Chinedu Onyejelem: The Government has utterly failed to tackle rising tide of racism here
Our laws are totally inadequate when it comes to dealing with race-hate crime
LAST Thursday, three men – two black immigrants and an Irishman who's married to a black woman – who separately collaborate with me on different issues met at the Metro Eireann newspaper office in Dublin's Dorset Street.
At this impromptu meeting, we discussed many issues, including Ireland soccer legend Paul McGrath, who recently agreed to give a day's coaching to youngsters at Tullamore Town FC in order to avoid a jail sentence.
We also discussed the lack of opportunities for young immigrant soccer stars whose numbers are growing by the day, the heatwave and the opportunities that a diverse school curriculum offers.
But most of our time was spent taking a hard look at the growing number of racist incidents, especially those targeted at black people, including black taxi drivers all over Ireland – and the lack of action against racism and hate crime.
Racism against immigrant taxi drivers is nothing new to me. But it was absolutely sickening to listen to some of the racist remarks that one of my guests, Ken McCue, the international officer of Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari) said Irish taxi drivers continued to make against their black colleagues.
Just like McCue, I have heard some Irish taxi drivers call their black colleagues names such as n****r. I have also heard how some taxi drivers have tried to incite hatred against black cabbies by asking customers not to get in their cars because they always overcharge. Or that all black taxi drivers take the scenic route and passengers must pay more.
But it is important to note that there are some dubious, and indeed racist, black taxi drivers operating out there. And racism against immigrants in Ireland is obviously not restricted to taxi drivers.
Three weeks ago a black friend of mine told me about an incident he experienced while drinking in a bar in Sligo on a recent sunny Saturday evening. Paul (not his real name) ordered a glass of wine from a very nice bar woman. But while he was waiting to be served, he said an Irish guy he has known for some time came and pulled him from the bar. "When did n*****s start drinking wine?" he said the man shouted at him. "You are trying to be like us."
My friend was obviously very shocked and embarrassed by the outburst in a packed bar. But what really pained him was that nobody intervened on his behalf. As my friend quickly made his way out of the bar, he decided to stop and narrate his experience to a bouncer. He said he asked the bouncer if someone can really come to that bar to enjoy himself. The bouncer's reply, according to my friend, was almost as sickening. "If you don't feel safe, go somewhere else."
My friend left, wondering when a black man like himself would have respect in Ireland. That was not the end of the story though. Three days later, my friend bumped into the same guy at an event in the town. "He came to me and apologised. 'Sorry I was drunk,' he said." My friend decided not to make any official complaint against him or report the incident.
But racism can sometimes take other, more subtle, forms. Another black friend of mine and his pal were racially abused by a group of young Travellers in Ennis, Co Clare.
"What's up our n****r brothers?" He said the Traveller youths asked as he approached them. My friend jokingly replied: "What's up our Traveller brothers?" But the attempt at humour was lost on the Traveller youths. They became very angry at my friend, but he decided to challenge them nonetheless.
"What's wrong?" My friend asked, stressing that he was only joking. But the Traveller youths then replied that it was okay for them to racially mock his race and colour, but he did not have the right to do the same to them.
Since I came to Ireland 16 years ago I have heard countless stories about how immigrants – in particular black people – have been spat at or had stones, rocks or eggs thrown at them in the street by racist gangs of youths. And the problem appears to be getting worse, as recent clashes between rival gangs of white and blacks youths on Portmarnock Beach indicate.
Ignorance, though never an excuse, has traditionally always been blamed over for the majority of racist incidents we hear of. But although this may be true to an extent, we have to ask ourselves what is the Government doing to tackle the growing problem?
I do not believe the Government is committed in the fight against racism in Ireland. Anti-racism initiatives, including public awareness, are being pursued by civil groups in some communities on the ground. But they are getting very little support from the Government.
Anti-racism laws in Ireland are extremely weak, including the Prohibition against Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, which has failed to stand the test of time. The blame, ultimately, lies with the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. As my friend Ken McCue told me last Thursday: "I believe there is no critical mass here to push in the direction of hate crime. Minister Shatter has been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, but turns a blind eye because he would have to legislate for all acts of racism and sectarianism."
And while we wait for robust laws, we must also urgently begin to create awareness across all areas about the benefits of cross-cultural understanding and co-operation among all the diverse groups in Ireland. This will break down barriers and ensure that we live in an integrated and vibrant society.
Chinedu Onyejelem is an award-winning journalist and publisher of 'Metro Eireann', Ireland's only multicultural newspaper