Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2001


Ronit Lentin (2001) 'Responding to the Racialisation of Irishness: Disavowed Multiculturalism and its Discontents'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 4, <>

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Received: 18/9/2000      Accepted: 16/2/2001      Published: 28/2/2001


This article begins by discussing the specificities of racism in the Republic of Ireland. Critiquing multiculturalist and top-down antiracism policies, it argues that Irish multiculturalist initiatives are anchored in a liberal politics of recognition of difference, which do not depart from western cultural imperialism and are therefore inadequate for deconstructing inter-ethnic power relations. Multiculturalist approaches to antiracism result in the top-down ethnicisation of Irish society, and are failing to intervene in the uneasy interface of minority and majority relations in Ireland. Instead of a 'politics of recognition' guiding multiculturalist initiatives, I conclude the article by developing Hesse's (1999) idea of a 'politics of interrogation' of the Irish 'we' and propose disavowed multiculturalism as a way of theorising Irish responses to ethnic diversity. Interrogating the Irish 'we' cannot evade interrogating the painful past of emigration, a wound still festering because it was never tended, and which, I would suggest, is returning to haunt Irish people through the presence of the immigrant 'other'.

Emigration; Ethnic Minorities; Immigration; Irishness; Multiculturalism; Politics Of Interrogation; Politics Of Recognition; Racialisation; Racism


In June 2000, as David Richardson, a white Englishman, and his black wife and son who was working in Dublin, were walking home outside Trinity College Dublin, they were attacked by a group of white Irish men, shouting 'Niggers out', 'black bastards' and 'monkeys', and stabbing David so that he had to spend several weeks in intensive care. On August 17, the stabbed man's son, Christian, having been called a 'black bastard' by passers-by, decided to resign his Dublin IT job and leave Ireland. Since arriving back in England, he said, he felt 'less tense and more relaxed than in the last couple of weeks', as he had been feeling 'a bit scared' living in Ireland (Halloran, 2000: 4).

Asylum-seeker John Tambwe of Ireland's African Refugee Network, angered by the extensive media attention for the incident, due, as he claims, to Mr Richardson being white, says this happens all the time: 'I have suffered all sorts of racial abuse. Once someone spat in my face. Some fellows urinated in my letterbox. I have been called "nigger" countless times, and had my apartment spray- painted with obscenities' (Sweeney, 2000: 10). Tambwe also reports racist discrimination by bouncers in nightclubs and restaurants and by service providers such as ambulance drivers, racist graffiti and casual racist abuse yelled by passers by. He is determined, however, to combat racism, which he links to the Irish government's exclusionary asylum policies. The African Refugee Network is one of several organisations headed by asylum-seekers and refugees charting new antiracist spaces in Dublin's changing ethnic landscape.

In July, a Somali asylum-seeker who had been raped and who had to abandon her three children in Somalia, [1] told a meeting of the Irish Association of Minority Ethnic Women, a transversal inter-ethnic group, currently raising funds for a centre in Dublin, that as she was walking to the local mosque, she was attacked three times from behind with a large stone and once with a can of paint. As a result, she is terrified to leave her one-room flat, where she sits all day, wearing several layers of clothing to fend against the cold. She hopes that the Association will offer her a safe space.

These tales reveal the multi-layered racialised exclusions which are charting new ethnicised spaces in Ireland's geographies of exclusion (Sibley, 1995). Christian Richardson's flight from the city where he had many friends and a good job because of racial harassment; Tambwe's determination to construct antiracist spaces in inner city Dublin; and the Somali woman's hopes for a woman-friendly space are all examples of processes of racialisation which are constructing new versions of Irishness. In the case of the Somali woman, gender intersects with racialised exclusions; in the case of Christian Richardson, labour shortages, resulting from Ireland's economic boom intersect with racialisation; and in the case of Tambwe, as that of the Somali woman, asylum restrictions intersect with racialisation. However, these spatial narratives by members of racialised ethnic groups and diasporic communities not only denote Irish specificities of racism; they are also changing Ireland's 'political architecture' (Amiraux, Forthcoming).

While discussions of 'new racism' (e.g., Barker, 1981), and of the need to theorise racism beyond the colour divide have characterised recent debates on 'race' and racism in Europe (e.g. Miles, 1989; Modood, 1992; Brah, 1996; Mac an Ghaill, 1999; Gilroy, 2000), racism in contemporary Ireland has until recently been considered both 'new' and 'part of human nature'. In contemporary Ireland, the 'semantics of race' (Goldberg, 2000: 362-77) is linked first and foremost to the racialisation of Travellers, asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants, despite the well sustained arguments (McVeigh, 1992; 1996; Lentin, 1998; Lentin, 2000a; Lentin and McVeigh, forthcoming ) that Irish racism is neither 'natural', 'new', nor caused by in-coming outgroups. In theorising racism in Ireland, we need firstly to problematise Irishness itself and put paid to the notion of Ireland as a monoculture, a notion fostered by Ireland's strong sense of community (as argued by McVeigh, 1992).

Racialised ethnic groups in Ireland - black-Irish people, Jewish people, members of African and Asian communities, but not Travellers, with 25,000 members, Ireland's largest racialised ethnic group [2] - have been largely invisible in the narrative of the Irish 'imagined community'. There is, however, little doubt that the Irish ethnic landscape is in a process of transition, not only because of late 1990s changing migration patterns or the internationalisation of labour, [3] but also because of the increasing politicisation of ethnic minorities in their struggle against multi-racisms, an inevitable by-product of Ireland's increasing multiculturality. Ethnic difference, historically constructed as religious difference - in relation, for example, to the narrow definition of ethnicity in the Irish Constitution (Lentin, 1998) - is now being articulated explicitly in government and NGO policy initiatives to combat racism and support migrant communities (European Year Against Racism, 1997; Platform Against Racism, 1997; Tannam et al., 1998; NCCRI, 1999). [4] However, I would argue that most of these initiatives are based on what Hesse (1999: 215) calls 'disavowed multiculturalism': what is disavowed is the official version of the Irish nation, a western construction despite its colonised past, which at the same time constructs a non-national 'other' as both 'difference' and 'pathological'.

I begin this article by discussing the specificities of racism in Irish society. Critiquing multiculturalist and top-down antiracism policies, I then argue that Irish multiculturalist, but also interculturalist politics, [5] are anchored in a liberal politics of recognition of difference, which do not depart from western cultural imperialism (as argued, for instance, by Hesse, 1999) and are therefore inadequate in terms of deconstructing inter-ethnic power relations. Multiculturalist approaches to antiracism result in a climate, on the one hand, of a growing tendency towards separatist identity politics groupings, and on the other, the top-down ethnicisation of Irish society, and are failing to intervene in the uneasy interface of minority and majority power relations in Ireland. The majority-minority interface is in itself extremely problematic, because it reduces issues of unequal power relationship to one of numbers, with the effect of naturalising, rather than challenging the power differential, as argued by Brah (1996: 186-7).

Instead of a 'politics of recognition' guiding multiculturalist initiatives, I conclude the article by developing Hesse's (1999) idea of a 'politics of interrogation' of the Irish 'we' and propose disavowed multiculturalism as a way of theorising Irish responses to ethnic diversity. Interrogating the Irish 'we' cannot evade interrogating the painful past of emigration, a wound still festering because it was never tended - as depicted in some recent cultural works (e.g. Murphy, 2000; O'Grady and Pyke, 1998; Bruce, 2000) - and which, I would suggest, is returning to haunt Irish people through the presence of the immigrant 'other'.

The Specificities of Racism in Irish Society

Thinking about racism in Irish society has to grapple with the denial that Irish people can be, and are, racist. The common wisdom, until the late 1990s, has been that as a recently colonised nation of emigrants, the Irish lack power to be racist. It has taken the arrival of some 24,400 asylum-seekers since 1992 [6] for racist discourses to become common media and popular currency. This has been underpinned materially by the Irish government's exclusionary, and racist immigration and asylum policies (Tracy, 2000), but also discursively, by government and media referring to asylum-seekers as 'problem', 'flood', and as 'economic migrants' at best and 'bogus refugees' and 'illegal immigrants' at worst. Due to Ireland's economic boom and the resultant housing crisis, particularly in metropolitan areas such as Dublin, Galway and Cork, difficulties in accommodating asylum-seekers and the vociferous reluctance by regional communities to their dispersal have further exacerbated the problem, as have the government's determination to deport persons whose asylum applications are deemed unsuccessful (Cusack, 2000: 5; Fanning, 2000; Haughey, 2000b:7 ; O'Morain, 2000: 8).

However, despite the current 'moral panic' created by politicians and media in relation to increased numbers of asylum applications, racism is not new to Ireland, as the experience of Travellers, Black-Irish people, Jews and others attests. Nor is Ireland the monoculture it perceives itself to be (Lentin, 2000a; O'Toole, 2000), although, as Avtar Brah (2000: 443) argues , 'social phenomena such as racism seek to fix and naturalise "difference" and create impervious boundaries between groups'.

Robbie McVeigh (1992; 1996) has pioneered the sociology of racism in the Irish context. He theorises Irish racism as rooted in the nature of Irishness itself and charts a path through the subordinate privilege of Irish people within the British empire, and the racialisation of Irish people in their countries of emigration, where they became involved in encounters with colonised and aboriginal people and in distinctly racist projects such as Lynching and McCarthyism, to name but two examples (see also Ignatiev, 1995).

According to McVeigh, Ireland not only imports racist discourses and practices from elsewhere via British and American media and via the involvement of Irish people in imperialist projects (service in the British army but also church missions) and the imported racism by returning emigrants. McVeigh theorises two main factors in the racialisation of Irishness, the historical legacy and Ireland's contemporary location and suggests that 'it is not an accident that the rise in racism in Ireland has accompanied a growing prosperity for sections of the Irish people' (McVeigh and Lentin, forthcoming). Racism in Ireland is also an endogenous, home-grown phenomenon in manifestations such as anti-Traveller sedentarism (McVeigh, 1992; 1996; EYAR, 1997), and antisemitism, still manifest in everyday acts such as hostile letters and phone calls to publicly active Irish Jews (see Goldstone and Lentin, 1997; Goldstone, 1999; Goldstone, 2000a; Goldstone, forthcoming; Keogh, 1998; Lentin, forthcoming).

However, McVeigh stops short of linking Irish racism and nationalism, and in this article I aim to develop McVeigh's theory of the racialisation of Irishness to make that link. To do this, there is a need to interrogate the ethnically homogeneous construction of Irishness itself, despite the obvious ethnic diversity of the Irish 'us'. This homogeneous construction is evident, among other things, by the Catholic tone of the preamble to the 1937 Constitution:

In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledge all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial... Do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann, 1937).

This preamble was deemed ethnically exclusive by the Constitution review Group (1996), which pointed to a link between nationalism and racism, both of which exclude by the very nature of their inclusion (Mosse, 1995; Yuval-Davis, 1997; Lentin, 1998). According to Hutchinson (1987), it was cultural Irish nationalists, rather than political nationalists, who constructed the modern Irish nation-state. When Gaelic revivalism crystallised in the late nineteenth century, it had to harmonise its original secular- linguistic goals with the ethnocentric Catholic identity of the mass of the people. Irish political elites mustered the people for nation building by mobilising powerful ethnic memories and self-actualising myths developed in the course of a successful war of independence, and by addressing a homogeneous people (after the succession of Ulster unionists) with a strong sense of a distinctive historic identity. [7] During the struggle for independence, Gaelic authenticity, committed in blood to a vision of an Irish-speaking republic, based on the will of its native (Catholic) majority, became equated with political freedom (Hutchinson, 1987: 303). This resulted, I would suggest, in a post-colonial re-imposition not only of rigid gender roles (as argued, after Nandy, 1983, by Geraldine Meaney, 1991, in the Irish context), but also of the strict ethnicisation of a property-owning new bourgeoisie and land-owning farming class, which left little room for Travelling people or for other 'aliens'.

The specificities of Irish racism include several discursive processes and practices. Firstly, there is the evocation of Irish cultural authenticity, and the call to preserve the right that Irish people have to the integrity of the national homeland. Anna Keogh (2000: 130) reports on fears expressed by Irish secondary school pupils in relation to Ireland losing its cultural identity with the advent of increasing in-migration. Indeed, in response to the arrival of people seeking asylum, some Irish people are calling upon the government to 'look after our own' first, evoking nationalist sentiments which differentiate between nationals and 'non-national' aliens. In 1998 The Immigration Control Platform was established to campaign for tighter immigration controls into Ireland (Cullen, 1998). [8] IPC chairperson Áine Ni Chonaill speaks of the 'right' Irish people have to the 'integrity' of the national 'homeland'. In January 2001 she urged the Irish government to opt out of the 1951 Geneva Convention because, she said, Europe should remain Europe, 'rather than becoming Africa or Asia' (Haughey, 2001: 4). But, like other racist processes, such talk is not new. In 1904 the republican leader Arthur Griffith constructed the Irish as a 'race' in his opposition to Jewish immigration into Ireland. His words could have been written by Ni Chonaill in 2001:

No thoughtful Irishman or woman can view without apprehension the continuous influx of Jews into Ireland and the continuous efflux of the native population. The stalwart men and bright-eyed women of our race pass from our land in a never-ending stream, and in their place we are getting strange people, alien to us in thought, alien to us in sympathy, from Russia, Poland, Germany and Austria... people who come to live amongst us, but who never become of us... (United Irishman, 23 April 1904, cited by Keogh, 1998: 42).

The second process evokes parallels between past discourses of Irish emigration and present-day discourses of immigration into Ireland, racialising incoming migrant and refugee 'others'. Jason King (1999) compares discourses of emigration as 'famine tide' with recent discourses of 'floods of immigrants (which) pour in and swamp the continent', and argues that viewing emigration as 'fluidity' constructs Ireland as a passive and 'porous' nation (on the link between past emigration and present day immigration see also the Irish Centre for Migration Studies, <>).

A third process is blaming outgroups and in-coming migrants for causing racism. Despite the home truth that the Other is already and always within the gates (Cohen, 1993: 18) and that racism is always caused by the 'host' community, it is more palatable blaming in-coming migrants for causing racism. This discourse of blaming in-coming migrants for causing racism in Ireland is also not new. In 1946 Minister for Justice Gerry Boland responded to requests to let in post-Shoah Jewish orphans into Ireland by saying:

It has always been the policy of the Minister for Justice to restrict the admission of Jewish aliens, for the reason that any substantial increase in our Jewish population might give rise to antisemitic problem (cited by Goldstone and Lentin, 1997).

This can be compared with Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers arguing in 1998 that allowing more refugees into Ireland would cause ghettoising and racism:

We can listen and we can learn from the experiences of others. We must have controls over immigration... And we should certainly not expect the least advantaged and least educated communities in Dublin and elsewhere to be the sole unassisted hosts of ghettos and newcomers. Down that road lies certain disaster (Myers, 1998: 15).

A fourth process is projection, which is always involved in constructing racialised stereotypes. Thus, Irish Jews can be constructed as money-oriented (as reported by MacGréil, 1996) despite recent disclosures of widespread financial corruption in Irish political life (see O'Toole, 1995, for an analysis of one such fiscal corruption scandal which has become known as the 'beef tribunal'); Travellers are constructed as dirty, despite the serious litter problem Ireland faces (see Holland, 2001:7 for a description of halting sites without refuse collection or running water, making it impossible for Travellers to compete with settled Irish people in relation to 'cleanliness'); and Black people can be depicted as hyper-sexual, despite the increasing over- sexualisation of Irish media and society, including widespread disclosures of sexual abuse in religious children's institutions (see Raftery and O'Sullivan, 1999).

Irish multiracisms - since racism is never a unitary practice - operate on individual and institutionalised levels. Thus, accusing Jewish Dáil (Parliament) members Mervyn Taylor and Alan Shatter during the 1996 divorce referendum campaign of 'not being able to understand Irish marriages' (although they are both experienced lawyers and although Shatter is the author of seminal text on Irish family law, Shatter, 1986; 1997; see Antisemitism World Report, 1996; 1997), is, despite the public nature of the accusation, individual racism. When the Irish government refused to admit more than 60 Jewish asylum seekers between 1933 and 1946, it is ideological and institutionalised racism. Thus, when Traveller families are attacked by local residents, who dig trenches around their halting sites, it is individual racism. The history and ideology of settling and assimilating Travellers by successive Irish governments (see EYAR, 1997) are, on the other hand, institutionalised racism.

Irish multiracisms manifest in anti- Black racism which owes to cultural and political imports, but also to the specifically Irish aid and missionary traditions of, for instance, supporting 'black babies' in developing countries (Aniagolu, 1997); Irish antisemitism, complete with unconscious phrases such as 'Jewman' to denote money lender (see Keogh, 1998; for a discussion of Irish antisemitic prejudice see MacGréil, 1996); anti-refugee sentiments, whereby 'reasonable' Irish people vote in opinion poles against allowing 'more than a few' refugees, object to the dispersal of asylum-seekers by protesting or challenging planning permission for hostels for refugees (e.g., Dooley, 2000a: 4; Holmquist, 2000: 2) and believe that they take Irish jobs despite the prohibition on most asylum-seekers to work and the grave shortage of labour in all areas of the booming Irish economy. Finally, there is the 'organic' form of Irish racism, anti- Travellerism, nurtured by Social Darwinism and bourgeois land-ownership fervour, understandable, perhaps, in the wake of British colonialism (see Mac Laughlin, 1995 for this interpretation of anti-Traveller racism, but see also EYAR, 1997; McVeigh, 1998; and various publications by Pavee Point Traveller Centre). The continuing institutionalised anti-Traveller racism is exemplified, for instance, by the fact that in 2001, 24 per cent of all Travellers in the Republic of Ireland were living in unofficial sites, without electricity, refuse collection or running water. According to the Irish Traveller Movement, although local authorities were obliged by the Department of Environment and Local Government to adopt a five-year plan for Traveller accommodation, just 67 units had been completed by January 2001(Holland, 2001: 7).

Irish racism has specifically Irish gender implications. Women are theorised as being targeted as mothers and the producers of the next generation, as sexual objects and as symbols of the nation or collectivity (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992). This symbolic representation manifests itself in Ireland with emblems such as Dark Rosaleen and Cathleen Ni Houlihan (Innes, 1993; Lentin, 1999). [9] As mothers, Irish women from racialised ethnic groups often witness their children being humiliated by teachers and other children. Traveller mothers often witness their children being ostracised in mixed classes or put to the back of the class. Travellers and black women are regularly followed in shops and supermarkets and this makes feeding their families extremely difficult. Lone Irish mothers of dual heritage babies were coerced to give them up for adoption - there is a whole generation of dual heritage Irish children who grew up in orphanages until the 1960s. Pregnant black women are routinely physically assaulted upon exiting maternity hospitals - the assumption is that they are having babies merely to be allowed to remain in Ireland (although not all are asylum-seekers). In maternity hospitals black and Traveller women often report being left alone to suffer prolonged or painful labour without pain relief. Traveller women are often not allowed into pubs, even when their husbands are. Women refugees, because of isolation and family responsibilities, are often excluded from language and other training courses (see Zena Project, 1999 for a discussion of the training and education needs of Bosnian refugee women). There are no provisions for women asylum-seekers who have experienced gendered torture (Sansani, 2000).

Racism is also sexualised: black and refugee men are seen as threatening the 'virtue' of vulnerable Irish girls (Oliver, 1999). According to the Wexford People,'Refugees in designer clothes... are frightening old women living alone and attempting to seduce and impregnate impressionable young Irish girls because a baby would bring a passport' (cited in The Irish Times on the web, 3 August, 1998). This too has historical parallels. In 1935 the extremist nationalist Aontasa Gaedheal gave the following warning: 'To our Christian girls Fourteen Days notice is hereby given that names and addresses will be published of Christian girls travelling with Jews (Aontasa Gaedheal, 21 June 1935, cited by Goldstone, forthcoming).

Black women are sexually propositioned regularly on Irish streets and in Irish pubs. Veiled Muslim women are regularly vilified (Najjair, 2000: 69-70), and Irish-born women converting to Islam are often accused of 'not being Irish' and told 'to go back to Pakistan' (Hughes, 1998). Anti-Muslim discourses have a strong nationalistic flavour: while Muslim schoolgirls in France are prevented from wearing the veil because of the French republican rhetoric of secular separation between church and state (Bhavnani, 1993), in Ireland girls from the 12,000-strong Muslim community are prohibited from wearing the veil because 'it offends the Catholic ethos of the school' (McGarry, 2000: 8), indicating a specifically Irish lack of separation between church and state.

Multiculturalism and its Discontents

Multiculturalism can be theorised as a 'portmanteau term', which, at its most minimal, can be seen as one response to cultural diversity (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992), or the 'modern production of identities' (Wieviorka, 1998a: 893), which assumes that racism is caused by the 'strangeness' of incoming immigrant groups (rather than by the 'host' society) and that by integrating and eventually assimilating outgroups, the 'problem' would disappear. In Britain, multiculturalist policies gave birth to various 'race relations' and 'community relations' initiatives, which claim to bridge the gap between the 'host' society and minority ethnic and religious groups. However, according to Phil Cohen:

The multicultural illusion is that dominant and subordinate can somehow swap places and learn how the other half lives, whilst leaving the structures of power intact. As if power relations could be magically suspended through the direct exchange of experience, and ideology dissolve into the thin air of face-to-face communication (Cohen, 1988: 13).

While theorising the complexities of 'the multicultural' and of multiculturalism is beyond the scope of this article, I find Hesse's (1999; 2000) work inspiring to think with. Surveying British multiculturalism, Hesse theorises multiculturalism as 'the culmination of liberal attempts to address the social accommodation of racially marked white/'non-white' cultural difference in terms that enshrined the values of liberty and tolerance for both the 'British' self and the Caribbean, Asian and African 'others'', although this meant that 'racism went unconcentualised and racial antagonisms were perceived as merely resulting from ignorance, personal prejudice or mutual difficulties of cultural adjustment between majority and minority cultures' (Hesse, 2000: 8). While the history of multiculturalism in Britain - mostly because of its different positioning within the colonial-postcolonial interface - bears little similarity to the articulation of multiculturalism in contemporary Ireland, the now common articulations of Ireland's increasing multiculturalism also disregard racism and the differential power relations that racism entails, preferring to regard racism as resulting from ignorance and personal prejudice.

The new discourse (for Ireland) of the celebration of difference, far from being an antiracist principle, has from the start been, in Ireland as elsewhere, at the heart of the racial agenda (Malik, 1998). The ideology of multiculturalism was developed, in the Irish context as elsewhere, not as eradication, but rather as an accommodation of the persistence of inequalities despite the rhetoric of integration, assimilation and equality. The result, according to Malik, is that societies such as the US are not multiculturalist, they are simply unequal: 'and the promotion of multiculturalism is an acknowledgement of the inevitability of that inequality... the challenge today is not to embrace "difference" as a political goal but to transcend the whole language or race and to put the case clearly for equality' (Malik, 1998). According to Gilroy (2000), multiculturalism has not only turned into a 'businessperson's handbook by Cable Network News (CNN) and abused by conservatives as a new form of racism' (242), it has also been 'deployed to interrogate the significance of nationality as a principle of social cohesion and to criticise unthinking attempts to maintain Europe as the innocent and privileged centre of history's great unfolding' (244). However, instead of importing these insights about multiculturalism from elsewhere, in the same way that racist ideologies and practices have been imported (if we follow McVeigh's argument), Irish government and society are seemingly making the same mistakes in following the goals of integration and in promoting difference without incorporating racialisation into their grand design.

In suggesting that the multicultural meaning of the Western nation emerges in relation to the racialisation of modernity, Hesse (1999: 210-1), deriving from Charles Taylor's (1992) argument that multiculturalism was an outcome of the 'politics of recognition' demanded by 'minority and subaltern groups', posits multiculturalism as anchored in two contradictory discourses. On the one hand, a universalist demand for equal dignity to all citizens, and a politics of difference on the other. Criticising Taylor's universalist base, Hesse reminds us that until the advent of the Black Power, the women's and gay movements, discourses of equality for all citizens initially excluded everyone but white Americans, since the principle of universalism and equal dignity was formed in articulation with European racism and white masculinity. Taylor's theory, Hesse argues, poses the quandary of whether 'the desire to preserve the sanctity of the universal, which gives rise to an unmarked politics of recognition... (can) be reconciled with the desire to defend the integrity of difference'. The question is - and here we are back to interrogating the 'we' of Irishness - 'whose recognition is sought and what is involved in the power to confer recognition and value' (Hesse, 1999: 212).

Instead of a politics of recognition, Hesse posits a politics of interrogation, a subversive circumvention of western culture, or, in relation to the examples I gave at the start of this article, a subversive inscription of racialised spaces in white-settled-Catholic Ireland, by Travellers, African asylum-seeker-activists, and by other members of racialised ethnic groups working to establish antiracist spaces and discourses.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Irish government's contradictory messages in relation to multiculturalism, asylum and immigration, together with media responses, are the primary causative factors in contemporary Irish racisms. On the one hand, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law reform assures regional communities they have nothing to fear from dispersed asylum-seekers who are 'human beings, the same as you and I' (Murphy, 2000: 8). On the other, the government has been vigorously legislating for deportations and the deportees' - the asylum-seekers' humanity gets lost in the legal language. [10] Thus, the Irish government's racist immigration and asylum policies sanction racist violence by the citizenry, just as its past assimilationist policies towards Travellers (EYAR, 1997) sanctioned violent sedentarism by the citizenry - in both cases, the official version of the Irish nation constructs difference as pathological and requiring top-down intervention, ultimately aimed at integration on the majority's terms.

Housing shortages, resulting in resentment against immigrants competing for scarce accommodation on the one hand, and labour shortages, requiring immigrant workers in all sectors of the Irish economy on the other play a central part in the confusion many Irish people feel about Ireland's increasing multi- ethnicity. This confusion is fuelled by the contradiction between the Irish government's racist immigration policy, and its financial support for antiracism initiatives such as the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI)'s antiracism awareness campaign [11] and the new Garda (Police) Racial and Intercultural Relations Unit (Murphy, 2000: 8), which, among other things, will be monitoring racially motivated crimes, which are on the increase, particularly in Dublin.

In Ireland the debate on the limits of multiculturalism [12] is still in its infancy. I would argue that top-down Irish responses to racism, including partnerships between racialised ethnic minority and refugee groups (particularly Traveller organisations) and government-funded bodies (particularly the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, but also the Refugee Agency and its various offshoots, aiming to 'integrate' refugees into Irish society, in itself a multiculturalist ambition), build on Westocentric multiculturalist assumptions. This, despite the NCCRI substituting the term 'multiculturalism' with 'interculturalism', supposedly assuming a 'parity of cultures', but in reality not deconstructing the power relations between 'majority' and 'minority' ethnicities. [13] This is particularly obvious in that antiracism in Ireland is largely not being directed by members of racialised ethnic groups, with the exception of Travellers.

One inherent contradiction in multiculturalist policies is that between responses to collective identities and to a more individualised representation of cultural difference (Wieviorka, 1998a: 906). As has been argued by, for instance, Yuval- Davis (1997) among others, in implementing multiculturalist policies, the state often negotiates with leaders of already constituted minority ethnic groups, resulting in a contradiction between group rights and individual rights. Multiculturalist policies assume that all members of ethnic minority groups are equally committed to 'the culture', which is often understood as fixed and unchanging, rather than a set of fluid and shifting discourses and practices. Minority ethnic leaders (who are rarely elected and who may or may not be fundamentalist leaders) do not represent the interests of groups within the minority groups such as women, young people or gay people. Thus consultation processes with government- sponsored antiracism bodies tend to be conducted with leaders of minority and refugee groups who often present a unified stance which is rarely representative, due, in Ireland, to processes such as the dispersal of asylum-seekers, but also to intra-ethnic heterogeneities along gender, class, sexuality and (dis)ability lines. Indeed, as Minh-ha (1991: 107, cited by Hesse, 1999: 205) cautions: 'Multiculturalism does not lead us very far if it remains a question of difference only between one culture and another. Differences should also be understood within the same culture'. Indeed, the lack of representations has struck many antiracism activists in Ireland although evidence at this stage is anecdotal rather than documented, due, among other things, to the close nature (and smallness) of the Irish antiracist community.

One obvious example of the discontents of multiculturalist responses relates to gender. Although western discourses of 'race' and ethnicity are themselves multiculturally articulated through gender, sexuality, class, religion and so on (Rattansi, 1994; Hesse, 1999), the multiculturalist response to ethnic diversity leaves the question of gender equality and the power issues involved within ethnic minorities un-addressed. Advocates of group rights give little attention to the domestic sphere, despite the fact that religious and ethnic groups often centre on gendered aspects of 'personal law' in relation to marriage, divorce, procreation and inheritance. Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert (2000) argues that multiculturalist debates need to be informed not only by the social exclusion experienced by minority groups but also how women and children are further socially excluded within these groups through cultural and religious practices. For example, agents of multiculturalist policies tend to perceive violence against racialised women as 'part of their culture' and as a result, service providers often do not intervene out of an ethnocentric assumption that violence is part of a minority culture and that to intervene would be to fracture the already difficult relations between these agencies and the leaders of minority communities. This means that the multiculturalist approach can, in practice, nurture physical violence, but also 'symbolic violence' which Thapar-Bjorkert sees as being caused by discourses of cultural relativism, the separation between the public and private spheres and by silencing the voices of victims and survivors of intra-community violence.

An Irish example of the uneasy relationship between group rights and the rights of women within a racialised group is the first ever project on violence against women in the Irish Traveller community (Pavee Point, 2000). This project demonstrates just how reluctant women members of racialised ethnic groups are to report violence to the police, or to use refuges, where racism and ethnocentrism combine to emphasise their vulnerability. But it also demonstrates the power of the racialised group, who, by training Traveller outreach workers and by making clear policy recommendations, is naming its own demands, in its own words, charting new ethnicised gendered spaces in a sedentary Ireland.

The gender implications of top-down multiculturalist initiatives and projects, on the one hand, encourage identity politics groupings and NGOs - in supporting and funding single-interest ethnic minority women's groups, which, though often conceived as empowering by their members in the short-term, tend to essentialise difference. On the other hand, these initiatives employ concepts such as 'mainstreaming' gender into antiracist policies and, conversely, 'mainstreaming' antiracism into gender initiatives. Such initiatives include the work of the NCCRI's Women's Sub- committee, which, among other things, inputs into government initiatives on childcare and into the Irish response to the Bejing Platform of Action (UN, 2000), and has supported initiatives such as the Irish Council of Civil Liberties' handbook Women and the Refugee Experience: Towards a Statement of Best Practice (ICCL, 2000), and a study of the provision of services to refugee women who had experienced gendered torture (Sansani, 2000). Other national organisations, for instance the National Women's Council of Ireland, have also begun initiating antiracism awareness workshops and the incorporation of racialised ethnic minority women, albeit marginally, into its activities. However, one wonders to what extent do these groups, in seeking to incorporate the voices of racialised ethnic minority women, wish merely to gain credibility and whether such women are offered leadership positions (see McDonagh, 2000; Goldstone, 2000b on the limitations of researching ethnic minorities without constructing collaborative research models). Many of these initiatives rely on the work of committees, a Eurocentric way of working, which women from East European, Asian and African countries are not necessarily familiar with - implementing policies and deciding funding arrangements - committees in which ethnic minority women membership is, at best, tokenistic. This means that decisions in relation to actions against gendered racism in Ireland are often being taken by 'majority' women, perpetuating what Mohanty (1991) has theorised as western feminism's 'discursive colonisation' of the lives of black and Third World women.

Probably because of the self- perception of the Irish as lacking power to be racist, antiracism in Ireland has a relatively short history (Tannam et al, 1998). Antiracist legislation is new and scant [14] and official antiracism initiatives were primarily spurred by the EU designating 1997 as the European Year Against Racism. As part of the EYAR, the Platform Against Racism, an all-Ireland NGO coalition, was established. The Platform Against Racism was reactivated in 2000 to act as an NGO companion for the work of the NCCRI: its membership, however, does not include many antiracism bottom up organisations such as Residents Against Racism [15] or the National Federation of Campaigns Against Racism, and membership from racialised ethnic groups seems to be limited. The dispersal of asylum-seekers and the dearth of existing strong ethnic networks, except identity politics groups sponsored by organisations such as the Dublin Islamic Centre, churches, and Traveller organisations, and the partnership nature and the multiculturalist assumptions of antiracism in Ireland, means that multiculturalism, theorised by Gilroy (2000) as an all-encompassing 'smorgasbord', is readily adopted in popular discourse and by the media, anxious to promote Ireland's increasing cultural plurality.

Disavowed Multiculturalism: the Return of the National Repressed

Racism Irish-style owes to the strength of a sense of community, as can be seen on in the opposition by local communities to permanent halting sites for nomadic Travellers (Holland, 2001: 7) or to locating hostels for asylum-seekers in local communities and in Dublin's wealthier suburbs (although several regional communities are reported to have since befriended their local refugees, see Dooley, 2000b: 2). Boucher's study of a small group of international students in Ireland (Boucher, 1998) points to Irish insularity resulting in a strong sense of what he calls the 'Irish family community' which demands assimilation on the majority's terms as a condition for acceptance. Irish insularity can, however, also result in 'discrimination against outsiders who do not assimilate or who seem to be too physically and culturally different from the majority population' (Boucher, 2000: 251).

Antiracism Irish-style derives from the same sense of community, in that top-down partnership antiracism initiatives stress, with all the attended goodwill, integration on the majority's term. Call it integration, interculturalism, or what you will, all these initiatives are arguably ultimately based on a multiculturalist politics of recognition - 'in which cultures should be presumed to be equally valid, but not necessarily so' (Wieviorka, 1998a: 895) - not on a politics of interrogation. A politics of interrogation in western multiculturalism interrogates the relations between the visible 'civilised grandeur' of the majority and the invisibility of minority dehumanisation in western culture: 'interrogating ... so that something can be seen...' (Hesse, 1999: 213).

Following Hesse, I would argue that a political theory of Irish multiculturalism must begin with an interrogation of the Irish nation. But, as Zizek (1989) suggests, in order to engage the multicultral we need to work through 'the symbolic reality of the past, long forgotten traumatic event, that can no longer evade interrogation'. Multiculturalism, in other words, is the return of the national repressed. In the Irish case, my sense is that the national repressed is the pain of emigration, returning to haunt the Irish, through the presence of the immigrant 'other' and in its wake invoking the unseemly presence of the 'less than fully Irish' indigenous and non- indigenous minorities - the Traveller, the Asian, the black, the Jew. Making the link between past (and present) Irish emigration and present immigration into Ireland, Fintan O'Toole (2001: 16) compares the treatment of 19 Moldovan workers who arrived in Ireland in January 2001 with valid passports, visas and work permits but who, nonetheless, were jailed once it was found that the firm they were supposed to work for had closed, with the Boston Irish Immigration Centre, set up to assist contemporary Irish emigrants. The IIC, catering for Irish 'economic migrants' - the same migrants derided in today's Ireland as 'illegal - is financially supported by the Irish government, although, as O'Toole reminds us, anyone going to the US looking for work is just as much an illegal immigrant as anyone coming into Ireland in search of a better economic existence.

However unarticulated by politicians, invocations of the pain of emigration are beginning to seep through Irish celebrations of affluence in recent cultural interrogations of emigration. One example is Tom Murphy's Abbey play The House, in which Christy, the returning poor emigrant boy who made money illicitly in London, buys up 'the (big) house' in his hometown to assuage the pain of the dispossessed. Susanne, the daughter of 'the house', herself a returning emigrant, expresses the despair entailed in the uprootedness of the emigrant as she pleads with her mother and sisters not to sell the old place: 'I'm saying, even if I'm away, I belong here. I'd like to have some - standing! Somewhere! I'm saying, I'm saying... Standing! What else is there...' (Murphy, 2000: 42).

Another example is I Could Read the Sky (O'Grady and Pyke, 2000), in which the main character, a middle-aged Irish construction worker, draws a picture of the emigrant's loneliness when he speaks of what is left after the untimely death of his beloved wife with whom he had known short-lived happiness:

I'll not be leaving Kentish Town now except in a brown box and when I do I'll be going to Labasheeda to lie with Maggie. I've left the instructions. The girl who lives in the flat downstairs knows what to do. The governor of the Gloucester Arms. The women whose dog I walk on weekday afternoons. And I've written it all out on a paper that's on the table beside the bed. There's the key to the box that has the money. How many feet of tunnelling to buy a coffin? How many to send me to Labasheeda? These hands. Battered and scarred like all of our hands. What travels through the tunnels? Who drives over the roads? What happens within the brick walls? Do the people there think of the men who built them? (O'Grady and Pyke, 2000: 152).

Nicola Bruce's (2000) film version turns the novel into a cinematic rendition of the exilic memory patterns of the middle-aged emigrant played by the novelist Dermot Healy, whose face, furrowed as the land he had tilled and had left, keeps dissolving into bloodstained home and exile landscapes and back again.

These contemporary interrogations which subvert the dividing lines between hegemonic and subordinate through temporal and spatial enactment of migration are but two recent, as yet feeble voices interrogating the disavowed migratory past just as boom and doom compete in responding to the racialisation of Irishness.

Emigration is more tangibly linked to in- migration in other ways too. According to a document underlying the Irish government's immigration policy released in January 2001, 336,000 people were expected to immigrate into the Republic of Ireland in the six years to 2006, to fill job vacancies arising during the six- year life of the £41 billion National Development Plan. The largest group of these new workers are expected to fill vacancies created as a result of the continued emigration by Irish people: a total of 112,000 people (an average of 16,000 a year) are expected to leave Ireland by 2006 (McManus, 2001: 1). Immigrants continue to be conceptualised by the Irish government as either problem (causing racism), or economic stopgaps. While questioning the wisdom - in terms of costs and benefits to the economy - of encouraging such an influx into the state, placing 'additional pressure on domestic and social physical infrastructure', little attention has been drawn to the social price that in-coming labour migrants would have to pay in multiracist Ireland.

Breda Gray (1999), in her study of hegemonic discourses of Irishness, compares the negative portrayal of the immigrant Other with the positive images of the Irish 'us'. Gray suggests that discourses of Irishness as 'diasporic', most evident in Mary Robinson's speeches, emphasise the expansion and enrichment of Irishness through the diaspora, thus expanding the boundaries of Irishness. She cites Wieviorka, who argues that:

contemporary diasporic identities provide a strong basis from which to oppose contemporary expressions of racism. Immigrant and mobile populations have been able to construct images of identity that are based neither on the assimilationist model nor defensive strategies against assimilationism. Rather, the older, internal relation between racism and diasporisation has been broken by the ability of groups to claim a diasporic status on the basis of a public and not private articulation of self- identity (Wieviorka, 1998b: 69).

Indeed, in their countries of diaspora Irish people have organised economic and cultural networks, which, among other things, succeeded in incorporating anti-Irish racism into the British racial quality paradigm. A case in point is the recent work on anti-Irish racism commissioned by the British Commission of Racial Equality (Hickman and Walter, 1997). However, despite nascent diasporic organisations such as ARASI, ANASI, the African Refugee Group, the Pan- African Organisation etc, anti-racism in Ireland is still largely orchestrated by well-meaning white, settled, Christian Irish people, often in partnership with statutory agencies.

Multiracist Ireland is indeed being normalised, not only through the continuing daily harassment of members or racialised ethnic groups.[16] Take for example a 2001 tutorial in Criminal Law at University College Dublin in which students are asked to assess the criminal liability of R, a 'Romanian refugee... (who), depressed and disillusioned, meets his son who tells him that there is a youth around the corner who yelled "Refugees go home" at his wife. Enraged at this insult to his wife, R picks up a stick, locates the youth and, without saying a word, viciously beats him about the head...' R then proceeds to beat his wife who 'knifes him through the heart' when he is asleep'. [17] The racialisation and demonisation of Romanian refugees routinised in this tutorial exercise is yet another example of the normalisation of multiculturalism, which often means not conceptualising racism as part of the multicultural equation (Hesse, 2000:8).

As 'we' the nation celebrate 'our' sameness through Riverdancing Irish culture, [18] 'we' expel otherness. The 'other' threatens the newly regained national voice of contemporary Ireland not only because her/his habits, rituals and discourses interfere with the nation's enjoyment of itself. It also threatens this regained national voice because it reminds it of its not-too-distant past pain.


Multiculturalist responses mean, above all else, not having to tend the nation's past traumas and wounds, as top-down Irish government racial awareness campaigns pretend that the same government's exclusionary immigration policies do not exist. What is paradoxical about the politics of multiculturalism is that on the one hand it re-rehearses hegemonic power relations while on the other it pretends to deconstruct, or at least re-arrange them.

However, discrepant multiculturalism is not the only way. Nor is multiculturalism a unitary practice. If multiculturalism is to offer a hope of pluralism it would be through new social and cultural articulations by artists such as Ursula Rani Sarma, an Irish-Indian Claire playwright whose plays deal with Irish, rather than Indian life; it would be through pop stars such as Samantha Mumba, the black-Irish diva, conquering a space for Ireland in the US charts; it would be through the increasing numbers of dual heritage Irish couples, whose children will be speaking in Dublin rather than Lagos or Bucharest accents. It would also be through racialised activists creating their own antiracism spaces despite the daily harassment. Because, in occupying new ethnic spaces outside the official multiculturalist initiatives, landscapes which at once attempt integration into the multiculturalist enterprise and at the same time subvert it, outgroups are telling the Irish 'us' what 'we' already know: Ireland, untended wounds and all, is no longer what it was, as new ethnic landscapes are changing its 'geographies of exclusion'. But these ethnic landscapes are not univocal, they are gendered, sexualised, politicised in diverse ways which render the 'we' of contemporary Ireland obsolete as an 'authentic' (mono)cultural voice.


1The woman cannot be named for obvious reasons.

2There are also 7,000 Travellers in Northern Ireland and another 14,000 in Britain, according to the Irish Traveller Movement.

3One consequence of Ireland's current economic boom, besides a serious shortage in labour in all sectors of industry and commerce, is Ireland turning from a nation of emigrants to a net in-migration destination: in the late 1990s, the net in-migration, made up mostly from returning Irish emigrants, was 66,000, compared with 200,000 emigrants in the 1980s (Wren, 2000: 14). A total of 336,000 immigrants are expected in Ireland in the six years between 2001 and 2006 (McManus, 2001: 1).

4But also in a variety of bottom-up antiracist groups and initiatives, by the Travelling community, several African and refugee groups and otherwise mostly spurred by socialist and extreme left politics, e.g. the Dublin-based Anti-Racism Campaign, the National Federation of Campaigns agaist Racism, Comhlámh Refugee Support Group, SARI - Sport Against Racism in Ireland, as well as the Socialist Workers' Movement-backed Anti-Nazi League (see Tannam et al, 1998).

5Interculturalism is defined by the National Committee on Racism and Interculturalism thus: 'The development of an intercultural approach implies the development of policy that promotes interaction, understanding and integration among and between different cultures and ethnic groups without glossing over issues such as racism' (NCCRI, 2000).

6According to the figures supplied by the Asylum Division, Refugee Applications Centre, Department of Justice, Equality and Law reform in August 2000, since 1992 24,428 applications for asylum were received, of which 4,831 were withdrawn at various stages, 7,125 were refused, and 663 granted refugee status on the first hearing, plus another 602 on appeal. 208 people were granted temporary leave to remain. At the end of July 2000 12,522 asylum cases were still pending. Most asylum applicants (30.5% and 33.8% respectively) were from Nigeria and Romania (Asylum Division, 2000). In all, Ireland granted 1,546 people out of 24,428 applications refugee status or leave to remain, much less than the 10 per cent deemed by various government statements as 'genuine refugees'. However, the figures supplied by the Asylum Division are ambiguous (analysing the ambiguities is beyond the scope of this paper, but see Tracy, 2000, on the ambiguities of Irish government asylum and immigration statistics past and present). See also Haughey, 1999.

7See Finlay, 2000, on emerging protestant-Irish identities.

8The ICP's spokesperson, Áine Ní Chonaill, stood for the 1998 elections on an anti-immigration ticket, receiving 293 votes in Cork South-West (Cullen, 1998). In February 2000, the IPC distributed 5,000 leaflets demanding AIDs tests for all African asylum-seekers (Haughey, 2000a).

9My observations on the gendering of Irish racism are mostly based on personal communication by members of the Irish Association of Ethnic Minority Women, of which I was a member.

10The Illegal Immigrants [Trafficking] Bill, 2000, referred by the President to the Supreme Court, which, however, confirmed its constitutionality, contains serious human rights violations in relation to deportation orders and to appeal and judicial review processes (Refugee Protection Policy Group, 2000).

11It is interesting to note that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has chosen to appoint a new commission to manage its £4.5 million antiracism awareness campaign, instead of entrusting the campaign to the government's own advisory body, the NCCRI (Haughey, 2001b).

123. See MacLachlann and O'Connell, 2000 for a beginning of the debate in the Irish context.

13See McVeigh, 2000, for a critique of 'community relations' antiracist strategies in Ireland north and south.

14With the exception of the 1989 Incitement to Hatred Bill, a weak anti-defamation law, which yielded its first conviction only in September 2000 of a Dublin bus driver who referred to a Gambian passerger as a 'nig nog' and told him to go back to his own country (Crosbie, 2000a: 1), the 1999 Employment Equality Act and the 2000 Equal Status Bill, both prohibiting discrimination on the basis, amongst other things, 'race', ethnic or national origin of membership in the Travelling community, Ireland has no significant race relations legislation. In a conference on racism in September 2000, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced a review of the Incitement to Hatred Act. He also said that the government would ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which Ireland had hitherto failed to ratify (Crosbie, 2000b: 7).

16As evidenced, for example, by participants in the conference 'Ireland - Pluralism or prejudice?', organised by the Pan African Organisation and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties on January 27 2001 (see Donnellan, 2001: 13).

17This tutorial exercise is taken from 2 BBLS Criminal Law 2000/2001, Dr Paul Anthony McDermott, University College Dublin.

18 Although I accept Robbie McVeigh's challenge that the tap/Irish dancing interchange of Riverdance is 'as good a bit of antiracism as can be seen' (personal communication).


My thanks to Alana Lentin and to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts and to Robbie McVeigh for reminding me to remain optimistic.


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