007 but unemployment remained low – in 2005 it was 4.2%, the lowest rate in the EU at the time. Unemployment only started to rise significantly in 2007 when the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger began to falter and it took off like a rocket in 2008 when the banks collapsed.
Is it possible that the accumulated immigration of the late 1990s and early 2000s eventually caused the mass unemployment we are seeing now? No, because, as the graph above shows, unemployment was very high – even higher than it is now – in the 1980s when immigration was very low.
What the graph above shows clearly is that it is the state of the economy that causes unemployment, not immigration. Rather levels of immigration and emigration are a consequence of the state of the economy. When the economy booms there is a demand for more labour and this attracts immigration (and emigration declines). When the economy goes into recession unemployment rises and immigration decreases (while emigration increases).
This is not just true for Ireland but is the case internationally. Historically the worst period for unemployment was in the 1930s when there were many millions of unemployed right across America and Europe. This had nothing whatsoever to do with immigration but was caused by the Great Depression which began with the Wall Street crash in 1929. The high unemployment in Ireland in the early 1980s was matched by mass unemployment in Britain (under Thatcher) and in the US because there was an international recession. The deep economic crisis that broke out in 2008 was also international – it began with the banking crisis in the US – and it has produced high unemployment internationally. The precise figures vary but the basic pattern is the same.
In the US the unemployment rate in October 2007 stood at 4.7%; by October 2010 it had risen to 10%. In Britain unemployment was 5% in early 2008; by 2009 it was over 8%. In southern Europe, which, like Ireland, was particularly hard hit by the crisis, unemployment grew astronomically reaching over 26% in Greece and Spain in 2013.
Here it is important to understand that, despite the scaremongering that goes on in the media, an increase in the population, whether through rising birth rates or immigration, does not create unemployment. Every new person in a country, child or adult, means an increase in the demand for goods – food, clothes, housing, phones, transport, etc – and therefore stimulates the economy, ie leads to the creation of new jobs. At the same time each new person is, actually or potentially, able to fill those jobs and produce more wealth.
If it were not so, unemployment would have been rising relentlessly over the last thousand years or so in which the population of the world has grown steadily and especially the last two hundred years in which it has grown rapidly. And everyone would have been getting poorer and poorer.
Consider the United States. In 1700 the US had a population of about 1 million, mostly Native Americans. It had a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of approximately $500 million, which equals $500 per head. By 1870 its population had increased to 40 million, largely through immigration, and its GDP had risen to approximately $100 billion or $2,500 per head. Today its population is 314 million and its GDP is $16,000 billion or just over $50,000 per head. By contrast Ireland had a falling population for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, from over 8 million to under 4 million, but remained poor with historically high levels of unemployment (until the Celtic Tiger in the 1990s).
The real cause of unemployment in Ireland and elsewhere is that we live in a capitalist economy where production is for profit. When profits are high the capitalists expand production and employment rises. Indeed they fall over themselves to attract labour, from abroad if necessary. When profits fall they cut back production and lay people off and they stop investing so that demand for labour falls and unemployment rises. None of this is in any way caused by ‘foreigners’ or immigrants. It is entirely the responsibility of the bankers, speculators, giant corporations and politicians who run capitalism.
Unfortunately this is not the end of the matter. Unfortunately it is possible to argue that, regardless of who caused the crisis and the lack of jobs, the ‘foreigners’ should not be allowed to have jobs. Only native born Irish people should be allowed to work here. This is the logic of the idea of ‘Irish jobs for Irish workers’ or ‘We should look after our own first’. ‘We should look after our own first’ sounds reasonable but putting it into practice would mean massive and vicious discrimination.
It would mean refusing to employ people or sacking them on the grounds of their nationality or ethnic background and, more or less inevitably, that would turn into discriminating against them on the basis of their skin colour, ie outright racism. It would not, in the main, be the 28,000 Americans in Ireland, 17,000 Scots, 6,000 Australians or 212,000 English and Welsh who would be thrown out of work; overwhelmingly it would be the 20,000 Nigerians, the 20,000 Romanians or the 3,000 Bangladeshis.Indeed, to some extent this is what is already happening even though such discrimination is illegal. In 2012 the Annual Monitoring Report on Integration showed the number of immigrants in employment between 2008 and 2011 fell by 40%, compared to a fall of 10% for Irish nationals over the same period. The unemployment rate in 2011 was 18% among immigrants compared to just under 14% for Irish nationals (http://www.rte.ie/news/economy/2012/0605/323566-immigrants-hit-hardest-by-recession/).
At present this discrimination occurs ‘quietly’, on the sly (which is easy enough for employers to do; they just say ‘The job has gone’ when a black person or Eastern European applies). If it were made legal and state policy it would obviously multiply many fold and worse would follow. Immigrants are already attacked for being on welfare or the dole (so they are damned if they work and damned if they don’t). If all immigrants were stopped from working it would be said that they contributed nothing to society and their welfare should be stopped. This would mean either starving them or forcibly deporting them. And once a group in society is stigmatised and isolated in this way it leads to all sorts of barbarities.
Of course, most people who say ‘We should look after our own’ haven’t thought this through. They are just ‘giving out’ and don’t realize what it would lead to. But some people do, which is why fascists and Nazis across Europe (like the British BNP and the Greek Golden Dawn) always attack immigrants. When the idea of ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ was raised in England the BNP seized on it and said ‘When we say British jobs for British workers we mean it.’
To summarise: it is completely untrue that immigration causes or has caused unemployment. The real cause is the economic crisis of a system based on production for profit. Blaming foreigners and immigrants is scapegoating of the first order, it leads to vicious racism and crucially it lets those really responsible – the bankers, capitalists and politicians – off the hook.
Housing and health
Housing and health are two areas of Irish society in serious crisis. In neither case did immigration or immigrants have anything to do with causing the problems but in both cases there are people who want to blame them for the situation or to ‘solve’ it at their expense.
The housing crisis has two main aspects to it: homelessness and mortgage distress.
On homelessness Focus Ireland reports:
The most recent statistics on homelessness in Ireland are from the Special Census report on homeless persons in Ireland. Of the 4.5million persons in Ireland on Census night (10th April 2011), 3,808 were in accommodation providing shelter for homeless persons or were sleeping rough. 62% (or 2,375) were living in Dublin on Census night, and 644 (17%) were under the age of 20. 15% or 553 people were non-Irish, compared to 12% of the total population. Almost one-third of homeless persons had health which was ‘Fair’, ‘Bad’ or ‘Very bad’, compared with 10% of the general population (http://www.focusireland.ie/about-homelessness/understanding-homelessness/how-many-people-are-homeless).But Focus Ireland believes this is an underestimation and ‘estimates that there are up to 5,000 people at any one time who are homeless in Ireland.’ It also points out that many more people are at risk of becoming homeless:
People who are homeless can find it very difficult to find a place to live. There is a large waiting list for local authority housing in Ireland. Over 98,000 households were in need of social housing in 2011, and 2,348 (or 2.4%) of these households were in need of housing due to homelessness. There are also thousands more families and single people who are at risk of becoming homeless. These people are often at risk of losing their current accommodation due to a range of reasons, including struggling to pay their rent or falling into mortgage arrears.In September 2013 Fr Peter McVerry, the founder of a trust for the homeless, told the Irish Times, ‘After 30 years of working to eliminate homelessness, I believe the problem is now worse than ever, perhaps even out of control.’
But this has nothing to do with there being a housing shortage or with foreigners taking people’s houses. On the contrary there is, as a result of building in the property boom, a huge surplus of houses in Ireland. In November 2013 official figures showed there were 1,200 ghost estates in the country (http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/1200-ghost-estates-blight-country-29792522.htm). Estimates for the number of empty houses vary but in 2012 the Deutsche Bank suggested that there are 289,451 empty houses in Ireland, which represents a vacancy rate of 15%, and in 2011 the Census lists the number of empty homes to be around 230,000 (excluding the 60,000 holiday homes). So if people are homeless and the numbers of homeless are rising this not because there are not enough houses but because they cannot afford to access them, and this has nothing to do with immigrants and everything to do with austerity, rising poverty and government inaction.
Mortgage distress is very widespread. The latest data from the Central Bank for the third quarter of 2013, published in November, shows that owners of 141,520 principal dwelling houses (PDH) had fallen behind in their home loan payments. The number of accounts in arrears for more than 90 days at the end of September had risen to 99,189. The increase of 1,315 was driven entirely by accounts that are behind by over 720 days (see http://www.thejournal.ie/mortgage-arrears-central-bank-1208062-Dec2013/).
For the people concerned, looking into the abyss of losing their homes, and for other people fearing that it may be them next, this is a nightmarish situation. For some it may be tempting to lash out and blame someone, anyone, maybe ‘the foreigners’, or to hope that someone else – maybe someone with a different colour skin or from a different country – should be made homeless instead. But, in truth, the mortgage crisis, like homelessness, has nothing at all to do with immigrants and everything to do with the mad property bubble that developed during the Celtic Tiger. Kieran Allen and Brian O’Boyle describe what happened:
Between January 1996 and December 2005 553,267 housing units were built in Ireland. And then, despite the fact that a quarter of a million units were unoccupied, another 244,590 units were added between January 2006 and December 2009. At the height of the bubble Ireland was building twice as many units per head of the population as anywhere else in Europe… New house prices rose in Dublin by 429 per cent while the price of second hand houses rose by 551 per cent between 1991 and 2007.
(K. Allen & B. O’Boyle, Austerity Ireland, Pluto Press, 2013, p.74)
This extraordinary bubble did not happen of itself. It was deliberately driven by an alliance of landowners, bankers, property developers and landlords – all looking to build, buy, lend and let for a profit and all backed by the government and various corrupt politicians. When the bubble burst as bubbles always do hundreds of thousands of home owners, who had bought at the height of the Tiger, were left in negative equity and with unpayable debts and mortgages.
Mortgage distress is also closely linked to that other main feature of Ireland after the boom, unemployment. Davy Stockbrokers did a survey and found that there was a close correlation between mortgage arrears and long term unemployment (as above, p.70).The crisis in the health service is well summed up by a report on RTE that has appeared as I write these words:
The number of patients on trolleys in hospitals waiting for admission to a bed continues to increase. Today there are 467 patients on trolleys in emergency departments or in wards waiting for admission to a bed, figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation show. It represents an increase of six on yesterday's total figure.
The INMO says that of the 467 patients affected today, 374 are on trolleys in emergency departments and 93 are on trolleys in wards.
The worst affected hospitals today are Beaumont Hospital in Dublin with 49 patients waiting on trolleys, University Hospital Galway with 37 patients waiting, the Midland Regional Tullamore with 33 patients and Connolly Hospital Dublin with 32 patients (http://www.rte.ie/news/2014/0108/496576-patients-trolleys/).The HSE has tried to excuse this situation by saying that ‘part of the increase is due to the seasonal flux that traditionally takes place after Christmas and the New Year period.’ But this doesn’t work because, as the same report points out, ‘This day last year (ie just after Christmas and New Year 2013 – JM) there were 345 patients on trolleys in emergency departments, compared with 374 today.’ So the situation is getting worse. When 495 patients were on trolleys in March 2006 the then Health Minister Mary Harney (not known for her softness) described the situation as ‘a national emergency’. So presumably it’s a national emergency today.
What underlies this situation is the systematic cuts that have been made to the health service and, in particular, to staffing levels over recent years, as the graph below shows:
Health Service Staffing to July 2013
But maybe things are going to get better soon. Not according to the Minister of Health, James Reilly. Niall Hunter, Editor www.irishhealth.com, reports:
Health Minister James Reilly has admitted that 2014 will be a 'massively challenging year' for the health service, with €666 million in cuts and savings targeted, particularly at medical card holders.
The savings target is higher than was predicted in recent days – Minister Reilly admitted that 2014 would be the most challenging year yet for the health service.
He said the out-turn for 2013 for the health service had been €14.21 billion, and the budget would be €13.66 billion for 2014….
Minister Reilly said 35,000 over 70s would lose their full medical cards through a lowering of income thresholds, generating savings of €25 million; however, they would still be entitled to a GP visit card.
Commenting on the hike in prescription charges to €2.50, Minister Reilly referred to the problem of over prescribing in the elderly, and stressed that sometimes patients did not necessarily need a pill for every illness.
Any scapegoating, whether it’s immigrants, refugees, Travellers, single parents, old people or people with red hair just helps James Reilly and his partners in crime get away with it. However, it is especially obnoxious where immigrants are concerned because it is clear that many ‘foreigners’ work in the health service as doctors, nurses and support staff, thus making a major contribution to keeping it going.
Nurses in Ireland
As we have seen, there is no evidence to support the idea that foreigners or immigrants are specially privileged, quite the contrary, and the notions that the crises in jobs, housing and health are the fault of immigrants make no sense. These are myths. But why are these myths so widely believed? Part of the answer to this is that they tap into prejudices that are deep rooted and widespread in our society and in our world – Ireland is by no means unusual in this; these are the prejudices of racism. We shall now look at the nature of racism and where it comes from.
2. Where Racism Comes From
The term racism is used to refer to prejudice and discrimination against people on the grounds of their real or presumed ethnic origin. The main form of racism in the modern world has been, and remains today, ‘White’ European and North American racism against ‘people of colour’ such as Africans, Asians, Native Americans (‘Indians’), Arabs, Iranians, Polynesians, etc and their descendants. Sometimes, now is one of those times, this racism has also extended to certain Europeans such as Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians and there have been times, especially in Britain, when there was strong racism against the Irish.
In addition to this there have been some specific forms of racism which have been, and are, very important – these include anti-Jewish racism (usually called anti-Semitism), anti- Gipsy or Roma racism, anti-Traveller racism (in Ireland) and in recent years anti-Muslim racism or Islamophobia.
To understand the general phenomenon of racism we need to begin with the main form which is of Europeans towards non-Europeans.
This has very deep roots in our society and goes back many centuries. However, it is not simply ‘natural’ or part of human nature. Racism was not, for example, a feature of the ancient Egyptian or Greek world (when northern Europeans were ‘backward’) or the Roman Empire: there was slavery but it was not on the basis of ‘race’ or skin colour and most slaves were ‘white’ while there was at least one African emperor (Septimius Severus, reign AD 193-211).
Nor is racism a biological thing. Race is not a scientific concept. Biologically and scientifically there is only one race, the human race, or, more accurately one human species every living member of which derives from common ancestors in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Of course there all sorts of physical differences between humans in different parts of the world (differences of height, weight, anatomy, hair type and colour, etc, as well as a wide variety of shades of skin colour) but the idea that these divide us into distinct races (the ‘white race’, the ‘black race’, the ‘yellow/ Chinese’ race, etc) is false. Both racism and the idea of races were a product of history – the history of Western Europe coming to dominate the rest of the world.
This begins at the end of the 15th century – Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492 is a convenient landmark date. We are told that Columbus ‘discovered’ America. This is not true: America was ‘discovered’, both North and South, by people (later called Indians) coming from Asia via Alaska many thousands of years earlier. Columbus wasn’t even the first European to get there – the Vikings reached America about 1000. What Columbus did was begin the conquest of America, which was followed up rapidly by the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English and French.
At around the same time (with Vasco de Gama in 1498) the Portuguese reached India by sea and this began a process of European colonization of much of Asia. This whole process lasted for several centuries and culminated at the start of the 20th century with Western European countries having divided up between them virtually all the rest of the world, at which point they fought the First World War to decide which among them should get the lion’s share.
The rise to world domination of Western Europe was bound up with the development there of a new economic system, capitalism. Capitalism was a competitive system based on production for profit and in search of profits (through slaves, cheap labour, raw materials, markets and territory) the capitalists scoured the whole globe. It was this process as a whole that drove the development of racism.
Slavery and empire
A crucial role in the early development of capitalism, in opposition to the feudal system of kings, lords, knights and peasants that preceded it, was played by the transatlantic slave trade that shipped Africans in their millions to work as slaves on the plantations of the Americas. It was through this trade and the huge profits it produced that many of the early capitalists and merchants acquired the capital to invest in agriculture and industry to get capitalism going. But they had a problem: how could this mass enslavement be justified?
This was a particularly acute problem because these early middle class capitalists, or ‘bourgeoisie’ as they have become known, were involved at the time in a struggle for their own rights against the old ruling class of monarchs and lords (the feudal aristocracy). In this struggle they adopted the language of human rights and equality to get the majority of ordinary people on their side. So the American Declaration of Independence said that ‘All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, and the French Revolution proclaimed as its slogan ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’.
So how was this to be reconciled with slavery and the slave trade? By developing the racist idea that black people were not fully human or were by nature inferior and incapable of freedom or governing themselves.
In the 19th century as capitalism, including US capitalism, industrialised so it came to depend on ‘free’ wage labour rather than slavery and this led to the abolition of the slave trade and slavery (as in the American Civil War) but at the same time colonialism developed more and more. Britain, especially, established its empire in India and large parts of Africa but many other European powers were involved too, like the French in Indo-China and North Africa and the Belgians in the Congo.
To justify this racism shifted to emphasise the childlike qualities of native peoples; they had to be ruled by Europeans for their own good and led slowly, very slowly, towards independence when they grew up. Rudyard Kipling expressed this attitude powerfully in his notorious poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’ (1898).
Take up the White Man's burden--These racist ideas spread throughout the official culture of Western society in the 19th and early 20th century. They were adopted by politicians, learned philosophers and popular writers alike. They were widespread in children’s literature such as Enid Blyton and Mary Poppins (the racism was cut out of the Disney film). There was a so-called ‘scientific’ racism which ranked races according to their supposed innate intelligence and level of development, with white Europeans at the top, black Africans at the bottom and Indians and Chinese in between.
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
What is vital to grasp here, vital for understanding all forms of racism, is the relationship between racism and oppression. The more one nation or set of rulers oppressed and exploited another, the more racist they became towards them. This is why there was such strong racism against the Irish in Britain. The British landlords and politicians didn’t hate the Irish ‘naturally’ nor did they exploit Ireland because they hated it. They exploited Ireland and the Irish people for profit – the same reason they enslaved blacks and conquered India – and that made them hate and fear the Irish.
In the 20th century, especially after the Second World War, the imperialist powers were gradually forced to grant independence to their colonies. India became independent from Britain in 1947. Many African countries followed suit in the 1960s. There was also a massive challenge to the old racism from the Civil Rights Movement in America which had a big international impact.
At the same time Western capitalism experienced a major economic boom, like the Celtic Tiger but on a much wider scale (though it didn’t really happen in Ireland). The result was a huge demand for labour which was met by importing workers from the former colonies. By and large these immigrants came to what had been their colonial masters: Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians to Britain; Algerians and other North Africans to France; etc.
This brought about a shift in the nature of racism. Many of the old prejudices remained below the surface but the focus changed from stressing the biological or inborn inferiority of non-white people to emphasizing their ‘cultural’ difference and the supposed ‘threat’ they represented by being ‘over here’. People who had been happy to go to India or Africa and lord it among millions of black people now became indignant at the presence of black people in Europe.
All the things, almost word for word, that are now being said about foreigners and immigrants in Ireland – ‘They are taking our jobs’, ‘They’re all on welfare’, ‘They’re getting special favours from the government’ – were said about Asians and West Indians and others in Britain in the 1960s and 70s. Often the Irish were included too, especially when they were tarred with the ‘terrorist’ brush during the Troubles.
The racist charge was led by the leading Tory MP Enoch Powell with his infamous speeches in 1968 predicting that unless immigration was halted and reversed the streets of Britain would become ‘rivers of blood’. When Powell was kicked out of the Tory party he came to Northern Ireland and became a Unionist MP for South Down!
This anti-immigrant racism serves the ruling class of society very well. It provides a very convenient scapegoat on which to blame all the problems of society, thus diverting and deflecting working class anger away from themselves, and at the same time it is part of a strategy of divide and rule setting one section of the working class against another.
We shall return to the question of immigration later in a discussion of whether Ireland needs immigration controls. First it is necessary in an Irish context to say something about the relationship between nationalism and racism.
Nationalism and racism
Internationally, and especially in Europe, it is clear that there is a link between strong or intense nationalism and racism. In France the main racist organization is called the Front National, in Britain it is called the British National Party, and there’s also the National Front, the UK Independence Party and the English Defence League. It is not an accident that the German Nazi Party were ardent German nationalists. In Ireland, however, the nationalist tradition has been very different.
This is because Ireland was an oppressed country and Irish nationalism or patriotism developed in opposition to British rule and British imperialism. This gave Irish nationalism a democratic and progressive dynamic that was absent in the nationalisms of oppressor imperialist countries like Britain, France, Germany and others which were, and remain, thoroughly reactionary. Consequently Irish nationalists and republicans were generally anti-racist and tended to identify with anti-racist and national liberation movements in other countries like the Civil Rights Movement in America and Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.
This relatively progressive character of Irish nationalism may be one of the reasons why no significant fascist or organised far-right racist party has yet emerged in Ireland, unlike many other European countries.
However, there was always a weakness at the heart of Irish nationalism (and all nationalism) in that it looked on the Irish people as all sharing the same interests regardless of whether they were rich or poor, workers or bosses, exploited or exploiting, and could then go on to counterpose those national interests to the interests of all foreigners, not just the British ruling class who oppressed Ireland for so long.
Now that the Irish Republic is no longer an oppressed colony and, indeed, has joined the club of richer European nations, there exists a danger that Irish nationalism can be directed against immigrants from poorer countries in Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe. If that happens it will inevitably start to become racist. All those who cherish the legacy of Wolfe Tone, Jim Larkin, Padraig Pearse and James Connolly or, for that matter, Bobby Sands should strongly resist this tendency.
One further point needs to be made about where racism comes from. It is often assumed that racism originates at the lower end of society, being basically a working class phenomenon. Of course it is true that many ordinary working class people are influenced by racism and accept certain racist ideas but this not where racism originates, or where it is most deeply embedded.
As our historical survey of its development shows, whether we are talking about slavery, empire, anti-immigration or nationalism the real source of racism is at the top of society. It is primarily driven by our rulers and exploiters and serves their interests. In contrast the main opposition to racism in all countries has come from the working class and the left. We shall now look at how this process of pushing racism from the top operates.
3. How Racism is Promoted
In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries overt racism was part of the official ideology of Western society. Even someone as ‘progressive’ as Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, openly racist saying:
I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people… I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (then considered the most authoritative reference book in the world) stated ‘Mentally the negro is inferior to the white...the arrest or even deterioration of mental development [after adolescence] is no doubt very largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thoughts,’ and referred favourably to the Ku Klux Klan. And it must be remembered that explicitly racist Jim Crow Laws (which imposed racial segregation) remained in force in the American southern states until the 1960s.
But that is not how things stand now... Now almost all governments, establishment politicians and mainstream media outlets claim to be anti-racist. So-called ‘world leaders’, not just Barack Obama but Bill Clinton, George Bush, David Cameron and many others, fell over themselves to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral (even though some of them would once have called him a ‘terrorist’). From time to time some public figure is caught out making a racist comment, usually when they thought the microphone was switched off or they wouldn’t be reported. When that happens they have to apologise (‘for any offence caused’) and often have to resign.
This state of affairs is undoubtedly a step forward and it has been hard won, by a multitude of different anti-racist campaigns, but it does NOT mean that businesses, politicians and the establishment media don’t promote racism. On the contrary they do it all the time but they simply avoid using openly racist language.
Back in 1993 the Nazi BNP ran a successful local election campaign in the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London based on attacking the local Bangladeshi community. The slogan they used was ‘Isle of Dogs Homes for Isle of Dogs People!’ No use of the N word, no mention of Pakis, or even blacks or coloureds but EVERYONE knew what they meant. Unfortunately this method is not confined to the extreme right but is used by all sorts of mainstream politicians, pundits and media.
Employers and landlords are able to practise large scale racial discrimination without saying or doing anything openly racist at all. All that is necessary is that there should be an unspoken bias in recruitment, promotion and letting policy and the overall effect on ethnic minorities will be massive. But it will always be very difficult to prove discrimination in any individual case. However, the overall statistical evidence, including the evidence I have already quoted on the disproportionate growth of unemployment among non-Irish nationals in the recession, shows that in Ireland today this discrimination is widespread.
And what is done by employers and landlords can also be done by all sorts of people who have official power or authority over ordinary people in the numerous state institutions: judges, gardai, council administrators, civil servants, hospital managers and so on. This is not to suggest that all such people are racist – no doubt many are not – but it is to understand that the potential for racism is there and can easily be realized.
The Irish people have a strong tradition of anti-racism and of identification with oppressed people in other countries, such as the Palestinians and black South Africans, but Irish governments and the Irish state have a long record of hostility to immigrants. Even when the Irish population was down to less than three million and falling the state set its face against dealing with the problem through immigration, mainly through a desire, backed by the Church, to ensure that the country remained overwhelmingly Catholic.
In 1935 they passed the Aliens Act which required immigrants to report every week to the Aliens Office. At that time there was particular discrimination against Jews who were only allowed into Ireland if they had converted to Catholicism.
The racism of the Irish State is clearly seen in its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. The world is full of oppressive regimes, many supported by the West, that persecute and torture people because they are political opponents or because they are lesbian or gay or because they are the wrong colour or nationality. Many people are forced to flee from such regimes as a matter of survival. The world is also full of devastating wars, many of them waged by or with the support of the West, which force people from their homes and drive them into horrendous refugee camps.
A very small proportion of such refugees manage to get to Ireland, sometimes by design because they hope to find a safe haven here and sometimes by chance because they are dropped here by people traffickers when they were trying to get somewhere else, such as Canada. But from the moment they arrive it is made clear they are not welcome: they are treated with suspicion and subject to difficult and degrading conditions.
There is a long history of this. In 1956 there was a revolution in Hungary which was brutally repressed by Russia with many thousands of deaths. About 500 refugees reached Ireland and were promptly detained in military camps until most of them eventually fled from here. In 1992 27 Kurds (Kurds have been denied their national rights in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq and subject to many massacres) tried to claim asylum but were forcibly put back onto planes by gardai at Shannon.
Dealing with the situation today the Irish Refugee Council provides the following information:
While their application is being processed, asylum seekers are housed by the government’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) in direct provision accommodation centres around the country. This means that they live in hostel-like accommodation, where families are often housed in one room, and singles usually share a room with others of the same sex. Shower and toilet facilities are often shared...
Do asylum seekers get social welfare or children’s allowance? Asylum seekers receive a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child. This must cover any additional school expenses, clothing, footwear, toiletries, phone credit, internet access, etc.
Can asylum seekers work? Asylum seekers are not permitted to work in Ireland; therefore they are forced to depend on the state.
How is this inhumane treatment justified? There are two main claims made: that Ireland is being ‘flooded’ or ‘overrun’ by asylum seekers and that most asylum seekers are ‘bogus’ – they are really economic migrants. Neither of these claims stands up.
First there has been a systematic decline in the number of those applying for asylum arriving in Ireland, from a peak of 11,600 in 2002 to only 940 in 2012. Even if we take the highest figure this is less than 0.25% of the Irish population and no threat whatsoever. The current figure of less than a thousand is statistically almost invisible. Even if all the 11,600 of 2002 were ‘bogus’, which is quite untrue, it would still not have presented any difficulty if they had been accepted and allowed to work.
But by always treating asylum seekers, along with immigrants as a whole, as a threat and a problem the state sends a strong message to its citizens that there is something wrong with these people and this feeds racism and divide and rule.
The institutional racism of the Irish state is further reinforced by the institutional racism of the European Union which acts as a ‘rich man’s club’ with strict and brutally enforced border controls to keep out people from poorer countries. This regularly results in tragedies in the Mediterranean such as that off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013. In one of the worst disasters of its kind, more than 360 Eritreans died when the boat carrying them from Libya caught fire and sank off the coast of Lampedusa. To make matters worse the traumatized survivors were then detained in a hugely overstretched reception centre for more than 100 days with many of them forced to sleep outdoors for want of space.
In another incident in January this year the Greek coastguard were accused by survivors of deliberately drowning 12 refugees whose boat capsized while it was being towed. Apart from the appalling inhumanity of this behaviour, it sends to the whole of European society, including Irish society, the racist message that poor non-Europeans are a threat who must be kept out at all costs.
It would be possible to give many other examples of state and institutional racism in Ireland but it is also necessary to highlight the role played by the media.
Contrary to its own claims the media is not an independent set of institutions. Overwhelmingly it is owned and controlled either by big business (especially Denis O’Brien and Tony O’Reilly) or by the state (principally RTE). If, as we have shown, both business and the state have a shared racist agenda then the media will too and in fact it plays a crucial part in spreading racist ideas.
One way this operates is through the employment and promotion of ‘controversial’ columnists such as Ian O’Doherty and Kevin Myers. Both of these worked for The Independent, co-owned by O’Brien and O’Reilly, and both had as part of their brief the regular stirring up of racism – it would be extremely naïve to imagine that this happens without the backing of the owners.
O’Doherty is a right wing bigot with a range of prejudices. He has written that ‘If every junkie in this country were to die tomorrow I would cheer,’ and that gays are ‘sexual deviants’. Among his specialities has been attacking Muslims, arguing that Islam is ‘the biggest threat to the West since the end of the Cold War’. For this he was rewarded by RTE with an invitation to make a documentary called Now Its Personal in which he spent a week with a Muslim family in Dublin. The documentary began with footage of 9/11 and of an extremist Muslim threatening to take over the world. In other words it was calculated to reinforce the association of Muslims with terrorism [see the section of this pamphlet on Muslims and Islamophobia].
Kevin Myers writes things like, ‘A hugely disproportionate amount of rural crime is by a handful of Travellers...they have generated an atmosphere of terror in rural areas unlike anything Ireland has experienced since the 1920s’ (The Irish Times, 19/1/96) and that ‘no one can deny this unassailable truth: our unemployment figures have been made immeasurably worse by the large numbers of immigrants who poured unchecked into the Celtic Tiger economy’ (Independent.ie, 10/8/ 2011).
And in July 2008 he wrote an article entitled ‘Africa is Giving Nothing to Anyone – Apart from Aids’ in which he asked, ‘How much morality is there in saving an Ethiopian child from starvation today…resulting in another half-dozen such wide-eyed children, with comparably jolly little lives ahead of them?’ and attacked an anti-malaria programme sponsored by Bill Gates, saying:
If his programme is successful, tens of millions of children who would otherwise have died in infancy will survive to adulthood, he boasts. Oh good: then what? I know. Let them all come here. Yes, that's an idea.
Of course O’Doherty and Myers are not typical but that they are given major platforms in the media is not accidental. Also alongside this overt racism there is a lower level but consistent tendency in the media as a whole to reinforce stereotypes with stories such as ‘A GANG of Romanian criminals is behind a sinister prostitution racket that has turned a well-known part of Limerick city into a red-light district, a Sunday Independent investigation reveals’ and to repeatedly present stories about immigration in terms of immigrants ‘flooding’ into the country. The use of the ‘flooding’ metaphor has become so regular that it passes without comment but it has its effect.
The narrative of victimhood
To see how racism is promoted and spread in our society today it necessary to understand that the narrative of racism has changed. In the past, say 100 years ago, the narrative of racism was a narrative of white and western superiority. It presented non-whites and non-Europeans as innately inferior and thus justified denying them self-government or equal rights.
Today the dominant racist narrative presents whites and Europeans, in our case ‘the Irish’, as victims of immigrants, non-whites or whoever. In this view of the world ‘they’ have always taken over the country or are about to take over the country. ‘They’ are getting the jobs and the welfare and ‘they’ are protected by the police. And anyone who speaks out against this threat (like O’Doherty and Myers) is ‘bravely standing up to political correctness’ and ‘the liberal establishment’.
As I noted at the beginning of this pamphlet this narrative can be widely heard in Ireland today, but it is not in any way unique to this country. On the contrary it is the tone adopted by those, especially those politicians, who want to play to racist feelings across Europe and round the world. Thus when Margaret Thatcher wanted to play the race card in the run up to her election in 1978 she said in a TV interview:
By the end of the century there will be four million people of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here. Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in.
How a minority of four million were going to ‘swamp’ a majority of over fifty million was not explained but the message was clear. Even outright fascists like the BNP and the English Defence League, who undoubtedly do believe in ‘white superiority’, couch their propaganda in terms of demanding ‘Rights for Whites’ and resisting the Islamic takeover.
Like much effective propaganda presenting the Irish people as victims combines an element of truth with a big lie. The element of truth is that the Irish people have been and are being victimised. They have been and are being made to pay the price of the economics of the system that was not of their making. The big lie, as I have shown throughout this pamphlet, is that they are being victimised by foreigners or immigrants, rather than the bankers, speculators, big capitalists and politicians who actually run the system, who benefit so massively from it and who actually inflict wage cuts, job losses and welfare cuts on the people.
4. Travellers, Roma, Jews, Muslims
Racism exists everywhere in the world today because capitalism is a world system and capitalism everywhere needs scapegoats. Who the scapegoats are can vary enormously from time to time and place to place: Armenians in Turkey in 1915-16; Albanians in Greece in the 1990s; Coptic Christians in Egypt; in Australia the Aborigines and so on.
When it comes to Ireland there are, in addition to ‘foreigners’ and non-Whites in general, four groups who are subject to racism and require specific discussion: Travellers, Roma, Jews and Muslims.
Racism towards all these groups shows certain common features, especially the tendency to attribute certain negative characteristics to the group and then generalise it to all members of the group ie to stereotype people, as in the British stereotype of the Irish as stupid and irrational. At the same time each of these racisms has its own specific features. Racism towards Travellers is not identical to anti-Jewish racism – no one claims that Travellers ‘rule the world’ or ‘control all the banks’.
Travellers are Ireland’s own indigenous ethnic minority. They are a very small minority, only about 25,000 or approximately 0.5% of the population, but DNA evidence shows that they have been a distinct ethnic group for about 1,000 years. Despite this they are not officially recognised as an ethnic minority by the Irish state, even though they have this recognition in Britain.
In Irish society today Travellers are a highly marginalised and extremely disadvantaged group. An analysis of the 2006 Census showed that among Irish Travellers aged 25 to 44 unemployment stood at 74% compared to 6% for other white Irish in the same age group and 50% of Travellers were in the lower manual class category compared to 17% of other white Irish. Moreover 25% of Travellers aged 25 to 44 had no access to a car compared to only 8% of other white Irish. Levels of educational achievement are also very low with only 15% having completed second level schooling.
Most revealing and most telling of all are the figures for life expectancy which show a much higher rate of mortality with only 9% of Travellers over 50 compared to 28% of other white Irish. (All statistics from Dorothy Watson et al, Multiple Disadvantage in Ireland: An Equality Analysis of Census 2006, ESRI.)
The fact of massive disadvantage is clear. The question arises as to what causes this situation. Some would say that the Travelling community bring it on themselves through their ‘lifestyle’ and behaviour. This claim rests on the stereotype of Irish Travellers as anti-social, violent and criminal.
There are a number of points that need to be made in answer to this argument:
1. Like all stereotypes this involves generalizing the behaviour of a small minority to all members of a community.
2. There is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that any particular ethnic group (Travellers, Roma, African Americans, Australian Aborigines or whoever) have an inborn criminal tendency. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that those who suffer poverty, disadvantage and discrimination are more likely to become involved in petty crime than those who do not, whatever their ethnicity.
3. Once a group is stigmatised they are more likely to be picked on by and come into conflict with the police, and thus to be seen as criminal. This well established syndrome (known in sociology as ‘the crime amplification spiral’) operates against many racial minorities including and especially Black Americans. Anyone claiming US Blacks are innately criminal would be seen as racist and rightly so. The same applies when the claim is directed at Irish Travellers.
Brid Smith is a Dublin City Councillor for the People Before Profit Alliance who works closely with the Traveller community, especially in the Ballyfermot area. She offers the following powerful testimony on how Travellers face institutional discrimination:
In my experience having worked closely on Travellers Rights in Dublin City Council for the last five years, there does exist an unofficial racism in the system. It is very hard to pin down or prove but the facts speak for themselves.
Traveller families are discriminated against on a number of grounds. There are upwards of 40 families around the city who still do not have safe and legal access to the most basic facilities of water, sanitation and electricity. This is an outrageous fact in 21st century Ireland and it is not caused by austerity. In fact during the Celtic Tiger the situation was no different.
Traveller families are discriminated against on the housing list because of an indigenous clause that means they have to be living for a certain period of time in an area to apply for housing in that area. This clause is not applied to settled people. Traveller communities are often discriminated against and denied investment in housing and basic infrastructure on the grounds that there has been ‘criminal or anti-social elements’ in their communities. This would never be used as a reason not to regenerate areas like Moyross or Teresa's Gardens, despite the existence there of similar problems.
In fact in 2013 local authorities all over Ireland refused to draw down in the region of 16 million euro dedicated by the Department of the Environment for the provision of Traveller accommodation. There was a pattern of similar responses of local authorities to the issue of ‘criminality and anti-social behaviour’ whereby this was used as the reason or explanation for failure to draw down the funding.
So entire communities are consistently penalised and stereotyped because of the behaviour of a tiny minority. This is clearly discriminatory. But it also runs deep in the system, and if austerity hurts the most vulnerable, then the Travelling community have been hit the hardest. The education and accommodation budgets for Travellers have been reduced by a staggering 86% in the last four years. They may as well have told the Travellers to go away and stop existing. But fortunately the Travellers themselves are resilient and dynamic people, who hold their heads high, respect their culture and look for a decent future for their children. They are up against a racist system, albeit disguised by the establishment of committees and reports and plans that tick boxes but rarely deliver.
It is important to note here that, as with other forms of racism, this discrimination comes from above, from the state and its institutions and not just from popular ‘ignorance’ or prejudice.
But what is the historical root of this discrimination and prejudice? As with racism towards people of colour and immigrants we have to look to the needs of the system as a whole.
Travellers, as their name implies, were originally, and to some extent are still, a nomadic people, moving around the countryside. But industrial capitalism as it developed needed to push people into a settled life style suitable for wage labour in its factories and workplaces. Both employers and state officials (who were closely linked) instinctively viewed Travellers with hostility. They saw them as people who should be made to conform like everyone else. Modern capitalism is highly bureaucratic – there is a form, and often three – for everything. For Travellers this is extremely alienating and officials and bureaucrats respond in kind by seeing Travellers as a ‘nuisance’ and a ‘problem’ or worse.
Irish Travellers are by no means the only people on the receiving end of this kind of institutionalised bureaucratic discrimination. Many immigrants, asylum seekers and, indeed ordinary working class people are also treated this way, as are many indigenous people round the world (e.g. Australian Aborigines) But in Ireland Travellers are particular victims.
There are very few Roma or Gypsies in Ireland – probably about 3000 – but in Europe there are probably two million or so. All the statistics are unclear, as is much about Roma people, but one thing is very clear: that in Europe as a whole and especially in Eastern Europe the Roma are the single most marginalised, disadvantaged and oppressed ethnic group.
Because so much about the Roma is surrounded by myth, prejudice and ignorance it is necessary to start by establishing a few basic facts. First in Ireland today there is a confusion between Roma and Romanians. Most of the Roma in Ireland come from Romania but they are not the same. Most of the 20,000 or so Romanians in Ireland are not Roma, and Roma have a long experience of being persecuted in Romania. Also some of the Roma in Ireland are from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria.
Roma, also known as Romanies or Gypsies (and other names) were a nomadic people who came originally from northern India. They left India about 1,000 years ago and travelled westwards through Persia and Asia Minor reaching Western Europe by about the 15th century. The roots of modern anti-Gypsyism are probably similar to the roots of the oppression of Irish Travellers, i.e. the hostility of capitalism to people who resist wage labour and social conformity.
The oppression of Roma has taken many forms including a long period of enslavement in Romania (ending in the 1840s) but it reached its height with the Nazis in the Second World War. Just as the Nazis attempted to exterminate all the Jews of Europe so they tried to annihilate all the Roma. In the event they murdered approximately half of European Jewry, about 6 million, and a roughly similar proportion of Roma, about 500,000. This is important to remember because it means that almost every Roma in Ireland or Europe today will have lost members of their family in this catastrophe.
Roma in the Holocaust
After the Second World War the Roma in Communist Eastern Europe were not well treated or integrated but outright persecution of them was kept in check. This has not been the case since the collapse of Communism and Eastern Europe has seen the rise of right wing racist and fascist forces, such as the Nazi Jobbik Party in Hungary, who regard Roma as their main target. Violent racist attacks on Roma are widespread in much of Europe. Consequently it must also be born in mind that Roma in Ireland are likely to have fled from such vicious persecution.
There are two main stereotypes of Roma: a romantic myth of passionate Gypsies with their violins by the campfire and one that is very similar to the stereotype of Irish Travellers. Recent media coverage has ensured that it is the second stereotype that has predominated.
An additional element in anti-Roma sentiment is their association with begging. Here it is worth stressing that people – Roma or Irish – beg out of poverty and desperation, not choice. Sitting on a bridge on the Liffey in the cold is not an easy or nice way to spend the day. Denouncing beggars means denouncing the most unfortunate and downtrodden members of society, while regarding all Roma as beggars is crude stereotyping.
Just how damaging such stereotyping can be was shown by an incident in Tallaght in October 2013. One of the many long-standing myths about Roma/Gypsies is that they steal children. In Athens the Greek police, known for their racism, removed a blond child called Maria from her Roma parents on suspicion that she had been abducted. This story was immediately seized on by the media and became international news – precisely because it bought into and fed the ‘Gypsies steal children’ myth. Within days the garda in Tallaght had seized a blond four year old Roma child from her home because she was supposed not to look like her parents. They did this despite the parents’ vehement protests and production of a birth certificate. In the event DNA testing, only carried out AFTER the removal, proved that child was the natural daughter of the parents.
The effect of the episode was not only to traumatise the parents and child concerned but also to make the whole Roma community feel under suspicion and at risk.
Anti-Semitism has a very long and grievous history in Europe, stretching back to the Middle Ages and culminating in the worst crime in human history, the Nazi Holocaust.
In Ireland today, as opposed to the first half of the 20th century, anti-Semitism is less significant. Irish Jews are not at present a disadvantaged or majorly oppressed group like Travellers, and they are not subject to systematic attack by the media like Muslims. It is unlikely they will be a principal target of racist agitation at present, but this doesn’t mean we can just ignore the issue of anti-Semitism.
The image of the Jew as a greedy money lender and banker is a classic example of racist stereotyping. Its historical roots lie in the role of Jews as a trading people in the Roman Empire and in the Middle Ages and in the fact that a small number of Jews became lenders at a time when money lending, or usury as it was called, was regarded as sinful by the Church and barred to Christians.
This stereotype, with centuries behind it, was manipulated by Hitler and the Nazis to serve their purposes. The Nazis’ fundamental attitude was hatred of the working class, trade unions and the left but to gain popular support they needed to sound radical. Blaming the economic crisis and mass unemployment on Jewish bankers and Jewish speculators enabled them to appear anti-capitalist and express popular anger, without actually challenging capitalism or the bulk of the capitalists. In return many of the big German capitalists funded Hitler and helped him come to power so as to smash the left.
Why this still matters is because traces of these notions are still around. They surface in various conspiracy theories, in the totally false idea that the Rothschild family control world banking or the myth that Jews run all the media. If working people fall for these ideas their entirely justifiable anger at the system and the people who run it will once again be diverted onto the wrong target.
When right wing Jewish politicians pursue right wing or anti working class policies they should be attacked for their policies, not their Jewishness, and socialists who are strongly anti-capitalist have a particular responsibility in this matter.
The majority of Muslims already faced racism by virtue of being people of colour from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but this has been added to by the rise of Islamophobia. Islamophobia, or fear and suspicion of Muslims, has recently become one of the main forms of racism in the world and so inevitably has an impact in Ireland.
Islamophobia was deliberately fostered by the US state and US media, which together form the most influential political and cultural force in the world today. It was developed as a response to the rise in the Middle East and elsewhere of Islamist political forces. The first major manifestation of this was the Revolution against the pro-Western Shah of Iran in 1979. It was then intensified as part of George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ after 9/11.
The racist stereotype of Muslims is that they are backward religious fanatics with reactionary attitudes to women and gays and an inclination to terrorism. Just as earlier racism was designed to justify slavery and empire so this image, carefully cultivated by the Western media, serves as a cover for US wars of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
At the root of this is the US determination to maintain control of the world’s oil supplies. Oil is the world’s most important source of power – the system runs on oil. But a huge amount of the world’s oil reserves are in predominantly Muslim countries. This means the American government constantly needs to intervene in these countries in order to control their governments directly or indirectly.
Islamophobia is their way of justifying this. The idea that Muslims are mostly religious fanatics who ‘hate the West’ because of its freedom and are about to try to conquer it or attack it through terrorism enables the US to wage imperialist wars while pretending to be defending itself.
If the world’s oil supplies were concentrated in Buddhist countries we would probably have seen the development of Buddhophobia and Buddhists would be depicted as ‘anti-Western’, ‘backward’, ‘theocratic’ and with an inclination to set fire to themselves.
But if the origin of Islamophobia lay in the needs of the US ruling class it has now spread throughout the culture of the Western world in a way that ordinary Muslims in Western countries, including Ireland, live under a cloud of suspicion and hostility. In view of this it is necessary to state a few basic facts.
1. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in all countries are not ‘fundamentalists’, Islamic militants, terrorists or fanatics but just ordinary people living their lives in peace.
2. The terrorist threat is greatly exaggerated. Between 2010 and today there was only one serious ‘Muslim’ terrorist attack in America – the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 which claimed three lives and received saturation media coverage. That is far less than the numbers killed by lightning (average 51 per year in the US), by police (587 in 2012 and 304 in 2013) and in school shootings (38 in 2012, 12 in 2013). In Ireland there has never been a Muslim terrorist attack.
3. No Muslim country has actually made war on Europe since the defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683 and no Muslim country has the capacity to launch such an attack. There is no Muslim threat to the West.
4, There is no special connection between Muslims and terrorism ‘Terrorism’ has been practised at various times by people of all religions and none, ranging from the Russian Narodniks in the 19th century to the Italian Red Brigades in the 1970s, far-right Americans, and of course Republicans and Loyalists in Ireland. The link is not religion but political oppression and nationalism.
5. Predominantly Muslim countries stretch from Morocco to the Philippines and exhibit a wide range of governments, social behaviour and religious customs, with a number of different versions of Islam. Crude generalizations about all Muslims are no more likely to be true than such generalizations about Christians.
6. Yes, many Muslims (but by no means all) have conservative views on women and gays. But then so do many Christians – indeed such views were dominant in both Ireland and America until very recently, and to some extent still are.
7. Many Muslim women wear the hijab (or headscarf) but only a small minority wears the burka or total covering, just as only a small minority of Irish women became or are nuns.
For all these reasons it is quite wrong to demonise Muslims who live in Ireland or anywhere else. They should be treated with respect and welcomed just like people of all other religions or ethnic groups that live here.
What these four examples of racism all show is that the system we live under, capitalism, is continually on the lookout for scapegoats it can blame and prejudices it can use so as to deflect popular anger. It is a trademark of the far-right and of fascist forces that they try to exploit these issues. At the end of the day they don’t particularly care who the target is so long as there is some vulnerable group they can use to stir up hatred.
The history of fascism in Britain illustrates this. In the 1930s British fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, focused their attacks on Jews. In the 1960s and 70s the National Front concentrated on black West Indians. In the 1980s with the British National Party the main focus became Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and now, for both the BNP and the EDL (English Defence League), it is Muslims.
Everyone who wants to live in a democratic and halfway decent society should reject this whole racist mind set. Working class people, in particular, have a vital interest in defending the multicultural unity of their communities and of their movement.
5. Do We Need Immigration Controls?
Some of the main arguments in favour of immigration controls – immigrants are taking our jobs, all on welfare, taking our houses, sponging on the health service etc – have already been discussed and rejected. However, the idea that we must limit immigration is widely accepted, including by many people who would definitely consider themselves not to be racist, so it is worth looking at the issue again in its own right.
The case for immigration control is based on the assumption that immigrants are, in one way or another, a ‘problem’ for the host country. There are two ways in which they can be seen as a problem: in terms of their numbers or in terms of who they are. Unfortunately the reality is that arguments about numbers are often used to conceal concerns about who the immigrants are, concerns which are really racist. In other words it is not ‘floods’ of ‘white’ British or Americans people are worried about but an ‘influx’ of Africans, Asians and Romanians. But first let’s look at the numbers argument on its own merits.
It is simply not true that a large or increasing population is economically damaging for a country or a strain on its resources. This is for the simple reason that a country’s resources are not fixed but are produced by its people. The larger the population the more people there are to produce goods and services. This basic truth is borne out by the whole history of the world whose total population has been growing for thousands of years and which has also, in terms of overall wealth, been getting richer (though inequality has also grown).
The same thing is true at the level of individual countries. Singapore and Hong Kong are two of the most densely populated places on earth, with 7,605 and 6,620 per sq. km respectively. They are also two of the richest places in Asia and have both grown enormously wealthier as their populations have been rising. Taiwan (645 per sq. km) and South Korea (505 per sq. km) are other examples of countries that have combined high population density with rapid economic growth.
Ireland by contrast has a very low population density. With only 65 per sq. km it ranks 147th in a list of countries by population density. The UK, with a standard of living roughly similar to Ireland’s, has a population density of 262 per sq. km, four times greater than Ireland. Ireland’s population reached its peak at just over 8 million in the 1820s, fell drastically as a result of the famine and then emigration to a low of 2.8 million in 1961. At no point was this low population an economic or social advantage.
In fact one can give examples of rich countries with very low populations (Australia, Canada) or rich countries with high populations (the Netherlands, Japan) or poor countries with high populations (Bangladesh, India) or poor countries with low populations (Bolivia, Chad) or China with the largest population in the world at 1.4 billion which was very poor but has been growing explosively for several decades.
The point is that there is no link between population size as such and economic prosperity and there is no reason at all to believe that a growth in the population of Ireland through immigration would cause economic problems.
Unfortunately we are generally conditioned to believe that more people equals more difficulties because it suits our rulers and their media to give the impression that the reason for social problems is the existence of too many people. For example world hunger is not due, as some people suggest, to there being too many mouths to feed. World food production has actually grown faster than world population. If hundreds of millions of people are suffering malnutrition, as they are, it is not because there is not enough food but because they are too poor to buy it. In other words it is caused by inequality and the production and distribution of food, along with everything else, for profit.
So if the numbers argument is false this brings us back to the idea that there is something the matter with who the immigrants are. Many people who advocate immigration controls don’t answer this question – they simply assume or imply that there is something wrong with being a ‘foreigner’. Well, we are entitled to ask what exactly this is. Is it the colour of their skin? If so then this is racism pure and simple. Or perhaps ‘they’ are supposed to be ‘lazy’ and ‘all on welfare’? Again there is a strong racist element here and it is also factually completely false. Over 80% of immigrants of working age are in jobs. Is it that ‘they’ are less intelligent or less well educated? Another racist assumption and another factually disprovable claim. 46.4% of non-Irish nationals have third level qualifications compared to only 32.8% of Irish, and among Asians the figure rises to 72.6% (Frances McGinnity et al, Annual Report on Integration 2012, ESRI, p.34).
Or maybe it is that many immigrants are poor? Here snobbery merges with racism. But yes, immigrants do tend to be poor; that is why they migrate from poorer countries to richer ones in the hope of getting work and making a better life for themselves – just as the Irish did when they set off for New York or London.
There is one slightly more ‘respectable’ sounding argument for immigration controls which is sometimes put forward by people who definitely think of themselves as not racist: namely that they are needed to prevent the rise of racism and maintain good relations. It says we are not racist but lots of ‘ordinary’ people are so it is necessary to limit the numbers of immigrants to stop things getting out of hand. This was the argument put by British Labour Party politicians back in the 1970s when they faced the rise of the Nazi National Front to persuade the Labour Party to accept immigration controls.
This policy is wrong in principle and doesn’t work in practice. It concedes the fundamental idea that immigrants are a problem and so encourages racism and emboldens the racists. If 200,000 foreigners are preferable to 400,000 then 0 foreigners are better than 200,000. This then leads to calls for repatriation and deportations. Just what the fascists and neo-Nazis want.
Nor is it the case that more immigrants equals more racism. The opposite is the case. The more people of different nationalities and ethnicities mix the more racism tends to be undermined. Again there is factual support for this:
Data from the recent European Social Survey shows…a clear rise in positive attitudes [to immigrants] to 2006 [when immigration was increasing – JM] and a clear fall in 2010. In terms of openness to immigration openness was higher in the early years of the decade and fell in 2008 and again in 2010.
(Annual Monitoring Report on Integration 2012, as above, p.79.)Fundamentally the argument is not about numbers; as we have argued throughout this pamphlet, it is about who gets the blame for the suffering that working people experience. Is it the elites who inflict the pain or is it various vulnerable scapegoats? Accepting the argument for immigration controls concedes this basic principle and leads to worse not better race relations.
Finally if there are no good arguments for immigration controls there are certainly good arguments for positively welcoming immigrants. Immigrants are a positive benefit to the economy. As the education figures above show they bring many useful skills and much knowledge. They are also more likely than Irish nationals to be of working age, with a far lower proportion of elderly people. Consequently they contribute more to the economy than they take out, and very possibly more per head than the average Irish national.
But it is not just about economics. Migrants from round the world greatly enrich the cultural life of this country. This is the case in terms of science, of music and the arts, of food and of dress. A multicultural society broadens all our horizons. Anyone who doubts this should look at New York, often described as ‘the cultural capital of the 20th century’ with its extraordinarily rich mix of Native Americans, WASPS, Irish, Jews, Blacks, Spanish, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Chinese, Russians, Germans, Poles and more or less everybody else under the sun.
It is also worth remembering that immigration is not something just happening now in Ireland. The whole history of humanity is a history of migration in that humans all originated in Africa several millions of years ago and then spread all over the globe. The same is true of homo sapiens, the latest branch of the human family, which also first developed in Africa about 130,000 years ago and then migrated throughout the world.
And just in modern times there have emerged many nations such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and all the countries of the Americas, which would not exist in anything like their present form without massive immigration over the last few hundred years.
6. The Fight against Racism
Racism is not just a mistaken idea or even just a morally wrong one. For working people it is a deadly enemy. It threatens to divert, derail and divide the resistance working class people put up to austerity, cuts, the bosses and the government.
The example of Northern Ireland serves as a warning here. In the Six Counties sectarianism, which is akin to racism in some respects, has long divided the working class and thus weakened the workers’ movement. The consequence has been that working class living standards and housing there have always been the worst in the UK. In the United States racism towards blacks has had the same effect in the Deep South. Mississippi, the state most associated with ingrained racism, is the poorest in the Union, followed by West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama.
Getting working people to accept racist ideas and turn their anger on ‘foreigners’ (or Travellers, or Roma, etc) makes them putty in the hands of unprincipled right wing politicians and right wing newspapers. It turns them, in the words of Bob Dylan, into ‘Only a Pawn in their Game’.
Racism is also a breeding ground for fascism and Nazism and they are busy trying to exploit it right across Europe. But fascism destroys all democracy and all workers’ rights and organizations. Hitler used anti-Semitism to get popular support at a time of deep economic crisis in Germany but the first people he put in concentration camps were German trade unionists and socialists.
This is why it is vital we oppose racism on all fronts. When racist attacks or incidents occur, eg assaults on individuals, or attacks on homes or shops, we should do our best to mobilise support and solidarity with the victims. As this pamphlet has argued, we have to oppose state and institutional racism, opposing immigration controls and the racist treatment of asylum seekers. Racial discrimination should be exposed wherever it occurs and we need to challenge the myths about immigration circulated by politicians and the media. We also have to combat racist stereotyping of Travellers, Roma and Muslims. And we should give active support to anti-racist campaigning by organizations such as the Anti-Racist Network or the Migrant Rights Council.
Trade unions have an important role to play here. Most trade unions have anti-racist policies in place. They should be encouraged to act on them and engage in active anti-racist campaigning. In Britain the South West TUC has published a very useful factsheet, ‘Truth, Lies and Migrants’ (http://bit.ly/1fmBBv3), countering the deluge of lies about migrants from Bulgaria and Romania that have filled the British press. A similar initiative in Ireland would be very helpful.
So far Ireland has been fortunate in that, unlike Greece, France, Britain, Hungary and elsewhere, no serious fascist movement or party has yet emerged here. But this could change and if it does we have to stand ready to counter it actively with specific campaigning on the basis of a broad united front. Fascism should not be allowed to get a foothold in Ireland.
We also have to take up and challenge the everyday anti-foreigner and racist comments that all of us hear at work, in the pub, on the streets, etc. In doing this we have to bear in mind that given the systematic way racist ideas have been and are promoted by politicians and the media it is inevitable that some working class people who are otherwise quite progressive will pick up some of these ideas, often without wishing to be deliberately racist.
It is important, therefore, that in challenging these ideas we respond with serious and patient argument to show people they are attacking the wrong targets, rather than just abusing or denouncing them. Nevertheless it is crucial that we do challenge them rather than just turning a deaf ear; otherwise they gain ground and people can imagine that ‘everybody’ agrees with them.
But vital as it is anti-racist campaigning and argument is not enough by itself; it needs to be combined with struggle against the bosses, austerity and the government across the board. As we have said, racist ideas play on working people’s (legitimate) feeling of being done down and victimised but then direct that anger onto easy scapegoats. The more people are able to resist and defeat the forces that are really exploiting and oppressing them the less they will blame the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Equally the more working class resistance is held back or sold out the more ground racist ideas may get among working people.
History offers many examples of this. It was only after the German working class movement had failed in its almost successful challenge to capitalism in 1919-23 and had become split and demoralised, that Hitler and the Nazis were able to gain mass support. This is why racist and fascist movements often grow when Labour and Social Democratic parties are elected to government but fail to deliver on the improvements they promised.
Conversely when workers do resist and mass struggle develops their horizons broaden, their sense of solidarity increases and they become much less prone to the lure of scapegoating. Russia provides a good example of this. Under the Tsar anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish attacks (known as pogroms) were officially encouraged and widespread. When the Russian people in 1917 rose in revolution they elected many Jews, including Leon Trotsky, among their new leaders. When the people were again ground underfoot by Stalin and his henchmen anti-Semitism returned with a vengeance.
Now, after the terrible tragedy of Stalinism – tyranny masquerading as socialism – racism of all sorts is widespread in Eastern Europe.
The Socialist Alternative
For all these reasons socialists and socialism have an important part to play in the struggle against racism. On the one hand the socialist project – the replacement of capitalism by a society based on production for human need rather than profit – totally depends on united working class action so socialists have to be principled opponents of all racism. On the other hand the socialist outlook is the one best suited to forging the links between anti-racist campaigning and the general fight against austerity.
Socialism is also essential, not just for the immediate struggle against racism but also for creating a society which actually gets rid of racism.
Racism grew out of the development of capitalism and every capitalist society exhibits symptoms of racism to a greater or lesser degree. A society which treats people as objects, as commodities to be bought and sold for profit, and which divides people into rich and poor, exploiter and exploited, will also need scapegoats and will try to set nation against nation, people against people.
In contrast a genuinely democratic society without class divisions, with collective ownership of the main industries and founded on the principle of solidarity, will be able tear up the very roots of racism and unite the human race.