– Joseph Loughnane on the rise in discrimination in Ireland during the recession. (Originally posted on the Irish Left Review)

Over the past month we have seen numerous racist and discriminatory statements made in both Council meetings and Courts across Ireland. What they amounted to was public representatives as well as a judge using either racist slang or making racist statements in the course of their work. These statements were largely brushed under the carpet by the media despite the long term effects they have on the oppressed groups they targeted. A statement by a Fianna Fail senator that he would not get into a taxi driven by an “obvious” non-national resonates quite closely with problems with racism in Galway city.

Despite numerous letters to the local media as well as reports categorically confirming that racism against African taxi drivers is rife in the city, the practice continues with more and more non-national drivers reporting incidents of aggravated racial assault and abuse, to the effect now that these men and women see it as normal for them receive racism on a daily basis. Comments by this Senator only serve to cement such prejudice and make the day-to-day living of an African taxi driver that bit harder.

In times of recession and economic crisis, it has been noted that racist attitudes begin to rise due to people lashing out at whoever is the easiest to blame. Surely our political representatives were elected to rally against such attitudes, and not stoke the fires of racism in a bid to represent, and ultimately win votes, from people who play on such racist attitudes, much like the Conservative Party in the UK covers such areas in a bid to make the British National Party irrelevant.

At the same as these disgraceful remarks by this Fianna Fail senator, three different comments were made by two councillors and a judge in relation to the traveller community. Racial epithets were thrown around a courtroom and councillors in Donegal, one from Fine Gael and the other from Fianna Fail,  resorted to calling for travellers to live in isolation. It wasn’t too long ago that the house of a family from the traveller community was burnt out after our political representatives succeeded yet again in diverting blame away from themselves and onto those suffering the most in society. They do this so well, especially in relation to those on unemployment benefits.

At least once a week we are treated to a television show that purports to uncover the levels of benefit fraud in Irish society in a bid to back up claims that our dole needs to be cut as it is more generous than anywhere else in Europe. This is the line that is pushed in the press despite a recent OECD tax/benefit calculator confirming that Ireland is third lowest when it comes to single persons dole payments in Europe.Image

Far from merely expressing outrage at incidents of racism where a so-called respected public representative is at the centre of it, surely we should be calling for their resignation? If you or I were to utter such prejudiced words in our place of work, we would hopefully be reprimanded immediately, yet these judges and politicians are allowed off with a forced apology that usually only serves to make their bigotry more apparent. This ‘casualising’ of racism has to stop. It is leading to oppressed minorities bearing the brunt of the blame when yet another austerity budget fails to fix the economy and leads to large sections of Irish society to look inwards for the source of their problems rather than at the corrupt politicians and the super-rich. As I have stated, it is not just minorities who are suffering as a result of this, the unemployed face it everyday, as do women.

We live in a society that tells women it is wrong for them to request an abortion if they are raped and that it is just “banter” if men comment on a woman’s physical appearance in a derogatory way.

Discrimination hits hard across Irish society, with gay couples being told to leave shops for displaying their love for each other in public by means of a kiss and people with disabilities having to fight tooth and nail just to hold onto some semblance of home help after yet more cuts. More and more, we are living in a divided society.

How do we address these concerns? Do we place our hope in the big three political parties and ignore the fact that such discrimination is often propagated by these organisations themselves? Or do we aim to work together and point the finger of blame where it should lie, at the gates of the Dail, at the board meetings of Bank executives, at the prison doors of failed developers. If we don’t then we only serve to help the Government divide us and conquer us and play us off against each other.

Solidarity means addressing the concerns of women, the gay community, immigrants, people with disabilities, the unemployed and those who suffer everyday because they don’t fit the model of  a heterosexual white man, with the vast majority of those who govern us in the Dail being, you guessed it, heterosexual white men. Now is the time to stand up to this discrimination or forever face a society that is constantly divided.

Joseph Loughnane