Racism study sends out a bleak warning

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Racism and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland, Bryan Fanning, Manchester University Press, £17.50 pbk

IN THE Irish Democrat in June/July of last year, reviewing a book Encounters: how racism came to Ireland>/em>, I said that we needed more studies like it and more analyses of the contradictions in attitudes that have come to light in recent years. Within a month, we had a study, Racism and Anti-Racism in Ireland, which I felt did not entirely live up to the claims the publishers made for it.

Now comes a new study by a lecturer in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at University College Dublin.

We already know that the last decade or so has seen changes in Irish society, and here we are talking about the 26 counties. New, easily identifiable immigrant communities have emerged. We have the Irish attitudinal responses to asylum seekers and towards that brand new phenomenon for Ireland — economic migrants.

Rather than simply starting with the racism which sadly has begun to manifest itself against the new immigrants, Dr Fanning takes us, albeit briefly, back to the colonial roots of racism.

Centuries of colonists used racist attitudes against the native Irish and those attitudes still have a modern flowering in the six counties where a large section of the unionist population continue to regard their fellow citizens with a sectarian hatred that merges into a racist ideology.

Moreover, as Dr Fanning also points out, the Irish Travellers have always been treated as a despised group ‘apart’ from Irish society. Curiously, the Travellers are not a separate people in the same manner of the Romanies, miscalled Gypsies.

Travellers were once simply itinerant performers and then beggars who were reinforced by many Irish soldiers returning from the Napoleonic wars. They could not settle nor find work and went on the roads with their families, mending pots and pans and doing whatever work came to hand.

Dr Fanning argues that Ireland was never immune from racist ideologies that have governed different groups. There was the racism between the eastern part of the island and the west and the curious attitudes of many native Irish speakers towards those attempting to learn the language.

What is important is that Dr Fanning presents a stark warning of what may happen if the present exclusion of new immigrants from Irish society is not changed. The Irish state gives little or no support to working to bring about social inclusion for these groups.

This is an excellent and thought-provoking book which I thoroughly recommend.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-05-23 09:25:50.
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