Race and State in contemporary Ireland

Paper presented at the ‘Better Questions’ seminar series in Seomra Spraoi, Dublin, Tuesday 19 January 2010


‘Only one world… Let foreigners teach us at least to become foreign to ourselves, to project ourselves sufficiently out of ourselves to no longer be captive to this long Western and white history that has come to an end, and from which nothing more can be expected than sterility and war. Against this catastrophic and nihilistic expectation of a security state, let us greet the foreignness of tomorrow’ (Alain Badiou, 2008: 70)

‘If the world cannot be changed, the (neo liberal) argument went, the left should concentrate on small-scale projects, moral concerns and the protection of vulnerable identities. Multiculturalism could replace radical change, membership of Amnesty that of political organisation’ (Costas Douzinas, The Guardian, 1 January 2010)

On 11 June 2004 the government of the Republic of Ireland put forward a referendum to amend article 9 of the Constitution to remove birth-right citizenship from children born in Ireland to an Irish citizen (or entitled to Irish citizenship). Birth right citizenship prevailed since the establishment of the Republic in 1922. The amendment did not include the children of the 1.8 million holders of Irish passports not born in Ireland who have one Irish grandparent and therefore entitled to Irish citizenship without having to set foot in Ireland. 79.8 per cent of the electorate voted in favour.
My argument is that the nation-state, theorised by David Theo Goldberg (2002) as a ‘racial state’, remains the focus of any analysis of racism, viewed by Foucault as ‘inscribed as the basic mechanism of power, as it is exercised in modern States’. Foucault argues that ‘the modern State can scarcely function without becoming involved with racism at some point’ (Foucault 2003: 254).
I view racism as ‘a political system aiming to regulate bodies’, rather than as individual prejudice (although individual citizens voted in favour of the Citizenship Referendum). Without suggesting Ireland as an ideal type ‘racial state’, I employ social theory to argue that like other nation-states, Ireland has evolved from being a ‘racial state’ – in which ‘race’ and ‘nation’ are defined in terms of each other – evident, for instance, in the ethnically narrow framing of the Constitution (Lentin 1998) – to a racist state, where governmental ‘biopolitics’ racialising indigenous groups and regulating immigration and asylum form the discursive construction of Irishness and otherness..
Until the onset of the recession, racial terminology of categorisation and control on the one hand and discourses of ‘cultural diversity’ on the other underpinned the Irish state’s response to the arrival of growing numbers of immigrants since the 1990s, in the shape of ‘intercultural’ and ‘integration’ politics.
I begin by outlining the application of Goldberg’s racial state theory to Ireland. I then briefly discuss Foucault’s theorisation of the modern nation-state as a ‘state of population’, monitoring and controlling the nation’s biological life which becomes a problem of sovereign power (Agamben 1998). I further argue that the tendency to re-define the nation-state’s boundaries means controlling not only immigrants, but also existing minority collectives within. During Tiger capitalism, state actors used contradictory discourses, claiming that Ireland ‘was getting it right’ in avoiding (French) assimilationism and (British) multiculturalism on the one hand, and on the other, insisting that in order to integrate, migrants must do things ‘our way’.
However, since the recession, racism, immigration and integration discourses have disappeared and I conclude by challenging social movements to re-orient their activism to racism and immigration.

Racial state

Goldberg posits modern nation-states as ‘racial states’, which exclude in order to construct homogeneity – which he sees as ‘heterogeneity in denial’. The racial state is a state of power, asserting its control over those within the state and excluding others from outside the state. Through constitutions, border controls, the law, policy making, bureaucracy and governmental technologies such as census categorisations, invented histories and traditions, ceremonies and cultural imaginings, modern states, each in its own way, are defined by their power to exclude (and include) in racially ordered terms, to categorise hierarchically, and to set aside. In the modern state, race and nation are defined in terms of each other to produce a coherent picture of the population in the face of a divisive heterogeneity.
Goldberg makes a distinction between antiracism and antiracialism. While antiracism is concerned with the impact of racial ideologies and programmes on the lived conditions of its victims, antiracialism is only concerned with concepts, categories and labels that invoke race. A key innovation in Goldberg’s approach is to avoid starting with the usual line that racism has cleverly ‘evolved’ and adapted ‘chameleon like’ to be acceptable in the new environment of political correctness. Instead, he expresses disappointment in movements against racism themselves for abandoning their programme half way. Goldberg’s core argument is that, whereas each of these began as movements against broad social structures that produced the conditions for genocide, exploitation, and segregation, they all petered out, becoming movements concerned with mere semantics, echoing Gilroy’s call, in ‘Race ends here’, that ‘race’ should not be used analytically…
Goldberg proposes two traditions of thinking about racial states. The first, naturalism, fixes racially conceived ‘natives’ as premodern, naturally incapable of progress. The second, historicism, elevates Europeans over primitive or underdeveloped others as a victory of progress (Goldberg 2002, p. 43).
Naturalism Irish-style is exemplified by English colonialism, racialising the Irish as bestial, and incapable of progress (Ní Shuinéar 2002). Irish historicism creates its own ‘racial inferiors’ through, firstly, the ongoing racialisation of Irish Travellers, conceived as ‘Irish national’ though not always ‘white’ (McVeigh 1996); secondly, through governmental technologies of asylum and immigration controls, aiming to restore modernity’s order just as all certainties – economic, civil, cultural, sexual – seem to be collapsing; and thirdly, through biopolitical governmental technologies regulating the lives of migrants, but also equality mechanisms, which reproduce racialised populations as ultimately unequal.
The advent of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic boom transformed the situation where emigration outstripped in-migration. While many immigrants were returning Irish citizens, Irishness became racialised in new ways.   To borrow from Ignatiev’s book How the Irish Became White (1995), for the first time the Irish in Ireland became ‘white’, and Irishness became equated with whiteness precisely when it became increasingly difficult to make this equation. Historicism is one way of theorising this transition as it became clear that interpreting immigration and the presence of people of colour as ‘new’ underpins the elevation of Europeans and the respective racialisation of non-Europeans as working towards progress and equality with the Eurocentre.

Biopolitics: From racial state to racist state

Michel Foucault (2003) argues that when natural life becomes included in mechanisms of state power, politics turns into biopolitics, the territorial state becomes a ‘state of population’, and the nation’s biological life becomes a problem of sovereign power. Through a series of technologies, bio-power creates ‘docile bodies’, and the population – its welfare, wealth, longevity and health – becomes a subject, but also an object in the hands of government.
Biopower is addressed to living beings and directed at all the processes that refer to the mass of humans: birth, death, sickness, health, education, welfare, but also the gathering of information through demography and statistics.
Foucault differentiates between the sovereign power of the old territorial state (‘to make die and let live’) and modern biopower (‘to make live and let die’). The modern state can scarcely function without racism, ‘the break between what must live and what must die’ (Foucault 2003: 254). Race no longer serves one group against another, but becomes a ‘tool’ of social conservatism; a racism that society practices against itself, a tool of constant purification and social normalisation.
Biopower’s racialising technologies in the Republic of Ireland, in doing all it can to maintain homogeneity by ‘managing’ ethnic diversity, mean that it is arguably not merely ‘racial’ in its formation and use of discourses and practices such as the law, but also ‘racist’ in terms of using biopower technologies to control, in particular though not exclusively, migrant and racialised populations.

Racial categorisation and citizenship rights
Irish historicism regards non-Irish others as inadequate candidates for citizenship, employing patently racist legislation to criminalise, regulate and control both immigrants and indigenous populations.

1. Redefining indigenous populations
Foucault uses the concept of ‘biopower’ to demonstrate how the ‘ethnicisation’ of racism shifts from intra-societal degeneration to the threat posed from the outside. Thus, before I deal with immigration, let me briefly discuss the position of Irish Travellers, at 23,700, Ireland’s largest and oldest racialised group, who have fought long and hard to claim a status of an ‘ethnic group’.
Initially grudgingly recognised as an ethnic group by the state, on October 15 2003 the Minister for Justice Equality and Law reform stated Travellers ‘do not constitute a distinct group’ which was why ‘discrimination against Travellers’ was inserted as a ‘separate ground’ into the equality laws. The 2002 Housing Bill criminalises Traveller camping on public and private property, despite the fact that commitments to provide adequate accommodation to Travellers made by the government in its 1995 Task Force on the Travelling Community (1995) went largely unfulfilled.
Contradictorily, while the racial state deprives Travellers of their chosen ‘ethnic’ status which would allow them to name their discrimination ‘racism’, it does so in the pretence of caring, based on a Foucauldian ‘biopolitics’, according to which the role of the state is to ‘manage’, and in this case, assimilate and settle the Travellers, but ultimately aiming to segregate them. McVeigh argues that ethnicity denial smacks of genocidal discourses, citing the extermination of Roma and Sinti people by the Nazis. Not surprisingly, the Traveller advocacy centre Pavee Point was one of the CDPs whose funding was terminated in the recent cuts.

2. Immigration and asylum controls
Despite an explicit admittance that in order to maintain economic growth, Celtic capitalism needed immigrant labour, the state is doing all it can to restrict immigration. Loyal (2003) argues that the hegemonic construction of Ireland as an ‘open, cosmopolitan, multicultural, tourist friendly society’ obscures a ‘harsh reality of capitalist production, exclusionary nationalism and growing xenophobia in relation to both the state and the general populace’. The economic boom, instead of allaying racist fears, has ‘consistently treated non-national immigration as a political problem’.
State discourses demonstrate the demonisation of asylum seekers as ‘bogus refugees’, ‘economic migrants’, ‘illegal immigrants’ or simply ‘failed asylum seekers’, linking them to criminality and breaches of state security. Asylum seekers are presented as ‘costing too much’ and as competing with disadvantaged populations for scarce resources, and, crucially, the need to control them is presented as essential to the ‘common good’ and subordinated to ‘the integrity of the asylum process’.
Eithne Luibhéid (2004), contextualising the arrival of asylum seekers to Ireland in global restructuring, global capital accumulation, and global wars, argues that racial states need asylum seekers in order to ‘redraw racial and national boundaries that have become destabilised in the contemporary era’.
Although the number of asylum applications has gone down to 2,530 in 2009, by the end of November there were still 6,583 unprocessed asylum seekers in direct provision holding camps, prevented from working or take up educational courses, and forced to live on a paltry ‘comfort allowance’ of €19.60 per adult per week, not raised since it was first introduced in 2001. In 2009 only 90 applicants were granted refugee status
According to Ivana Bacik (2004), in response to legal challenges of the Immigration Act the Supreme Court ruled against the argument on discrimination. Thus the law differentiates  not only between citizens and ‘non nationals’, but also between categories of ‘non nationals’, upholding the legitimacy of public policy which ‘facilitates the better administration of the asylum system’.

3. The ‘Irish born children’ debate
Just as Travellers were no longer recognised as an ‘ethnic group’, so too children born in Ireland to non-citizen parents were assigned a new category, ‘Irish born children’, racially differentiated from children born in Ireland to citizen parents.
The right to automatic citizenship was consolidated by the amended Article 2 of the Constitution, as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which still assigned all those born in Ireland as part of ‘the nation’. The amendment meant, as was ruled in the 1989 Fajujonu Supreme Court case, that migrant parents of children born in Ireland had a claim to remain in Ireland to provide ‘care and company’ to their citizen child. This permission to remain was overturned in January 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Lobe and Osayande appeal, that ‘non-national’ parents no longer had a strong case to be allowed to remain in Ireland to bring up their child. The Supreme Court privileged the State’s right to deport, and the ‘integrity of the asylum process’ over citizen children’s rights (CADIC 2003).
The ruling exposed the contradiction between two constitutional entities, ‘the nation’ and ‘the family’, termed in Article 41.1.1 as ‘the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society’. While still part of ‘the nation’, children born in Ireland to migrant parents lost their citizenship entitlement – another contradiction.
The court’s ruling in the L & O case illustrates the centrality of the law as a governmental technology deployed by the racial state. Upholding ‘control in the face of the anarchic, of order in the face of disorder’ (Goldberg 2002), Chief Justice Ronan Keane ruled that the State ‘was entitled to take the view that the orderly system of dealing with immigration and asylum applications should not be undermined by persons seeking to take advantage’ of the system. The contradiction between the ‘common good’ and the exclusion of those termed by the state as being outside the remit of full Irish citizenship illustrates Foucault’s insistence that racism is a defence mechanism exercised by society against itself.
In the wake of the February 2003 ruling, the Minister of Justice removed the process whereby an immigrant parent could apply for permission to remain in Ireland solely on the grounds of being the parent of a child citizen (CADIC, 2003). The abolition of the process resulted in 11,500 migrant parents of Irish citizen children becoming candidates for deportation as of July 2003.
For almost two years, the Minister for Justice refused to allow the right to remain to migrant parents of Irish children who had lawfully applied for residency. Among the 341 people deported between 2002 and February 2005 there were at least 20 citizen children (Dáil Question, 16 February 2005).
However, rhetoric aside, and due to the mobilisation by CADIC – a coalition of migrant and migrant support and human rights organisations initiated by AkiDwA (I was the co-founder and chair), a few months after the state won the Citizenship Referendum, the decision was reversed. In January 2005 the DJELR announced new arrangements for parents of Irish children born before 1 January 2005 to apply for residency in Ireland. By July 2005 16.693 applications were granted temporary leave to remain, with no rights to family reunification.

4. The citizenship referendum
Despite the state’s main message that Ireland’s citizenship laws, unique in the EU, were being exploited, Colin Harvey (2003) links state sovereignty to the insistence by states on determining who is entitled to enter their territory and become a citizen, and argues that immigration (and refugee) law, with its focus on the award of a status, leaves too much to the (racial) state to decide. The purpose is always to ‘secure national level protection’, which puts paid to the argument about the need to harmonise Ireland’s so-called generosity with citizenship standards of other EU member states.
However, the Minister for Justice was keen to emphasise that the proposed change was antiracist, not racist, and that ‘the greatest contribution to racism and xenophobia would be if it was perceived that the Government could not control immigration’. (see antiracist poster of that time)
Throughout the referendum debates, migrant mothers were positioned as deliberately having babies in Ireland to gain Irish citizenship for their children and residency rights for themselves and their spouses. Maternity hospitals were seen as swarmed by migrant mothers, but given that the Minister admitted that the maternity hospitals argument was a side issue, Dervla King (2004) showed there were no statistics to support the state’s claim about large numbers of non-EU nationals coming to Ireland solely to give birth. The total figure of births to non-EU nationals in the three Dublin maternity hospitals who did not book or were late arrivals in 2003 was 548 (under 2.4 per cent of the total number of births at these hospitals).
Positing ‘crisis racism’, Balibar argues that ‘immigration’ had become the new name of race, but one linked to historical appellations that enables individuals to be classified in a racist typology. Should we therefore keep quiet about racism, as suggested by Ireland’s Justice Minister, who consistently claimed that ‘Ireland is not a racist country’, or should we ‘suppress the cause of racism, lest we prove unable to control its effects, for which, read: send home the “foreign bodies” whose presence gives rise to “reactions of rejection”’, while being prepared to ‘assimilate all those who are assimilable by their nature or their aspirations’ (Balibar 1991).

Interculturalism or ingtegrationism? The contradictions

Thus far I have argued that, in regulating, managing and controlling both immigration and indigenous minorities so as to maintain homogeneity, Ireland moves from racial state to racist state.  Goldberg reminds us that in the move from antiracism to antiracialism, race and racism are disavowed and omitted from state vocabulary (see, for example, the decision, already in January 2009, to axe the government’s own advisory body the NCCRI); and that the racial state appropriates difference through celebrations of the multicultural, seeped, as I now demonstrate, in contradictory racial narratives of heterogenity.
Irish integration policies derive from economic needs but also from a ‘willingness to lean from other countries’ mistakes’ (MacCormaic, 2008), substituting ‘interculturalism’ and ‘integration’ for the narrative of the crisis of both assimilationism and multiculturalism.
Integration was articulated by the minister specifically appointed to the task as a ‘two way street involving rights and duties’, aimed, at ‘those migrants who reside, work and in particular those who aspire to be Irish citizens’ (Lenihan, 2008: 10). Naturally, such smooth talk makes no reference to changes in citizenship laws in the wake of the 2004 Citizenship Referendum. (cartoon)
In 2007 An Garda Siochána, having appealed for recruits from Ireland’s ‘new communities’, refused to allow a Sikh volunteer to the Garda reserve force to wear his turban on duty. The Garda insisted that the turban ban was not based on race or religion, but rather on providing an ‘impartial police service’ requiring, among other things, ‘our standard uniform and dress’ (O’Brien, 2007). At the same time it declined to rule out the wearing of Catholic religious symbols such as crucifixes, ashes and pioneer pins.
In a November 2009 the Garda conference, the ban was reiterated in the name of diversity, which, a speak said,  had taken an intercultural model, where diversity was ‘respected and reflected in the force’, which rejects ‘the assimilation model where newcomers would have to accept the majority status quo’. Dr Jasbir Singh of the Irish Sikh community said the ban affects not merely naturalised Sikhs but also their Irish-born children (Kelly, 2009).
The turban ban, an important turning point, demonstrates ministers’ confusion as, in support of the Garda stance, they both claimed the need for migrants to ‘assimilate into our own culture and own norms in society’ and warned that Ireland needs ‘to learn from the mistakes of others in relation to the whole issue of integration.
When culture is both object and instrument of governmentalities, and when racism is denied as forming an integral part of state control over incoming migrants and existing minorities seen as ‘culturally’ rather than ‘racially’ different, then diversity and integration become ‘integrationism’, the currency of the race relations industry. In After Optimism? McVeigh and I document the transition from ‘combating racism’ to ‘accommodating cultural diversity’, arguing that with the refusal to name and address state racism, ideologies of interculturalism and integration actually become racist, functioning to protect the operation of state racism (Lentin and McVeigh, 2006: 178).

Conclusion: Where to antiracism in Ireland?

‘The left is the main hope against an endgame of xenophobic, securitised, apocalyptic barbarism…What the decade taught me was to expect radical change and to try to imagine a renewed socialism in which freedom cannot flourish without equality and equality does not exist without freedom. The new decade’s resolution: one should become more radical as one grows older alongside the 21st century’ (Costas Douzinas, 1 January 2010).

The recession makes a huge difference to Irish people’s perceptions of immigration – Martina Byrne’s research shows that the professional class is no longer concerned with immigration, integration, interculturalism. The Christmas Eve triumphalist statement that ‘migrants are going home’ sounds like wishful thinking. According to the CSO, ‘only 57,112 of the 117,983 foreign nationals who received PPSNs in 2004 were still either working or claiming welfare in 2008. It is not known what happened to the rest but it is very likely that they left the Republic’ (Smyth, 2009).
Meanwhile, deportations and return flights continue apace. According to INIS (Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service) – taking into account deportations, voluntary returns, Dublin II returns and removal of EU citizens (mostly Roma, though they don’t say so) – in 2007 a total of 781 persons were either removed or assisted to return, and a total of 834 in 2006.
Celebrations of ‘diversity’, ‘interculturalism’ and ‘integration’ are fast giving way to wet dreams about a not too distant future of an Ireland, green again, white again. Meanwhile, migrants are having different dreams. This is demonstrated in my research on migrant networks, doubly grounded in the opportunities and constraints of the specific ethnoracial locality of post-Referendum Ireland on the one hand, and in the heterogeneous, often contradictory, networking practices engaged in by migrants on the other. The practices of migrant organisations can be theorised as ‘integration from below’, both strategically appropriating state discourses – so as to secure funds and a place at the table – and resisting these very discourses, which ultimately negate power inequalities, deny migrants crucial funding and a meaningful independent voice, and appropriate migrants’ intercultural practices so as to bolster the state’s own image of alternative modes of integration.
Despite the success of migrant-led organisations, the question of who speaks for who remains unanswered. This is where I see the challenge to social movements. It is crucial to make race and racism part of the debate and resist the neoliberal speak about migrants filling, or not, labour shortages. Basing antiracism on the lived experiences of the racialised, as demanded by Fanon, is central. However, it is wrong to elicit these experiences for analyses made by settled, white, Christian Irish people without relinquishing the stage to the racialised (as was done at a recent Equality Authority ‘expert forum’ on racism and racial stereotyping). CADIC was a successful coalition, but not because it was initiated by African women concerned about deportations, whose role, erased from the organisation’s history and public relations machine, needs to be acknowledged and reclaimed.
True antiracism is always anti state racism – all your integration policies and intercultural practices avoid the issue. In organising against racism, it is useful to consider what Kensika Monshengwo, formerly of the NCCRI, said to us in relation to the early days of migrant-led activism in 1990s Ireland and to the cooptation of migrants into state and NGO work:
‘There was antiracism campaign… there was a group… they even went to occupy Bertie Ahern’s office at one stage… but now, ok they have an organisation now… right… people are paid… people are managers from different ethnic minorities… but this is not a movement…’