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Volume 1 | Issue 1
Autumn 2006

Irishness and Racism – Towards an E-Reader

Ronit Lentin 1 & Robbie McVeigh 2
1 Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin (r.lentin@tcd.ie)
2 Independent Researcher, Derry (robbiemcveigh@hotmail.com) 

The article is partly annotated bibliography, partly resource collection, partly review and partly programme of action on the nexus of racism, ethnicity and Irishness. As befits an e-journal, the article provides accessible links to appropriate web-based organisations or resources. The work of the authors in this area – particularly the edited collection Racism and Anti-Racism in Ireland (2002) – was an attempt to fill a theoretical and pedagogical gap in speaking about the specificities of racism in the Irish context. The article argues that making sense of the dialectic between continuity and change is the key to understanding the dynamics of racism in the new millennium. In consequence we need to theorise and resist two apparently contradictory trends – globalisation and the strengthening in of the racist state. These are at the very core of the nexus of Irishness and racism.

Keywords: Irishness, Ireland , racism, anti-racism, racist state, globalisation


Fifteen years ago Ireland was ‘remarkably free' of racism - according to the European Parliament Second Committee of Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia . It was certainly ‘remarkably free' of concern about racism. There was neither citizenship nor nationality nor immigration nor refugee legislation in the Republic of Ireland ; there was neither anti-discrimination legislation, nor Race Relations Order, nor Section 75, nor Race Equality Unit in Northern Ireland . There was no Equality Commission in the north, no Equality Authority or NCCRI in the south. Now we have all of those things – and Translocations: the Irish Migration Race and Social Transformation Review . If we leave aside for a moment the properly pejorative implications of the term ‘race relations' industry, there can be no doubting the recent productivity of this industry in Ireland.

From this perspective, an e-journal is an exciting addition to this reality of burgeoning analysis, policy and activism in Ireland . None of the Irish university libraries have particularly well-resourced libraries on racism – although most key British and Irish texts are accessible in Trinity - and most public libraries are even more poorly resourced. Thus, for anyone trying to understand the dynamics of racism in Ireland , the web is the best place to start. There are two useful email based briefings, the southern-focused NCCRI News (which comes on request as a Word attachment) and the northern-focused MCRC Mailings . Both provide useful up-to-date information, analysis and contacts.

As befits an e-journal, we have tried hard in this article to provide accessible links to appropriate web-based organisations or resources. Since there are no obvious conventions on this, where the relevant organisation or text is directly accessible on the linked site or downloadable at a particular site, they are indicated in a hyperlink like this (though it bears emphasis that one of the downsides of web-based work is that these links are liable to change or removal, but all are accurate at the time of going online). It is certainly a boon to researchers that most recent research on racism is available electronically and much of it is downloadable. The availability of new materials contrasts starkly with the inaccessibility of some of the earlier publications on racism and ethnicity in Ireland which can be difficult to access even in libraries and impossible to locate online, confirming the need for a comprehensive resource collection on racism and Irishness.

The one advantage of the absence of historical work is the newness of the corpus. Both analysis and practice are almost all recent since racism and ethnicity were perceived to be ‘non-issues' until very recently. We have moved very quickly therefore from a situation in which very few people took the issue of racism in Ireland seriously – other than its victims of course – to one in which racism is a part of everyday discourse. Indeed, racism in Ireland in all its forms – from discrimination to murder – is now commonplace. Dublin has lent its name to the convention that is one of the key building blocks of ‘Fortress Europe' and Belfast has the unenviable distinction of being identified as the ‘most racist city in the world'. How and why did this happen?

First, Ireland finally came within the ambit of international discourse on racism when the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination came into force in the Republic of Ireland on 28 January 2001. The Republic of Ireland had signed the Convention in 1968 but had failed to ratify it. The British Government had already ratified it and its reporting to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was one of the key mechanisms which forced racism in Northern Ireland onto the political agenda. So, the whole island of the Ireland is now linked formally to international and transnational discourse around racism. This is not to suggest, of course, that either the theory or the process of the work on racism of the UN and its associated agencies is unproblematic. Much of the discourse and the politicking are both legalistic and convoluted. Nevertheless, the Convention is the most important international declaration on racism. Linked to the definitive UNESCO Declaration on Race and Race Prejudice , we find a common transnational language for understanding and resisting racism. It reminds us also that Irish racism is only understandable in the context of an increasingly globalised and globalising world.

From this starting point we engage with racism not as individual prejudice, but rather as a political system. W e take racism to mean a system of subordination . Racism is thus characterised by both its systemic nature and by its reproduction of profound inequalities – it makes and keeps peoples different, separate and unequal. Racism is essentially dialectical – it names a coherent set of relationships which situate different people in terms of notions of race and which result in very different life experiences for those people. Our understanding of racism is identified therefore less in terms of ideas than in terms of real lived experience (Lentin and McVeigh, 2006).

We speak of ‘Irish racism' as it began to be theorised by social scientists in the 1990s with specific reference to Ireland , particularly since the arrival of increasing (though still relatively very small) numbers of migrants, migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers. This work spoke to the increasing racialisation of Irishness whilst acknowledging the continued importance of existing minority ethnic groups such as Travellers, Black Irish people and Jewish people (see McVeigh, 1992, 1996). Our own work in this area – particularly our edited collection Racism and Anti-Racism in Ireland (2002) – was an attempt to fill a theoretical and pedagogical gap in speaking about the specificities of racism in the Irish context. When we speak about ‘Ireland' we are speaking about the island of Ireland, north and south and when we speak about ‘Irishness' we recognise that this is a complex and contested concept, not a self-evident truth. In the period since our 2002 publication there has been a huge increase in work in the area. It is useful in this context to take stock of where we are at and where we have come from. That is what we do in this article.

While trying not to make any concessions to theoretical depth, in this article we offer a preview, an introductory package on the nexus of racism, ethnicity and Irishness. This article is therefore partly annotated bibliography, partly resource collection, partly review and partly programme of action. As with the new journal itself, this means that the work connects a number of different though overlapping subjects – racism, ethnicity, minority ethnic groups, legislation on citizenship and nationality, immigration and asylum, anti-racism and interculturalism. We have avoided references to sources that have no obvious connection to Irish racism – and this of course includes nearly all the classics of scholarship and activism on racism. While we fully acknowledge that work on Irish racism has to be situated in terms of wider social theory, and intellectual and political work on racism elsewhere, we do not attempt to address this challenge here. We do, however, suggest that contemporary theorising recognises the importance of recent work by Hardt and Negri and Agamben . Certainly our own recent work (Lentin and McVeigh, 2006) situates racism in Ireland in terms of some of the theoretical insights into the current organisation of the world that these scholars' work illuminates.

A bibliography of racism and anti-racism in the Irish context

Attempting to pigeonhole work on racism relevant to Ireland on a north and south basis, as we do here, immediately throws up exceptions. First, there are texts that engage with Irishness elsewhere which have an immediate bearing on understanding racism in Ireland . Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White (1995) on racism and the Irish in America is a classic example – it is certainly arguable that you cannot begin to understand racism in Ireland without reference to this work. In terms of the racialisation of the Irish, Mary Hickman's work is crucial, particularly Religion, Class and Identity (1995) and Discrimination and the Irish Community in Britain : A report of research undertaken for the Commission for Racial Equality (1997). This focused work on anti-Irish racism sits alongside a host of other works on the diaspora which names racism to a greater or lesser degree. Liz Curtis' Nothing But the Same Old Story: The Roots of Anti-Irish Racism (1981) remains a classic activist resource. But there are also increasingly new perspectives from outside of Ireland that offer important analyses and data on racism and ethnicity in Ireland . Here the European Parliament (1991), the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia are obvious examples. The marked changes in the racialisiation of Irishness are evident in the shift between the complacency of the first ECRI Report on Ireland and the concern in the second ‘ Report on Ireland' ) . In terms of anti-racism, Alana Lentin's Racism and anti-racism in Europe (2004) consciously develops its characterisation and critique of Irish anti-racism in a transnational context. The Institute of Race Relations European Race Bulletin section on Ireland is also a useful online resource for news stories.

There are also texts that resolutely insist on working with Ireland , north and south, as the unit of analysis for racism - albeit often with an acknowledgement of regional variations. Our own work obviously assumed this non-partitionist perspective, but others also adopt the same approach. This remains more than a practical issue – it cuts right to the heart of how racism in Ireland is to be understood. If racism in Northern Ireland is really best understood as a regional variant of British (and British state) racism, then it should be effectively disregarded in analyses of Irish racism (and arguably in journals like this one). If, on the other hand, the dynamic between the two parts of the island – and the diaspora of course – is central to understanding racism, then partitionist analyses are profoundly limited in terms of what they can say.

Rolston and Shannon's Encounters: How Racism Came to Ireland (2002) is an important example of an all-Ireland approach. This is also true for the historiography and sociology of different minority ethnic groups, such as Louis Hyman (1972) and Dermot Keogh (1998) on Irish Jewish people. Most work on Travellers also assumes an all-Ireland perspective. Here the academic/activist interfacing of Irish Travellers: Culture and Ethnicity (McCann et al. 1994) remains the definitive text, but Jim McLaughlin's Travellers and Ireland : Whose Country, Whose History? (1995), Frank Murphy et al. Travellers, Citizens of Ireland: Our Challenge to an Intercultural Irish Society in the 21 st Century (2000), and Jane Helleiner's Travelling People: The Politics and Ethnography of Racism and Culture in Ireland (2001) have added significantly to the literature .

Other publications look quite deliberately at north and south in comparative context (CRD, 1997). The Platform Against Racism, formed in 1997 (Platform Against Racism, 1997) also consciously organised on an all-Ireland basis. In the context of the 1997 EU Year Against Racism it seemed likely that much anti-racism activity would work within this paradigm, although it seems less likely now. The Good Friday Agreement also committed both governments to establishing effective rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity to ‘ethnic communities' alongside all other communities (The Agreement, 1998: 19). It is also true that what happens in one part of Ireland cannot but impact on the dynamic of racism in the other. For example, the inclusion of Travellers in the Race Relations ( Northern Ireland ) Order (RRO) (1997) had a significant impact in the Republic of Ireland while at the same time developments on Travellers in the Republic have an immediate policy effect in the north. Likewise, it is arguable that the Mrs Chen case which was specifically concerned with Irish citizenship rights in Northern Ireland - was the key catalyst for the June 2004 Citizenship Referendum and the Republic of Ireland becoming, as we argue, a formal, racial state. This said, it remains true that the vast majority of texts relevant to racism and anti-racism in Ireland are published in and refer to either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland . Moreover, most of these texts focus fairly exclusively on only one of these regions – this is hardly surprising given the centrality of the state in the reproduction of racism and the construction of anti-racism. We therefore schematise our discussion of other texts in terms of ‘Northern Ireland' and ‘Republic of Ireland' and suggest that we can further broadly schematise sources on either side of the border in terms of four categories: ‘ state ', ‘ QUANGOs ', ‘ academic ' and ‘ NGOs/community' . This notion of state-based publications includes legislation and the census, of course, as well as materials from Government departments; QUANGOs includes bodies like the Equality Commission in the north and the Equality Authority and NCCRI in the south; academic and NGOs are fairly self-explanatory.

Northern Ireland

Until comparatively recently there was very little systematic research on racism or minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland . Ephemeral and anecdotal pieces on Traveller and Jewish people were the nearest thing to a literature on minority ethnic groups. However, Northern Ireland does have one minority ethnic resource collection of world importance - the L'Amie Collection at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown (1981). This is the most important resource collection of Irish Traveller-related materials in the world. The research situation has, however, improved radically over the recent years. Paul Hainsworth's edited collection Divided Society: Ethnic Minorities and Racism in Northern Ireland (1998) remains the definitive academic text on the broad subject alongside the plethora of other work indicated below. None of this recent work, however, addresses the new phenomenon (in media terms at least) of Northern Ireland as the ‘ race hate capital of Europe' and Belfast as the ‘ most racist city in the world' . Bill Rolston's ground-breaking work Legacy of Intolerance: racism and unionism in South Belfast remains the key text on this issue. Our own recent work also addresses this unfolding phenomenon (Lentin and McVeigh 2006; McVeigh 2006a,b). In their work on racial prejudice, Chris Gilligan and Katrina Lloyd usefully problematize the media construction of this new development without denying the reality of racist violence.

There had been relatively little work on racism from the statutory sector before the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 . Since then, however, the state has generated a slew of new statistics and analyses. In terms of demography, the Northern Ireland census produces detailed and broadly accurate data on ethnicity, although by nature it fails to reflect on rapid changes such as the current marked increase in numbers of migrant workers in the north. It also provides detailed data on ‘country of origin', religion, and ‘community background'.

State agencies also began to commission a substantial body of work on ethnicity and racism from academics. Here Connolly and Keenan's four volumes Racial Attitudes and Prejudice in Northern Ireland (2000a,b; 2001; 2002) represented important new work on racism and social attitudes in the north. Neil Jarman's work on ‘ racist incidents' and migrant workers for the OFMDFM is another example. The community relations section of the Northern Ireland Life and Times site also analyses attitudes towards visible minorities.

The Good Friday Agreement also had significant wider implications for racial equality. It replaced the Commission for Racial Equality in Northern Ireland – the quango established by the Race Relations Order 1997 - with a Race Equality Directorate inside the new Equality Commission for Northern Ireland . The Equality Commission, with its responsibilities for racial equality alongside sectarian, gender and disability equality, is particularly important in terms of generating research and analysis on equal opportunities and anti-discrimination work. The British Government is also moving towards introducing an integrative Single Equality Act to integrate existing equality legislation. This would make northern legislation much more like equality legislation in the south. Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which includes a specific equality duty in terms of race, is also important and has generated a whole range of equality schemes that must pay at least passing reference to issues of ethnic equality. The Race Equality Unit in the OFMDFM has published the Race Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland 2005 - 2010 which provides ‘a framework to tackle racial inequalities in Northern Ireland and to open up opportunity for all; to eradicate racism and hate crime and together with A Shared Future – Policy and Strategic Framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland , to initiate actions to promote good race relations'. The Unit has published a number other policy related materials on racism in the north ( Race Equality Unit Publications ). More specifically, in 2006 the OFMDFM published The First Annual Implementation Action Plan for the Racial Equality Plan for Northern Ireland .

The opening up of discourse on ethnicity and racism was accompanied by the growth in minority ethnic organisations - like the Chinese Welfare Association - and the Traveller organisation An Munia Tober (formerly BTEDG and Belfast Travellers Sites Project). Importantly, it also saw the development of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities ( NICEM ). The history and demography of different minority ethnic communities has been relatively well-documented over recent years – particularly in the work of the Multi-cultural Resource Centre .

While minority ethnic numbers have not approached the levels seen in the south, significant increases in the refugee and asylum seeker and migrant worker populations have also occurred recently. Demographic data on these populations is much poorer than in the south since there is no discrete data at Northern Ireland level but there is some research on both refugee and migrant worker populations, particularly the work of the Institute for Conflict Research . While numbers of asylum-seekers and refugees in the north remain small in comparison to the south, the imprisonment of asylum-seekers is the most disturbing example of continuing abusive ‘immigration' practices.

Republic of Ireland

As in Northern Ireland , an earlier trickle of work on racism in the Republic of Ireland has begun to be supplemented by a flood of new materials. This later work has drawn on earlier texts that remain important (Tannam 1991; Fitzgerald 1992; McVeigh, 1992a). Recent work around racism borne out of the 'moral panic' over the increase in numbers of refugees in the Republic of Ireland has to some extent replaced an earlier concentration on Travellers as the key focus for racism in southern Irish society. This has more recently begun to be integrated into a systematic analysis of racism in southern Irish society as in our own Racism and Anti-racism in Ireland (2002). Bryan Fanning's Racism and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland (2002) and Steve Garner's Racism in the Irish Experience (2004) also provide broad academic overviews.

The Irish census produces extensive and broadly accurate data on Travellers - indeed Volume 8 of Census Report 2002 is specific to the Irish Traveller community - but despite much discussion, there is yet to be a question on ethnicity in the Irish Census, although an ethnicity question is included in the 2006 Census. The census already produces data on religion which offers some indirect information on ethnic groups. More detailed data on other categories indirectly indicative of ethnicity are available from other state sources – in relation to asylum seekers, migrant workers on permits and ‘non-nationals' registered with the Garda ( asylum seekers ; migrant workers ).

The legislative framework has also changed dramatically over the last ten years. The ineffective 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act was followed by the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 . These outlaw discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other opportunities to which the public generally have access on nine distinct grounds including ‘race' and ‘religious belief' and ‘membership of the Traveller Community'. Their enactment was a significant advance for anti-racism in Ireland . The Equality Authority established by the Acts, is also a key source of information research and practice.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has an Equality Division which produces research and policy on racism. Notably, it is also responsible for the National Action Plan Against Racism (2005) which provides the context for state anti-racism over the next five years.

The advent of ‘state anti-racism' and ‘anti-racist' legislation was, however, quickly followed by the development of a whole raft of coercive and restrictive legislation that had hugely negative effectives in terms of racism. This process culminated in the Citizenship Referendum and the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004 which, we would argue, made the Republic of Ireland a formally racist state for the first time with citizenship directly linked to blood links with Irishness.

The Refugee Act (1996), amended by a series of the Immigration acts ( 1999 , 2003 , 2004 ), is the main statutory instrument of refugee legislation in the south. The NCCRI has produced a string of racism and interculturalism-related publications ( NCCRI publications ).

In contrast to the north, there has also been substantial growth within academia working on the broad area. The period saw the development of two key academic institutions - Irish Centre for Migration Studies UCC (the Center is now closed but the website remains a key source of information) and the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies, TCD . Both of these have generated important new research and analysis. Here the The Expanding Nation: Towards and Multi-Ethnic Ireland and Emerging Irish Identities (Lentin, 1999, 2000) collections were particularly important in marking a new level of scholarship in the area. Important research in this area is also being carried out at the Migration and Citizenship Research Initiative , Geary Institute, UCD and at the Centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice, DIT.

The Traveller Support Movement did much of the groundbreaking theoretical and practical work around racism in the Republic of Ireland , particularly Pavee Point (formerly DTEDG) and the Irish Traveller Movement . These include a string of important publications { Pavee publications ; ITM publications }. Both organisations have certainly undertaken work which is influential at an Irish policy level and at a European level and many northern Irish, British and European organisations look to the Irish Traveller support movement as a model of good practice. The efforts of these groups culminated in the work of the Irish Government's Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community ( 1995). This report is particularly important since it is the one example of 'mainstreaming' Travellers, or indeed any other minority ethnic issues, in Ireland . While concerns remain about the implementation of the Task Force Report, there is no doubt as to the importance of the government setting out to assume such a strategic role in addressing Traveller disadvantage. Significant work has been done in recent years on questions of ethnicity in relation to Travellers (Ní Shuinéar, 1994; Kenny, 1997; Helleiner, 2001; Fanning 2002).

The partnership model initiated by the Traveller Support Movement was incorporated into the work of the National Committee of the European Year Against Racism (EYAR, 1998a, 1998b; European Parliament, 1997) and the Platform Against Racism, an independent initiative of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working collectively to highlight and address racism in the island of Ireland. More recently other NGOs such as the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) Ireland and the NGO Alliance Against Racism have made significant interventions and contributions.

The groundbreaking nature of the work on Travellers and racism has to an extent left research on other minority ethnic groups and other racisms in the shadows. Until recently at least, other minority ethnic groups attracted little research attention other than Mac Gréil's early quantitative work on social attitudes (1978; 1996). However, work by and about minority ethnic groups and racism has begun to be published in the early 1990s (e.g., Tannam, 1991; Quinn, 1995; Egan, 1997; McVeigh and Binchy, 1998; Boucher, 1998; Smith and Mutwarasibo, 2000; Amnesty International, 2001). In the wake of the European Year Against Racism, several NGOs have begun working and publishing work on culturally sensitive service provision (see, for instance, Access Ireland , 1998). O'Connell and MacLachlan's volume Cultivating Pluralism (2000) is a collection of psychological, social and cultural perspectives on a changing Ireland . Work has also begun being published on refugees' educational and employment experiences (see, for example, Fanning et al, 2000, 2001; Interact Ireland , 2000).

Work on the Irish Jewish community and on antisemitism has been undertaken by Keogh (1998); O'Riordan and Feeley (1984); Goldstone and Lentin (1997); Goldstone (1999), Ó Drisceoil (1997); Fanning (2002); Lentin (2002). The early work on black people in Ireland (e.g., Aniagolu, 1997) is being supplemented by more recent work (e.g. Smith and Mutwarasibo, 2000; White, 2002; Ugba, 2004, 2006). Similarly, early work on the construction of Irishness in terms of citizenship and racism (Lentin, 1998b, 1998c, 1999a), is being supplemented by more recent work (e.g. Garner and Moran, 2006). Significantly, in keeping with work that is gaining prominence in Britain and the USA, a body of work on gender and racism is beginning to be published (Chan, 1996; Janjua, 1997; Sinha, 2002; Joyce, 1997; McDonagh, 2002; Lentin, 1998a, 1998b), more recently with particular reference to migrant women (Lentin and Luibhéid, 2004; AkiDwA, 2006; Lentin 2006).

More recently, there have been several useful publications on labour migration – here Piaras Mac Éinri has pioneered research and policy (Mac Éinri, 2002; 2004). Martin Ruhs's report for the Trinity Policy Institute (2005) provides useful figures and policy recommendations, Robbie McVeigh looks at the needs of migrant workers in county Westmeath (2005), Pauline Conroy and Aoife Brennan (2003) analyse the experiences of migrant workers for the Equality Authority, Patricia and Carmel Kelleher (2004) look at the voices of migrant workers for the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and Steven Loyal and Kieran Allen (2006) provide a useful political analysis of labour migration. In addition, migrant-support organisations have published useful research on labour migrants, providing essential statistical and qualitative information and useful policy recommendations (e.g., Immigrant Council of Ireland, 2003a, 2003b, 2005; Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, 2004a, 2004b; for a fuller bibliography please see Lentin and McVeigh 2006).

What needs to be done?

This necessarily partial review allows us to identify some of the existing gaps in the literature and practice as well as anticipate some of the likely developments. This is an increasingly contested space – we see competing and contrasting analyses forcing a more dialectical reading of the situation. In particular, in our analysis the state has been increasingly problematised. We want to argue that to remain in ‘partnership' with a state that denationalises its own children becomes increasingly untenable.

The optimism of early state interventions was for us profoundly compromised by the 2004 Citizenship Referendum and the lurch towards populist racist appeals on asylum seekers, undocumented migrant workers, and more recently, labour migrants from the EU new accession states. There also were key retreats in terms of state anti-racism. Here we are clearly in the second phase of state intervention – both the kNOw Racism ( www.knowracism.ie ) campaign and the Citizen Traveller Project were wound up. The first because, according to the Minister for Justice, it had ‘done its work'; the second because it had the temerity to challenge state anti-Traveller racism. The state has subtlety shifted discourse away from anti-racism completely and towards ‘interculturalism' and ‘integration' and ‘planning for diversity'. The shift in state anti-racism is exemplified by the replacement of the KNOW RACISM National Anti-racism Awareness Campaign with Diversity Ireland, the official website of the National Action Plan Against Racism, emphasising ‘developing reasonable and common sense measures to accommodate cultural diversity in Ireland ' ( www.diversityireland.ie ). In the north, the integration of anti-racism into the traditional, state-led community relations model – now rebranded as good relations – has followed a similar trajectory.

This shift away from partnership and reformist possibilities has also seen the development of grass-roots anti-racist organisations like the southern Residents Against Racism and the northern Anti-Racism Network . While these two organisations are the most active grassroots anti-racism groups, NGOs such as Amnesty International (2006) and the NGO Alliance (2005), have produced recent strong responses to what they see as ‘institutional racism', though not laying the responsibility squarely at the state's ‘constitutional racism' door. Indeed, as state racism intensifies on both sides of the border, how anti-racism in Ireland responds to this new dispensation is obviously a key question for the coming times.

Work is continuing on the ways in which women from minority ethnic groups in Ireland are targeted by racism, and the development of migrant women's groups such as AkiDwA – the African Women's Network, although under-resourced, and the women's cultural project at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, is welcome, particularly in relation to issues such as violence against women, gender-based torture, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex trafficking in migrant women (here Ruhama works with women who engage in prostitution, including trafficked migrant women, providing support, advocacy and training, www.ruhama.ie ). Even though the Irish women's movement has arguably not yet fully faced up to the need to include women from minority ethnicities in all feminist projects, the National Women's Council of Ireland, in an effort to reach women from racialised minority ethnic groups, published an anti-racism handbook in November 2000 (NWCI, 2000).

There is no doubt that the attention, in Britain and elsewhere, to other forms of racism apart from those based on colour, has helped to re-focus attention not only on anti-Irish racism but also on anti-racist work in Ireland. The ambiguity of the racism / sectarianism interface means that this will be another key issue over the coming years (McVeigh, 1999). This has been brought sharply into focus in the north by the role of loyalist paramilitary organisations in recent racist attacks. There has also been a great deal of work around Romani Studies in Britain and Europe ( University of Hertfordshire Press ; Roma Rights Center ) that has implications for Irish Travellers and Roma in Ireland.

Another dominating problematic is the role of nationalism. For example, Steve Garner's (2003) focus on racism and nationalism is apposite - he rightly and interestingly engages with issue of Irish nationalism and racism in a more detailed way than it has been done before. Bryan Fanning (2002) also problematises Irish nationalism and nation-building throughout his book. Here again, however, the refusal to engage with the north limits both analyses. There is almost no analysis of British nationalism in Ireland in either text. This was, of course, historically definitive in terms of colonialism and anti-Irish racism. In this sense, the story of ‘racism and Irishness' might be presented as a dialectic between Irish nationalism and racism and British nationalism and anti-Irish racism. Most importantly of all, however, in terms of contemporary racism in Ireland , British nationalism is absolutely central to the process whereby the north has become characterised as the ‘race hate capital of Europe '. It is loyalist paramilitary organisations – steeped in British nationalism – that are directly responsible for a great deal of this rise in racist violence. It is nonsensical to have an analysis which aims to address ‘ racism and the Irish experience ' and yet cannot speak to a situation in a situation in which newspapers are claiming – however hysterically – that Belfast is ‘the most racist city in the world' (see Lentin and McVeigh, 2006; McVeigh, 2006).

Of course Irish nationalism also has to be part of this analysis. Many of us have problematised the nationalism of Arthur Griffith for years – his antisemitism and racism is a cause and a consequence of his Irish nationalism. (It was genuinely disturbing in 2005 to observe the unusual convergence of Sinn Féin and Michael McDowell to claim the mantle of this arch racist and antisemite). Moreover, we have regarded this racist nationalism as central to understanding the Irish nation-state that was fashioned in his image. However, it is also striking that much of the recent momentum for racism in Ireland has emerged from ‘ anti-nationalism' as much as nationalism. The immediate architect of contemporary Irish state racism is the PD Minister for Justice Michael McDowell – hardly a stereotypical ‘Irish nationalist' by any stretch of the imagination. The commentators most associated with underlining the new Irish racism are veteran critics of Irish nationalism and republicanism like former Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers and former Sunday Independent columnist Mary Ellen Synon. (Witness Myers: ‘We have uncountable numbers of Nigerians in Ireland . Their native country has two main natural resources: oil and fraud', 2003, and Synon: ‘ Traveller life is without the ennobling intellect of man or the steadying instinct of animals. This tinker “culture” is without achievement, discipline, reason or intellectual ambition', 1996). Even Áine Ní Chonaill - whose Immigration Control Platform ( www.immigrationcontrol.org ) clearly speaks directly to elements of Irish nationalist discourse - cut her political teeth insisting ‘a vote for H block is a vote for murder' and protesting against Gerry Adams. She resigned from the PDs because they had ‘lost their identity as a classical liberal party' – again a position far distant from stereotypical notions of nationalism/Republicanism.

In other words, while we should of course acknowledge the universal elective affinity between racism and nationalism and the specific synergy between Irish and British nationalisms and racism on the island of Ireland, we need to be careful not to assume simplistically that this takes the same forms in Ireland as, say, Britain or France. Making sense of the specificity of this dynamic in the Irish context, both north and south, should be central to analyses over the next period.

We must also explore whether Ireland has made any wider contribution to struggles against racism. Despite boasts by the Minister for Justice and the NCCRI that Ireland is leading the anti-racist campaign in Europe , it terms of what has been achieved, probably only the Traveller Support Movement has wider relevance. Nowhere else has the reality of anti-Traveller racism so dominated political discourse on racism. Nowhere else has the Traveller support movement been so successful in both resourcing and mainstreaming its project. Moreover, nowhere else has the state adopted such a proactive interest in the situation of its Traveller citizens. Here the Task Force in particular was groundbreaking. This is not to suggest that it was entirely successful but the idea of a Government being forced or prepared to address the situation of a Traveller community in this way is unprecedented. It is true of courses that recent retreats on a range of Traveller justice issues suggest backtracking on this issue. Nevertheless, in terms of both analysis and activism, the Traveller support movement still offers a model for Gypsy and Traveller communities across Europe .


Contemporary racism is simultaneously rooted in tradition and constantly changing. Making sense of the dialectic between these realities - racism as both continuity and change - is the key to understanding the dynamics of racism in the new millennium. In Ireland we see existing reserves of anti-Travellerism and antisemitism reworked in novel forms alongside a slew of new racisms constructed around both minority ethnic citizens and ‘non-nationals' migrants. We see the growth of whole new communities. We see the constant evolution of disparate and increasingly contradictory ‘anti-racisms'. In this context, there is no doubt that Translocations has plenty of work to be getting on with.

Our own work insists that the trajectory will force us increasingly to theorise and resist two apparently contradictory trends – globalisation and the strengthening in of the racist state. A world in which state autonomy is undermined by the creation of a new ‘Empire' through mechanisms like the WTO, IMF, World Bank and UN Security Council, is simultaneously a world which creates new draconian anti-immigrant regimes part of which is ‘Fortress Europe'. In terms of Irishness there is no more poignant example of this than the denationalisation of Irish citizen children, categorized by the racial state as ‘Irish born children', whose parents need to apply for residency permits to bring up these citizens in the land of their birth (and in doing so, sign away any rights for family reunification). Their ‘birthright' is still protected without shame or irony by Bunreacht na hÉireann , the Irish Constitution, yet in reality this ‘birthright' has been rendered valueless by the Referendum and the Citizenship and Nationality Act. Ireland is a place in which the state was able to strip some of its most vulnerable children of citizenship with the support of 80 per cent of the population. This reality is at the very core of the racism that we have to understand in 21st century Ireland .


We would like to thank the editors and the two anonymous reviewers whose comments significantly improved the article. Errors and shortcomings remain our own.

Ronit Lentin's and Robbie McVeigh's latest book After Optimism? Ireland , Racism and Globalisation (2006) has been published by Metro Eireann Publications and is available from info@metroeireann.com .


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1.But see Alana Lentin's critique of the UNESCO declaration (2004).

2.Mrs Chen was a Chinese national residing in the UK who chose to have her baby in Northern Ireland, and who won a European Court recommendation to be allowed to reside in Britain having had an Irish citizen child, which the Irish government used prior to the Citizenship Referendum as justification for the need to defend Irish citizenship from abuse (Bacik, 2004).

3.This collection is replicated but updated independently at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast .

4.Daithí Mac Síthigh (2001) points out that the absence of a hate crime statue, dealing specifically with physical crimes against racialised people, is a serious gap in the legislation in the south.

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