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Joe McDonagh, 1953-2016 May 21, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in racism, Sport.
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I was saddened last night to learn of the death of Joe McDonagh, former president of the GAA.

An important contribution to Irish life that is missing from the news reports I have seen this morning is his leadership in combating racism in Ireland. He was chairman of the Government’s Know Racism campaign for three years from 2001. Know Racism’s work inspired, and people still look for the ogham badge that John Rocha designed. But across the entire Know Racism campaign, Joe’s message was simple: the changing ethnic profile of Ireland meant that we need to recognise and stop racism. That was a message that didn’t sit well with senior civil servants with responsibility in the area, and after 2008, the State’s message changed to ‘integration’, shifting from ‘we’ need to combat racism to ‘they’ need to integrate.

(It is only in the last year that the first signs of a change emerged in that line, with Nóirín O’Sullivan ordering an overhaul of Garda systems for recording racist crime.)

I hope that the obituaries that follow last night’s hastily written news reports recognise Joe’s important work on fighting racism

2004 Citizenship Referendum – 10 years on. June 6, 2014

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in racism.


Ten years ago the Irish government engineered a referendum that removed the right to citizenship to children born in Ireland of ‘non-nationals’. While there is much attention right now to the political generation of racism in Europe during a recession, by so-called ‘populist’ parties, it is worth remembering that this was enthusiastic, boom-time crisis racism, engineered by statist mandarins and the liberal political centre.

It singled out women of colour as welfare tourists and parasites, jetting in to give birth and abuse the nation’s hospitality. On the cusp of EU expansion the government of Ahern and McDowell knew exactly what they were fomenting; the chance for a symbolic performance of sovereignty, a collective blast on the dog whistle, and a license for bartstool mythologies to be circulated as bracing common sense.

They told us that this was necessary to ensure safe and adequate maternity services in Ireland. They told us it was critical to the integrity of the nation’s sovereignty. They told us that it was just a practical measure, all part of managing prosperity. They told us that it was important to ensure that the generosity of the social welfare system was not abused.

After Savita, after the Troika, after the deliberate transfer of public wealth, after the replacement of exotic anchor babies with common or garden welfare fraudsters, how’s that commonsense looking?

The 2004 referendum had a specific racializing impact, and predominantly hidden but frequently profound and disastrous impacts on lives, relationships, and families. But it was also a trial run for the kind of governance that doesn’t limit itself to one ‘problem population’, but continues to produce them when necessary, and has done relentlessly and remorselessly over the last years.

Come and mark the referendum, 10 years on – not as a past event to be commemorated and mourned, but as a collective shame that needs addressing, and as a form of exclusionary violence that can be continually extended, and that needs to be opposed.


The 2004 Citizenship Referendum – the damage done.

Join us at 1 pm on Wednesday June 11th outside the Dail when we mark ten years since the 2004 Citizenship Referendum was passed. We are marking this by holding a solidarity event for all who live in Ireland.

The referendum stopped the automatic right of children born in Ireland from having the rights of citizenship. Birth right citizenship entitlement was changed to blood-based citizenship entitlement granted only to children born in Ireland one of whose parents is a citizen, or entitled to citizenship. Over the last ten years, this referendum has divided families, divided the entire population, and caused countless hardships for thousands of people in this country. It needs to be repealed.

There will be no politicians’ speeches at the event – there was enough of those 10 years ago. Instead we will have a soapbox where people can recount how the referendum has affected their lives, and where there will be readings and music.


Facebook event page


Kimberlé Crenshaw at the LSE March 27, 2014

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Gender Issues, racism.
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Just last night and now online

Intersectionalism has stirred plenty of heat and also many positives on the left, within feminism, here and on both side of the Atlantic. So it may be useful get past the call outs, strawmen, vampire castles and hear from the women who coin the idea way back in 1989.


Audio available here

Direct Provision: An Open Prison March 13, 2014

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Community, Inequality, racism.
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1981 Irish Anti Apartheid Movement letter looking for letter writers to South African Prisoners February 8, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in racism, Social History.
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From 1981 a letter from Louise Asmal of the Irish Anti Apartheid Movement, looking for letter writers to South African Prisoners imprisoned because of their opposition to the evil system of apartheid.

“A lot is happening in our country with regard to stamping out racism”. October 17, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in racism, Sport.

Disgraceful scenes in Serbia, where the U21 game with England ended in chaos following racist abuse of some of the English players. The English manager, Stuart Pearce (quoted in the thread title), the players, and supporters, as well as the media, are rightly outraged. This has come up in comments on another thread a while ago but I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m finding this very hard to take in the aftermath of the whole John Terry thing. Rio Ferdinand dropped because his brother was on the receiving end of racial abuse from the England captain, who was then taken to the European championships by a manager who played in apartheid South Africa. Terry was then given a short and less harsh ban than a foreign player. Ferdinand then finds out he’s definitely not in the next squad because Roy Hodgson told some guy on the tube. England player after England player then comes out to say what a great guy Terry is. Respect indeed.

The idea of the English FA as the champion of anti-racism in football is now blatantly a ridiculous idea but you’d think the whole incident had never happened. Somebody in the English media and the football world needs to stand up and point out the emperor has no clothes.

Some GAA leaders’ understanding of racism June 25, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Gaelic Football, racism.

Last week, the national media reported that two wexford club players have been suspended for eight weeks because they made racist remarks about another player, Lee Chin, during a club game (reports in the Examiner here and here, Independent here, Times here, and RTÉ here). They were suspended by the Central Competitions Control Committee in Wexford GAA.

The following day, the Examiner reported (here) that the president of the GAA, Liam O’Neill, said “This has been dealt with in an exemplary fashion”.

Not enough information has been published about the details of the incident to enable us to judge if the eight-week suspension is strong enough. However, the Irish Times points out that the suspension is the minumum possible when a player has been found guilty of discrediting the GAA.

Worse, though, are the widely reported remarks of the Wexford GAA chairman, Diarmuid Devereux. It was fine when he said: “Any form of racism in the GAA cannot be tolerated. It is terrible that Lee was subjected to these comments on a GAA pitch and the players involved should be ashamed of their behaviour.

But he displayed poor understanding of racism when he pointed out five facts about the vicitm of the racism: “Lee Chin is a Wexford man, born in Wexford, educated in Wexford, living and working in Wexford.

Suppose instead for a moment that none of this were true[1]. Imagine that instead Lee Chin had been born in Australia or China, that he is a Chinese citizen, was educated in Australia, and was not working or studying in Ireland. (That last one point is a stretch if he’s playing GAA football, but not impossible. People have been left in the asylum process for years without a right to work, or, if over 18, a right to education.) If that alternative were the case, would that make it OK for opponents to make racist remarks about him in a club game?

The reason the remarks during the game were wrong was that they were racist, not because he is a Wexford man. But by bringing up that part of Lee Chin’s background in a context where another part of it — his ethnic background — is the motivation for the wrong done to him, the GAA county chairman has not simply confused the matter, but lent credence to the idea that nationality or ethnic background are relevant in attacking racism. The irony is that this is precisely the same problem that is the source of racism: the use of nationality or ethnic background when it is not relevant.

I agree with Devereux’s conclusion: “The hope I have is that through education and promotion of ethnic policy, we will rid Gaelic games of such abuse.” The hope I have is that he undergoes some of that education. And Liam O’Neillmight benefit from some too.

[1] If none of the other facts were true, I suspect a player would would probably have to be living in Wexford to be allowed to play for a club there, meaning one of the five facts would have to be true, but that does not undermine my criticism of the serious flaw in Diarmuid Devereux’s thinking.

Apply the law, Judge Teehan. August 13, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights, Inequality, Judiciary, racism, Rights.

A judge’s job is to apply the law, as set out by the Oireachtas. That task is subject to the Constitution and EU law.

I am trying to figure out Judge Tom Teehan’s thought process in doing his job in a recent case. In fact, it looks to me like he didn’t do it correctly. The case was the appeal against a decision in favour of a teenager called John Stokes. He is a Traveller, and had been refused entry to a secondary school of his choice. (Actually, it was his mother’s choice, but when you’re at the younger end of your teens, that’s how these things are decided.)

The facts behind the case have been reported widely enough in the Irish media, and not all of them are relevant to the issue I have with the judge’s thinking, so I won’t repeat them here.

To tee-up my point, let me quote the three relevant pieces of law.

Exhibit A, Section 7(2) of the Equal Status Act:

(2) An educational establishment shall not discriminate in relation to—
(a) the admission or the terms or conditions of admission of a person as a student to the establishment,

Exhibit B, Section 3(1) of the Equal Status Act (this was amended by the Equality Act 2004, and it is the current wording I quote here):

(1) For the purposes of this Act discrimination shall be taken to occur—

(c) where an apparently neutral provision puts a person referred to in any paragraph of section 3(2) at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless the provision is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary

And the final piece of law, Exhibit C, the section 3(2) of the Equal Status Act which is referred to in Exhibit B:

(2) As between any two persons, the discriminatory grounds (and the descriptions of those grounds for the purposes of this Act) are:
(i) that one is a member of the Traveller community and the other is not (the “Traveller community ground”) […]

The key piece is Exhibit B. The starting point of it — in fact the core purpose of it — is that an apparently neutral rule cannot be used to discriminate on the Traveller ground. It then allows an exception to that: the rule “is objectively justified by a legitimate aim”, and sets a standard for that exception: “the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.

Now, I know some disagree with this law (I don’t), but whether or not it should be the law is beside the point here. The fact is that the democratically elected Oireachtas decided that this is what the law is, and the judge’s job is to apply the law.

The rule the school used to exclude John Stokes was that his father had not been a pupil at the school, and when the school was over-subscribed it gave places to the sons of past-pupils first before running a draw for others.

The judge summarised the situation and said:

Accordingly, it can be stated unequivocally that the “parental rule” — an ostensibly neutral provision as provided for by the amended section 3(1)(c) of the Equal Status Act — is discriminatory against Travellers.

He then said that the question that arises is whether the school can invoke the exception:

[T]he onus is on the [school]
(A) to objectively justify the there was a legitimate aim;
(B) to prove that the measure was proportionate; and
(C) to establish that such measure was necessary.

In paragraph 17 of the his judgement, Judge Teehan said*:

17. With regard to the question of the legitimacy of the aim, [John Stokes] adverted in argument to the school’s Admissions Policy, and the lack of any direct correlation between the stated aims and the “parental rule”. Dealing with “Goals”, one of the criteria referred to is “supporting the family ethos within education”. While this goes on to justify the “sibling rule”, with no reference to parents, I find that the overall aim of the [school’s] Board in introducing the “parental rule” is entirely in keeping with this goal and the “characteristic spirit of the school”, a concept to which it must have regard with section 15(2)(b) and (d) of the Education Act 1998. The [school] has thus objectively justified to the satisfaction of this Court that the aim of the Board in this regard was wholly legitimate.

Now, the judge goes on to deal with the second and third components of the exception — the bits about ‘proportionate’ and ‘necessary’ — but I stop here at the first stage and ask: what on earth did the judge think he was doing finding a ‘father rule’ was legitimate? That finding completely rejects the the intention of the Oireachtas, and the judge has failed in his duty to apply the law as set by the democratic legislature. (Nor he is not invoking a higher authority such as the Constitution or an over-riding EU law.)

Let us remind the judge: the core purpose of the law you were meant to apply is to prohibit discrimination against Travellers. Now, ask the question: how do you get to be a Traveller? The answer, of course, is by being the son or daughter of a Traveller. I can think of no other way of becoming a Traveller. And the rule the school used to give preference to non-Travellers — which the Judge did find is discriminatory — uses that very criteria of who your father (in this case) is, and that rule is, he says, a ‘legitimate aim’?

If the judgment is not overturned, the idea of a ‘legitimate aim’ will be allowed to be so wide, so flexible, that all somebody has to do to get away with undermining the intention of the Oireachtas would be to define an aim that is based not on your membership per se of a group that is the subject of the discrimination at hand, but on the process by which you come to be a member of that group.

Do you want to exclude people who have a disability? Then write a rule that discriminates against anybody who has had an accident that severed their spinal cord, or who in utero experienced a bio-chemical assault that irrepairably damaged the genes that control the development of hearing, etc.,

I wonder would Judge Teehan have tried his logic with a rule that permitted lower pay for people formed from the merging of a human sperm containing an X chromosome with a human egg. That would have been an ingenious way to overturn the Oireachtas’s intentions on gender discrimination.

*To make it easier to follow, I have replaced the words ‘respondent’ with ‘John Stokes’, and ‘appelant’ with ‘school’ in the quoted text.

On the day Mladic has been arrested May 26, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights, racism.

There has been plenty of commentary on the significance of the arrest today in Vojvodina of General Ratko Mladic. I first read the following three comments in 1998, when Mark Danner first published them in the New York Review of Book. They still haunt.

When the truck stopped, we immediately heard shooting outside; stones were bouncing off the [truck’s] tarpaulin. The Cetniks told us to get out, five at a time. I was in the middle of the group, and the men in the front didn’t want to get out. They were terrified, they started pulling back. But we had no choice, and when it was my turn to get out with five others, I saw dead bodies everywhere…. A Cetnik said, “Come on [Turk], find some space.”… They ordered us to lie down, and as I threw myself on the ground, I heard gunfire. I was hit in my right arm and three bullets went through the right side of my torso.

We came near to what I saw through my right eye was a wooded area. They took us off the truck in twos and led us out to some kind of meadow. People started taking off blindfolds and yelling in fear because the meadow was littered with corpses. I was put in the front row, but I fell over to the left before the first shots were fired so that bodies fell on top of me….

About an hour later, I Iooked up and saw dead bodies everywhere. They were bringing in more trucks with more people to be executed. After a bulldozer driver walked away, I crawled over dead bodies and into the forest.

Strike! November 1, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in Culture, History, Human Rights, Labour relations, racism, Trade Unions, Workers Rights.
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Don’t miss STRIKE! – a play about the most dangerous shop workers in the world.

STRIKE! is a fictionalised account of the famous anti-apartheid shop strike on Henry Street in the 1980s. We are back after a sell out show in the Samuel Beckett for a week in May 2010 where it received a great reaction from audiences each night.

The play is running for three weeks – two weeks in the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College from Tuesday 26 October to Saturday 6 November. Then we will run for 5 nights in the axis: Ballymun from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 November.

Written and directed by Tracy Ryan, STRIKE! uses visuals and music of the time to tell the story of a group of young people who went on strike to protest against apartheid and confronted the establishment, caused a state of emergency in South Africa and eventually saw the banning of South African produce in Ireland.

A clip of the show is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwhSKoAj0p0

More about STRIKE!

In Dublin in 1984, the economy was failing, unemployment was rife and 10 young women and one young man were about to change the world. In July a shop worker on Henry Street refused to sell South African fruit to a store customer and was suspended. Ten colleagues followed her out on strike; they thought it would last 2 weeks – it went on for nearly three years.

Come and see STRIKE!

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin
Tuesday 26 October to Saturday 6 Nov. at 7.30 pm
Matinee on Saturday 29 and November 6 at 2.30 pm
Tickets €15.99; €11.99 concession; €9.99 matinee and for group rate of 10
Box office: Book online at www.tcd.ie/drama or by phone at 01 – 896 2461

axis: Ballymun
Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 November at 8 pm
Tickets €14.99; €11.99 concession; €9.99 for group rate of 10
Box office: Book online at www.axis-ballymun.ie or by phone at 01 – 883 2100

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