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Darren Scully's comments: are we racists, or realists?

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A group of participants at the Nigerian Irish Expo in 2009 in Dublin


Probably the most talked about story here over the past week has been the allegedly racist comments made by a local politician called Darren Scully, the mayor of Naas, a large commuter town about 20 miles from Dublin in Co. Kildare.

Scully said in an interview last week on a local radio station that he had a problem with black African immigrants who are now living in the Naas area and who were coming to see him about issues like housing and welfare benefits.  

There is nothing unusual in people going to see local politicians to get their help in accessing council housing or welfare benefits. But Scully said in an interview on local radio last week that he would no longer represent black Africans in his area because of their attitude.

"I have been met with aggressiveness and bad manners," he said.

The story received blanket coverage not least because Scully is a Fine Gael councilor, and there was an immediate focus on how embarrassing his remarks were for the government.  

The media here, all singing from the same hymn sheet, condemned him and demanded action from the powers that be.  In these politically correct times, an incident like this provokes a furious reaction, and it did not take long for party headquarters to lean on him.

Within a day, Scully had acknowledged his error, publicly and abjectly apologized and handed back his mayor's chain of office.

But it did not end there.  Scully works as a structural engineer for a small private company (he is a part-time politician), and he now says he has been suspended and could lose his job.  

He says the reaction to his remarks has been so intense that he has been close to a breakdown.  He says he has been subjected to a torrent of abuse, and that the experience has almost destroyed him.  

Media commentators are still calling for his head.  A Labor politician has reported his remarks to the Gardai (police) for a possible criminal prosecution. Various organizations demanded that he be excluded from politics altogether.

A support group for African immigrants held a press conference which criticized him and also pointed to the killing of an African taxi driver in Dublin recently as evidence of how serious racism here has become (although it is not yet clear whether this was primarily a racist attack).

By the time you read this Fine Gael may have thrown Scully out of the party altogether, although he remains a councilor until the next election, unless he resigns his seat.  

This whole controversy is interesting for a number of reasons.  For a start, although official Ireland and the media turned on Scully as though he was Hitler reborn, what he actually said was relatively moderate.

He said the Africans who had come to see him had been aggressive and bad mannered.  He did not say that all Africans had behaved towards him in this way. He did not say that he never had to put up with aggressiveness and bad manners from other immigrant groups or from Irish people who came to see him.  

But he did say that he would no longer represent black Africans because of the general attitude he had experienced.   Even if not all of them had been aggressive or rude to him, he clearly felt enough of them had behaved in this way so that he was justified in excluding them as a group from his political services.  

And that is racist.  It is taking a decision for an entire group based on skin color/ethnic origin rather than on an assessment of people as individuals.  

Racism is something that cannot be tolerated, either in Ireland or anywhere else.  But even with that as a guiding principle, there should be room for discussion here about what former Mayor Scully was expressing.

In these politically correct times in Ireland, however, no such discussion is possible.  Anyone who attempts to start such a discussion is immediately called a racist and is vilified and ostracized, as Scully has been.  

He was both stupid and naive if he thought he could make comments like he did without provoking a backlash of political correctness from official Ireland.

But one of the interesting things about the controversy was the wide difference of opinion between official Ireland and the majority of anonymous people who went on-line or rang up radio stations about the issue over the past week.  It looked to me like 70 or 80 percent of people supported Scully, to some degree at least.

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