Brendan Hoban: Irish people must rise above the racist tide              

Western People 14.2.23

There are times when I cannot help but feel huge pride for my country. Once was when the then Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, resisted pressure to cap the number of Ukrainians entering Ireland. He spoke of the plight of refugees, of our own history of knocking on doors in times of national distress, of the importance of not turning anyone away, and, most compellingly of all, of the moral responsibility we had to ‘do the right thing’.

There are times too when I cannot help but feel shame for my country. As when I read about anti-refugee groups exploiting the fears of the poor, encouraging racist chants outside buildings that house refugees and immigrants and manipulating the simple-minded who often seem prepared to believe almost anything.

It’s difficult to under-rate the gullibility of people: the MMR vaccine causes autism; climate change is an invention; the moon landing was faked; Bill Gates is trying to implant monitoring microchips in people’s brains; COVID-19 never existed; and Elvis is still alive and was last seen spreading turf on Srahlollagh bog.

And then there are those who seem to be reasonable and sensible at least most of the time but pick up some daft notion and end up with an almost evangelical zeal in attempting to convince everyone they meet that there’s a conspiracy afoot to take over the world or whatever.

In a recent Sunday Independent piece, Gene Kerrigan, in his signature style deflated some of the best known conspiracy numbers: Ireland is top of the charts for the number of immigrants – no, we’re not, we don’t even make the top 25. Ireland is full – no, it isn’t, we have 78 people per square kilometre and the corresponding figure for, say, Denmark is 138 and the UK 270; and so forth.

At present it appears that a campaign of intimidation and manipulation is being waged in Ireland by a small group of far-right activists who have arrived under the radar­ – though they are at last being taken seriously by the authorities. They have succeeded in gathering significant groups of the fearful and the gullible by spreading hearsay about a gathering plague of people who happen to have black skins and speak foreign languages.

One group is echoing Trump’s ‘America First’. Effectively, it’s racism by rumour, lies and manipulation. Fear is exploited; lies are told; people whose homes have been bombed by Putin are presented as unworthy of our care; welcoming people we’ve never met is seen as indicative of naivety, weakness and failure; false rumours are spread of plans for housing huge numbers of non-Ukrainian refugees; and Taliban atrocities are listed even though both the context and the reality are inapplicable.

In effect, the politics of hate is being proposed for our adoption. Racism, undisguised and unadulterated, is part of the new manifesto and the counter-witness of our own history is being conveniently pushed into the background.

During the Famine years over a million Irish people emigrated, many in dire straits who depended on ‘the kindness of strangers’ to make a life for themselves. It birthed a respect and a focus on our responsibility in turn as a nation to stand for and with those who were experiencing similar needs and experiences.

It became anathema to everything we stood for that we should close our doors to refugees and immigrants or diminish in any way those in abject need or those who happen to have coloured skin. The legendary notice posted in foreign climes – ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ – is forever seared into our souls. We’ve been there, done that and it would be a denial of a core truth of our Irish identity to inflict that unease or unreason on more vulnerable immigrants.

In fact, the very opposite was the case. Fundamental to our beliefs and practices is, because of our own history, to offer ‘a welcome to the stranger’, to hold out the hand of friendship to those for whom we had no direct responsibility, to do what we can to lift others out of a poverty our own people had long experienced.

It’s why Trócaire – and our focus on the needs of the global needy – have long been at the heart of our national response to the clear necessities of those we’ve never met and will never know. It’s why missionary endeavour has for so long been a definitive and long-accepted the impulse of our people. It’s why, as I write, my thoughts are on two religious sisters ­– Orla Treacy, a Loreto sister, and Mary Killeen, a Mercy sister, who were part of a recent Faith Alive programme on Mid-West Radio.

Orla, who taught in St Muredach’s College, Ballina for some years, was in the news because she had led a group of students from the secondary school where she is principal in South Sudan on a 200km walk to the capital, Juba, to meet Pope Francis on his recent visit. In a diocese the size of Italy (with just two secondary schools) Orla and her staff have worked for some years in a civil war situation where girls as young as 12 are married off to men who ‘buy’ them into enforced marriages by giving X number of cows to their families. In that complex political and cultural situation, the Sisters have a thriving boarding school for girls.

Mary (Killeen) has worked for many years in a slum area of Nairobi, Kenya where a number of schools have been established to get children off the street.   

Both Sisters have received prestigious international awards for their work which, in essence, is the polar opposite of those who are haranguing refugees here to go home.

They shame us as a country – while Orla and Mary do us proud.  

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  1. Fr. Bernard Survil says:

    Thank God we Americans don’t suffer from racist attitudes and behaviours that apparently afflict The Irish.
    Proof of that are the two terms as President, Barack Obama, despite his being born in Kenya and not enjoying U.S. citizenship. We Americans are exceptionally broad minded. Our U.S. Catholic Church is thinking of sending missionaries to the Republic of Ireland in the hope that our admirable qualities will rub off on the benighted of The Emerald Isle. Father Hoban is to be thanked for pointing out the needs.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Brendan, for that.

    I remember in the last Presidential election, when Michael D won his second term, the candidate who made “the travelling people problem” the central plank of his campaign came second with, I think, 20% approximately of the vote. I forget his name name but it was disgraceful.
    He was a Donegal man too!!

    Gene Kerrigan wrote an excellent piece in that weekend’s Sunday Independent pointing out that the holocaust did not start with the holocaust but with certain Germans talking up “the Jewish problem”.

    A few years ago I read another piece in the Sunday Independent describing how, I think, it was either the WHO or the UN who did research into racism in Europe, and found that we were the second most racist country in Europe. The piece I read did not disclose what country was the most racist. I was surprised to say the least.

  3. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Good to hear from Fr Bernárd Survil@1 again. If the US Catholic Church ever does get around to flooding Ireland (North & South) with missionaries, let them be selected from the 130 priests who, just over ten years ago (7 Feb 2013), voiced their support here for Fr Tony Flannery as well as for Frs Roy Bourgeois, Bill Brennan and others. Four days later, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. Was it this fusion of AUSCP with ACP that sparked off that once-in-600-years ‘renunciatio’? A case not just of post hoc but of proper propter hoc?
    In any case, it’s good to see Fr Bernárd/Bernie still prominent in AUSCP Leadership. We need more of his splendid irony on this forum. He may be glad to know that, while Roman, Redemptorist and Hiberno-episcopal responses to a combined call for justice are glacial, tectonic plates have been grinding away. Ten years is a short time for institutions thinking in centuries. But then again, anyone searching back to 7th February 2013 will be struck by a long lost vibrancy in ACP content and commentary.

  4. Edward Quinn says:

    Like Eddie Finnegan, I often wonder why the ACP website has become so quiet and banal. In the old days of 2013 there was much debate on so many issues of church and state. We had contributions of great wisdom and humour! There was also anger and frustration! But then Pope Francis took office on 13th March 2013. And a grand silence descended. He was singing from our hymn sheet. Did Francis kill the ACP?

  5. Hi. Never been on this site before just stumbled upon it while browsing and yeah there is a question that has been plaguing me for the longest time. Why decided when a priest is defrocked there should be no obituary of his death anywhere…RIP. ie Evening Papers etc nothing. I mean does his family know in advance their son, brother, uncle has been shamed and not to put up a memorial. Are they told when he dies…dying? Who’s benefit is it for?…
    Any opinions?

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