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Sunday 19 August 2018

FG leader storm after 'nigger' joke

JEROME REILLY

Enda Kenny bows to mounting pressure to apologise:'I had no excuses and failed to exemplify my own standards'...

Enda Kenny bows to mounting pressure to apologise:'I had no excuses and failed to exemplify my own standards'

THE Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was at the centre of a major controversy last night after he told an anecdote which included the racist epithet "nigger" during a function attended by parliamentary colleagues, party workers and political journalists.

The function, held last Wednesday in Buswell's Hotel, near Leinster House, was to mark the departure of Fine Gael's national press and public relations officer Niall O Muilleoir. Yesterday, Mr Kenny was attacked by the Labour Party, the Irish Refugee Council and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties who said they could think of no occasion in which the word was appropriate.

Last night, Mr Kenny bowed to mounting pressure and "unreservedly" apologised for his remark saying that he had no excuses and had "failed to exemplify my own standards and the standards of a party committed to diversity".

Earlier yesterday his spokeswoman dismissed the controversy stating the remark had been made at a gathering by invitation only and said to highlight it was "unfair and out of context".

The circumstances in which the remark was made arose out of a personal memory Mr Kenny recounted of his friend and former Fine Gael colleague David Molony from Tipperary who died suddenly on Tuesday.

Mr Kenny recalled a holiday in Portugal many years ago with Mr Molony and the former leader of the party in the Seanad, Maurice Manning, now the newly appointed President of the Human Rights Commission in Dublin.

Mr Manning was recovering from a personal upset at the time and the holiday was of the "liquid variety", the new Fine Gael leader remembered. He said the three politicians were the only occupants of a cocktail bar with a Moroccan bartender. Mr Kenny recalled that the barman had "shiny teeth" and that Mr Manning had spotted the name of one of the cocktails on the drinks menu was a 'Lumumba'.

The academic senator took this to be a reference to Patrice Lumumba, the African Nationalist leader and first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, assassinated in 1961.

He raised this with the barman who, according to Mr Kenny, replied that Lumumba was "some nigger who was killed dans la guerre " (in the war). The anecdote fell flat in front of an embarrassed audience and Mr Kenny added quickly that it was "not a racist story".

On three occasions Mr Kenny told political journalists he did not want to hear or read reports on the story. Journalists from daily newspapers and radio and television dutifully complied with this request.

Yesterday Peter O'Mahony of the Irish Refugee Council demanded that Mr Kenny clarify what he meant by the use the the word "nigger".

"It is always difficult to put this kind of thing into context but I can think of no situation where that type of language and where the use of the word "nigger" is appropriate.

"It was at best an ill-judged use of language. I think it is easy to be overly politically correct when you are involved in discussions on race but I don't think that this is an issue of what is politically correct or not.

"Language like this cheapens the debate and we have to find out why a particular senior politician felt it necessary to use that anecdote.

"Even if we assume he was relating some other person's use of language it is absolutely wrong and entirely inappropriate to use that word."

But a computer expert Raul Rani, who had attended the function, said he had been surprised when he had heard the word but, on balance, he did not think it was racist. "I would be the first to stand up and be counted if I felt that something was racist. I think that it was inappropriate at worst but I don't think there was anything malicious in what he said."

Yesterday Tommy Broughan of the Labour Party said that "in these days of a multicultural society it was extremely important that people choose the language they use with care.

"Enda Kenny is a storyteller but on this occasion he got it wrong and that is disappointing. I do not believe that it was racist or that he is a racist. It was just wrong of him to say it."

Earlier yesterday a Fine Gael spokeswoman said that Mr Kenny was merely relating an anecdote from a holiday 20 years ago involving a friend who had died that day.

"Enda was very upset by the sudden death of his friend," she said, adding that the Sunday Independent was being unfair in picking up on a single word and was taking it out of context.

"It was a private gathering by invitation only. I think you are taking it completely out of context. The use of that word does not characterise Enda's views on race. You are being unfair. You are misconstruing a word and taking it in isolation instead of relating it as it was a story about a friend who had died that day," she added.

But later yesterday Mr Kenny issued a statement to the Sunday Independent saying: "I used a word I should never have used and I apologise unreservedly for it. Some of the people in whose company I used this have gone to great lengths to explain the word was used in recounting a true incident in the past.

"However, the fact is that I used the word and no context excuses it. I failed to exemplify my own standards and the standards of a party absolutely committed to diversity. I am sorry."

In the context of an increasing number of racist attacks the anecdote including the word "nigger" will be regarded by many as showing extremely poor political judgement. Earlier this year, a key figure in the British conservative party was sacked from the shadow cabinet after telling a racist joke at a rugby club dinner.

The Tory MP Ann Winterton spoke about Asians in Britain being "ten a penny" and referred to throwing Pakistanis from a train carriage. She was sacked by party leader Iain Duncan Smith and apologised for the remarks.

There is also increasing awareness here about the dangers of inappropriate language.

Before the General Election all the political parties here signed up to Anti-Racism Protocol for Political Parties in relation to the conduct of election campaigns.

Mr Kenny has also left himself open to the accusation that his speech conflicts with that protocol.

It states that politicians must use "appropriate and inclusive language and words when referring to people of different ethnic backgrounds, in order to avoid creating prejudice or confusion."

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