Monday 20 November 2017

Our man in Australia hits back at portrayal of the Irish

But ambassador's remarks spark criticism of alleged drunkenness

World Youth Day participants from Ireland sun bathe at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach
World Youth Day participants from Ireland sun bathe at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach
STEREOTYPED: Even the victory of clean-living boxer Katie Taylor prompted a headline about punch-drunk Ireland and intoxication.
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

"Drunk Paddy in $500k flood of tears." This headline prompted the Irish ambassador to Australia, Noel White, to last week launch a scathing attack on one of the county's most popular national newspapers over its use of offensive language.

"It has no place in a sophisticated, multicultural society such as Australia. It demeans those to whom it refers and diminishes those who put it forward," Noel White said in response to an article published in The Age newspaper's online edition.

The subject of this article, Padraig Gaffney, had pleaded guilty in a Melbourne court on May 6 to causing criminal damage at a local hotel and was fined $10,000.

Padraig was found dead the next day.

Last Thursday, Noel White wrote an article in the same publication, condemning the tone and language the newspaper had used to describe the "young man who had expressed remorse and shame for his actions".

He added: "It should come as no surprise that the media coverage of court proceedings involving the late Padraig Gaffney has provoked strong reaction within the Irish community and, in the process, drawn attention to the impact of language used in relation to ethnic groups and nationalities. The reaction has been a mix of shock, grief and dismay: shock and grief at a tragic loss of life; dismay at the casually offensive language.

"This is not, of course, the first time that the Irish have been labelled in this way. In the past the Irish were conditioned to the ridicule of the 'Irish joke'.

"The caricature of the fighting, drinking, dissolute Irish, notoriously promulgated in the pages of Punch in the 19th Century, while certainly less evident these days, has not been entirely eradicated.

"When it does occur, its impact is not diminished by familiarity."

Ambassador White added: "The Irish do well in Australia. They work hard. And if nationalities can be characterised, they live life to the full, often with high spirits and good humour, characteristics they share with many others. Also, like others, the Irish are not immune to the effect of offensive and insulting language."

Two years ago, The Age also ran an article about boxer Katie Taylor's Olympic win over Britain's Natasha Jones with the headline: "Punch Drunk: Ireland intoxicated as Taylor swings towards victory boxing gold."

However, rather than widespread support for Mr White's point of view, the comments section beneath the ambassador's article on The Age website appears to show a growing resentment towards the Irish community in Australia.

"Please travel to Darwin and speak with your fellow Irish backpackers who fuel alcohol-related violence, drunkenness and are generally a rude, unpleasant and grubby cohort," one reader wrote. "Weekend incidents in the Mitchell Street area are dominated by Irish and your reputation as congenial, happy-go-lucky and friendly people is fast becoming one of arrogant, drunken criminals."

Some online commentators welcomed the ambassador's words, but more readers chimed in to slam the Irish, with one Sydney taxi driver, labelling the behaviour of the Irish people in Australia as "a disgrace".

"Frankly, Ambassador White, that headline that you're so offended and aggrieved by has actually treated you and your people quite charitably," wrote the cabbie.

"In my long and harrowing experience, the Irish of the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney [they] were easily the most obnoxious, unruly, loutish and wretched passengers a driver would ever encounter!"

While there are some who believe that the current levels of vitriol directed at the Irish in Australia are a warranted by-product of the copious amounts of themed pubs, full of young Irish migrants drinking to excess and engaging in anti-social behaviour, others feel that Australian media is too quick to stereotype foreign nationalities.

Liz O'Hagan, a migration agent, has spent the last 15 years assisting Irish people relocate to Australia with Australian Visa Specialists. She believes that a very small minority of young Irish people are now spoiling it for everyone else.

"Irish people are being stereotyped as drunks and irresponsible, when the reality is that small groups of young people are the problem," Liz said.

"Wearing county jerseys and visiting Irish establishments means the Irish stand out. Even the media in Australia seem to think it is okay to stereotype all Irish.

"Where young people tend to get themselves in bother here is that for many it is their first taste of freedom from home and they can earn high wages, which is opposite to what they experienced in Ireland.

"Many young men work up in the mines on four weeks on and a week off. They return to the city and go mad on drink because in the mines they have alcohol restrictions. Many have little expenses here, but a surplus income and this equates to foolish behaviour."

She added: "Most Australians I speak with love Irish people, but really want us to take on board and respect the rules and laws of Australia."

Niamh Whyte, 28, a secondary school teacher living in Coogee Beach, outside Sydney, says she has noticed a significant change in how the Irish are treated by the Australians since she first travelled there seven years ago.

"In the last two or three years in particular, it's changed from you being a novelty to them to something negative," she said. "You get comments like 'another Irish' or 'you are everywhere,' with a distinctive roll of the eyes.

"I have been called 'a Paddy' in the past and it used to be a term of endearment, but now it is swaying in a more negative direction.

"The stereotypes aren't coming from nowhere, though, and there is – with the more recent people coming over especially – this sense of entitlement from this other country, a country which has been very good to us, but you get that more from the Celtic Tiger babies.

"I think it's a numbers thing, the few Irish here used to be perceived as really hard working and now, as the numbers have increased, it has just taken a few bad experiences with some Irish people to give everyone that reputation."

The Department of Foreign Affairs estimates that there are between 85,000 and 100,000 Irish-born people in Australia at any one time.

In the past two years there has been a significant increase in the number of Irish people settling in Australia, with the numbers of Irish people granted permanent visas jumping from 3,041 in 2010 to 5,209 in 2013.

A further 1,709 Irish people passed the Australian citizenship test in 2013 and, as of March 31, 2014, there were 35,170 Irish people in Australia on temporary visas, of which 11,110 were on Working Holiday Maker visas and 18,050 were on employer sponsored visas.

After the Irish embassy in London, the Embassy in Canberra now processes more Irish passport applications than any other Irish mission – 6,101 applications in 2013 – with the Consulate General in Sydney ranking a close third at 3,366 applications during the same year.

Sunday Independent

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