Racist videos and Irish immigration policies

shatterLast week two racist and antisemitic extreme right YouTube videos appeared on the airwaves. Though mostly directed at the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, I also co-starred in one of them, both of us described as ‘Jews destroying Ireland’. While the Minister was attacked for ‘shattering the nation with policy designed to deconstruct our ethnic and cultural identity’, for ‘fast-tracking bogus asylum applications’ and running ‘anti-Irish’ schemes, including one which aims to turn the country into a ‘Balkanised multiracial dystopia’, I was castigated for supporting immigration and calling for the destruction of the ‘Irish race’. One of the comments posted on the clip refereed to me as ‘rat-faced vermin’ and another congratulated the video-maker: ‘Top vid. Another eye-opener.’ (see http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/66081/irish-justice-minister-targeted-youtube ).

I have been there before; last time YouTube took a while to remove a similar video at the demand of the TCD lawyer; this time, the Minister’s people managed to get the nasty videos off the air within a couple of days.

I am telling you this not to elicit your sympathy, but rather to demonstrate that racism and antisemitism have not gone away (though it’s ironic that the Minister for Justice and I, a critic of the government’s immigration and particularly deportation policies, are tarred with the same brush). It was encouraging that the Irish Times dedicated its editorial on 22 March to the speech by the British human rights lawyer Imran Khan, who, amongst his other accolades, represented the family of the murdered black British youth Stephen Lawrence whose killers were only brought to justice 18 years after the killing. Speaking of state racism, Khan said he found it difficult to believe that a ‘seemingly modern reformed country such as Ireland was still apparently living in the dark ages when it comes to issues of race’. Indeed many racialised people, including Travellers and Irish Jewish people, attest that racism had always existed here, long before ‘these people – asylum seekers and migrants – came.’

I  won’t list racist incidents here simply because racism is not about ‘incidents’, though these of course do exist, but rather about the state, as I have often argued on these pages. Imran Khan noted the government’s refusal to recognise Travellers as an ethnic group, a status they enjoy in Britain and Northern Ireland, the plight of asylum seekers living in the dehumanising direct provision system, and migrants’ unequal entitlements to welfare, immigration, education, employment and housing services.

Racial inequalities and racist discrimination are not going away any day soon, and it’s not only about the Irish white supremacists who posted the videos about Minister Shatter and me. While, unlike many EU states, Ireland still does not have a fully fledged extreme right party, government policies – despite the Minister’s good intentions in relation to citizenship – continue to categorise and racialise. This leads to racial profiling, to the government’s failure to require that racist motivation be considered an aggravated factor in criminal sentencing, to the refusal by GNIB to renew residency permits to women who refuse to take off their head scarves (as reported in Metro two weeks ago), to the insignificant number of prosecutions under the weak 1989 Incitement of Hatred Act, and above all to the continued existence of the inhumane direct provision system.
The link between the government’s racialising and discriminatory policies and outbursts by Irish white supremacists, as in the YouTube videos, is complex. By attacking the Minister for Justice – as a Jew – for ‘destroying Ireland’, these racists suggest he is bending backwards in turning Ireland into a ‘multiracial dystopia’. I would of course vigorously defend Minister Shatter (and myself) against any form of racism and antisemitism, but I would also reserve a right to remain a critic of his government’s immigration and integration policies.