Ireland of the welcomes . . . and the racism





One story was big enough last week to push our economic crisis off the front pages for a day, and that was the racist murder of a 15-year-old Nigerian boy stabbed to death in Tyrrelstown, a housing estate on the west side of Dublin, the sprawling area of cheap new housing where many immigrants have settled. 


Toyosi Shittabey was one of six children and had been living in Ireland for the past 11 years, since he was four years old. He was a popular youngster and was a gifted footballer, playing for the under-15 side at Shelbourne Rovers, one of the top soccer clubs in the country. His aim was to play for Ireland one day, and he was good enough for that not to be just a pipe dream.


The killing was deeply shocking, not least because Toyosi was so well known in the area and so well liked in his local school. His funeral saw a huge turnout of people from the area and the school, with many of his schoolmates openly upset and crying.

Last weekend there was a memorial meeting in the city center to protest at what had clearly been a racist murder. 
The horrified reaction here was palpable, not just in the area but across the city, because this killing seemed to confirm the fears that many people have about the consequences of the high level of immigration we have had over the past decade and a half.

There has been a tendency at official level to sweep such fears under the carpet, to insist that there is no problem. But the reality on the ground is rather different. 


This wishful thinking at official level was visible again after Toyosi's murder. Immediately after it happened local and national politicians and church and social leaders appeared in the area to get across the message that although this was "an attack with racist overtones,” there really is little or no racism in Ireland. This attack was unusual, an aberration, they insisted. 


That is the official position. It is, as I said, largely wishful thinking, and it's pushed by the very same people who denied for so long that Ireland had a problem with immigration which needed to be fixed.

Back then, of course, with the economy booming, it didn't seem to matter too much that so many "asylum seekers" who were really economic migrants were arriving here. Typically, they had no papers, claimed to have come from somewhere their life was in danger and said they needed asylum.

And back then there was always the "Irish baby" route to becoming permanent here if their asylum claims were rejected. 
At its height, over 10,000 immigrants a year -- not counting those from other European Union countries -- were coming here, mostly from poor former Soviet and African countries. Very few of them were ever sent back.

Given our terror of appearing to be politically incorrect, the reaction was to set up numerous state funded bodies to help them and to give them free legal aid to guide them through the system. Many applications took years to process, by which time the immigrants were settled here and/or had an Irish child. 


As I said, it did not seem to matter at the time and we were all encouraged to embrace "the new multicultural Ireland" as a positive development. Anyone who expressed any doubts about what was happening was immediately accused of racism (often by the same lawyers who were doing so well out of the system). 


Looking back now, it seems ridiculous, a form of national hubris. Here we were, a tiny country on the edge of Europe which had always been so hopeless at providing jobs for our own people that they ended up emigrating all over the world, supposedly being able to give jobs to thousands of people from thousands of miles away. And many of those thousands who came here had neither English nor job skills. 


Well, now the boom is over, the bubble has burst and we are left with a serious problem. Our collapse into recession and soaring unemployment has brought the tensions that were hidden by the boom to the surface. And denial, wishful thinking or political correctness are not going to solve the problem for us. 


One of the difficulties, of course, is that despite all we were promised about programs to spread immigrants across the city and country, most of them ended up living in poorer housing areas on the west and north sides of Dublin. These already deprived areas with drug and alcohol problems and high unemployment now have large numbers of immigrants competing with the locals for the limited social services that are available. 


The small Mount Eustace estate in Tyrrelstown in West Dublin where Toyosi lived is better than most of these areas, but over 50% of the 200-plus homes in the estate are occupied by immigrants, many of African origin.

Like in the wider Tyrrelstown and Blanchardstown areas, in West Dublin, many of these homes are owned by small time Irish property investors who bought a few houses during the boom and now get the rent for their immigrant tenants in direct payments from the state. 


Inevitably there are tensions with some local people who resent the influx of foreigners and the fact that they get unemployment payments, rent support payments, welfare payments based on the number of children and so on, just like a local Irish family. Unemployment among these immigrants is very high, another source of resentment. 


Something else that is happening now is that many of the immigrants who arrived here 10 or 15 years ago now have children who are teenagers. What happened to Toyosi is an extreme example of the problems that this is bringing. 


Exactly what was involved is still under investigation, but one newspaper here, The Sunday Tribune, reported the event as follows:

Toyosi had been to the sports center in nearby Blanchardstown with his friends on Friday evening. Afterwards, he was walking home with his friends in the Mount Eustace estate. He was with four other male teenagers, two originally from Nigeria and two originally from the Congo, and with them were two Irish teenage girls.

They passed two men outside a house in Mount Eustace and the teenage girls asked one of the men for a cigarette. Both men then began to abuse Toyosi and his friends and called them "niggers" several times, according to a local source. A brief altercation ensued before Toyosi and his friends walked away. 


According to the Tribune, the two men (who are brothers) then went into their house and got a knife. Both men had been drinking, according to a Garda (police) source. They got into their car and drove after the teenagers. 


When the men approached the teenagers again, Toyosi told his friends not to get involved and to keep walking. But the man armed with the knife stabbed him through the heart, the Tribune reported.

How anyone can say this was not a racist attack seems incredible. Yet some politicians immediately claimed that this was “not specifically a racist attack.”

But of course to admit that we have a serious racism problem here now would be to admit that our immigration policy and system over the past 20 years was a bit of a joke.

It would also mean admitting that all the money and structures that were supposed to be put in place to ensure that our immigrants would blend in and prosper here was all just talk. We did spend the money, a few hundred million a year in total, but a lot of it went to lawyers and landlords.

What we were told would never happen is exactly what has become a reality. We have ghettos in some city center streets and around the outer suburbs, usually in the poorest neighborhoods, where there is a high concentration of immigrants and a lot of resentment from the locals there. All it takes is someone to say the wrong thing, or even look the wrong way, and it can end up in serious trouble.

We have created a complex problem for ourselves, just one aspect of which is the schools in these areas. A few months back the principals of some of these schools warned a committee of the Dail (Irish Parliament) of the dangers of failing to address the educational needs of children with non-Irish parents.

The five principals (all with around 90% immigrant kids in their schools) told the committee that it was essential for these children to learn to speak English as soon as possible to help them integrate. The principal of one school in West Dublin explained that 87% of pupils at his school did not have English as a first language. He called for additional funding for language teaching for both children and their parents.

His school is not unusual -- there are half a dozen schools around Dublin with similar levels of immigrant kids, many of whom have no English at all. In some of these schools the kids speak a few dozen languages.

And it's not just Dublin. The principal of the school in Claddagh, Co Galway (and you can't get more Irish than that) said that he had high levels of immigrant children and that “ghettoization” was already happening on the east side of Galway. He noted the experience of rioting in France because immigrants had not been properly integrated into society.

The problem is, of course, that there is no money now to pay for additional language and support teachers in these schools where teachers are at their wits end trying to cope. We didn't spend the money during the boom. Where are we going to find it now?

Meanwhile, attitudes are hardening here as the recession gets worse. And it's worst among the young Irish who have to compete with immigrants for whatever jobs are available, especially low skill jobs in poorer areas.

A recent national opinion poll showed that 43% of people would like to see some, but not all, immigrants leave the state. But 81% of those aged 18 to 24 would like to see the number of immigrants fall.

The Irish are not more racist than anyone else. But we are rapidly learning that we can be just as racist as anyone else when we are put to the test.

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