A cartoon published in The West Australian newspaper, depicting Irish nurses dancing alongside a leprechaun, has caused outcry online.
The satirical cartoon is related to the news that that St. John of Healthcare, a Western Australian hospital, plans to recruit 150 nurses, due to a predicted shortage of graduates. The hospital is seeking to hire Irish nurses. This move has been criticized in some quarters as an attempt to hire immigrants instead of hiring locals.
Visitors to the 'Irish People Living in Australia' Facebook page have vented their anger at the comic by cartoonist Dean Alston.
The group sent a letter of complaint to the editor (read in full below). In the letter they said “We are sick and tired of constantly being referred to with these stereotypes. Replace Irish with “Aborigine”, “Muslim”, or “Asian” and you will hopefully understand where we are coming from.”
They go on to point out that there are 90,000 Irish passport holders in Australia who contribute to Australia’s economy and also the “outstanding professionalism and work ethic Irish nurses have.”
The 30,000-strong Facebook group requested an apology and threatened to contact the Australian Press Council.
Later the cartoonist responsible, Dean Alston, sent the Facebook group a response saying:
“When I was in my teens, there was a joke. “What’s an Aussie?” Answer. An Irishman with half his brain removed. Most Irish people know I have a great sense of humor. I’m Irish. I should know. I hope you feel better soon.”
The group posted his response with the comment “You couldn't make it up.”
In an email to the Irish Times Brett McCarthy, editor of The West Australian, said the cartoon was an “irreverent and a bit of fun”.
He wrote “As someone of Irish ancestry I’m totally baffled by the claim the cartoon was racist” said Mr McCarthy. “It is a light hearted portrayal of the nurses as fun loving Irish women (all of whom happen to be named Colleen) - how is that racist?
“They were not portrayed as incompetent or stupid.
“In my experience the Irish have a great sense of humour and, like Aussies, love poking fun at themselves and can take a joke with the best of them. Has this changed?”
Eoin Hahessy, an Irish emigration columnist working at University of Melbourne, spoke to IrishCentral about this case.
He said “We Irish are an easy target for lazy jokes. Slipping into national stereotypes is simply casual racism, but there is a generation of Irish now who won't stand for it.”
He continued “A lot of Australians don't realize it is offensive, but that is the problem, a joke like this would never be made about an Asian.
“In modern times the 80's are often talked about as Ireland's darkest days of emigration but we have seen higher levels as the Celtic Tiger disintegrated. One person left Ireland every six minutes last year. Yet there is one difference. This new emigration generation is highly skilled and educated. They are taking positions across in the globe in sectors other than those traditionally occupied by the Irish and this generation has little time for these diddly eye stereotypes.”
Earlier this year there was similar outcry in Australia led by the Irish Ambassador Noel White following the coverage surround the case of Padraig Gaffney, a man who pleaded guilty to causing $500,000 in damages to a Melbourne Hotel and was found dead just days later. The Age newspaper ran with the headline “Drunk Paddy in A$500k flood of tears”.
In his reactionary piece in the Age White wrote “In the past the Irish were conditioned to the ridicule of the "Irish joke". The caricature of the fighting, drinking, dissolute Irish, notoriously promulgated in the pages of Punch in the 19th century, while certainly less evident these days, has not been entirely eradicated. When it does occur, its impact is not diminished by familiarity.”
The Honorary Consulate of Ireland in Western Australia, Marty Kavanagh, has posted the article on their website, but as yet has not made a statement on the matter.
Do you think poking fun at the Irish is somehow not seen as racism? Let us know your views below.