Defending the Irish community against racist claims in New York Times -- Same old story as Hurricane Sandy relief efforts questioned


Irish Day of Action - Irish community lends a hand after Sandy
Irish Day of Action - Irish community lends a hand after Sandy

Some weeks back I had calls from several concerned Irish working to restore Breezy Point and other areas in the Rockaways about the attitude of the  New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir who was covering the story.

She seemed intent, according to them, on pointing out to everyone that Breezy Point was a whites only community and that the community there had been accused of racism in the past.

The calls were from people who had flown in from Ireland to help with the restoration of Rockaway and some Irish based here were perplexed at the attitude of the reporter who was making her concerns known loudly.

With good reason. The piece that ran in The Times today is laced with innuendo about the allegedly racist Irish, quoting Al Sharpton prominently calling Breezy Point an “apartheid village.”

(No mention of when Al slandered Irish Americans during the Tawana Brawley hoax case absurdly accusing them of IRA involvement.)

Here’s a typical paragraph from the reporter’s piece. "But complicating the current embrace from abroad is the gated community’s extreme insularity. Breezy Point is the whitest neighborhood in the city, a demographic makeup that critics say illustrates the enclave’s entrenched xenophobia, a dark flip side, perhaps, to all that ethnic pride."

No evidence is given of any xenophobia. Have foreigners been beaten up there? Blacks shot? Has there been massive racist reports from Breezy? Not that I have noticed.

Read more: Irish sports heroes are helping rebuild shattered Rockaways

The facts are very different to this type of innuendo. The Irish community reached out to all residents in Rockaway, Black, Irish, Jewish, Italian and were encouraged to do so by those in Breezy and everywhere else.

I know a little about this. I was at an initial meeting at the Irish Consulate in New York with just Consul General Noel Kilkenny and Deputy Consul Peter Ryan when an Irish initiative to help the Rockaways was discussed.

It was soon after Hurricane Sandy had hit when the issue of what to do about the Rockaways was raised. Noel Kilkenny noted the massive ground swell of emotion in the Irish community to do something to help and asked for my advice.

I had actually gone down to Rockaways the previous weekend and talked to local people there in preparation for the meeting.

It was clear to me that financial assistance was not enough. From all over the Rockaways and Far Rockaways too, the plea was clear, people needed boots on the ground, help digging out. I had liaised with Brendan Brosh, a local Irish American left with a badly damaged home, who works with former Comptroller William Thompson, an African American, who suggested that a major effort across the Rockaways would really help.

Which is why I suggested to the Consul General that Days of Action, not fundraising, be considered, something the community had done very successfully a few years back on the issue of immigration when we sent thousands to Washington for immigration reform. My brother in law, community activist Ciaran Staunton, and I had discussed it on our visit to Rockaways and agreed that while money was great, helping rebuild immediately was much more important.

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