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‘Irishmen Who Are Drunks’ - a reaction to FDNY's discriminatory remarks

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As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 looms, you see many stories these days about firefighters and their families, and how they are coping with the loss of loved ones and the passage of time since that terrible day.

But that’s not all you will hear about the FDNY these days.  For the past several weeks, Brooklyn Federal Court has been the setting for a federal discrimination trial against the New York City fire department.

The feds are looking into allegations that the FDNY discriminates against minority firefighters. So it is interesting that in this setting, one of the most blatantly anti-Irish statements I’ve ever heard was not only muttered, but entered into the public record.

Worse, there was not a peep from anyone that it was at least ironic that Irish stereotypes were being peddled at a -- wait for it! -- anti-racism trial.

There was no outrage from an Irish American politician or the national AOH, or even the Emerald Society of the FDNY.  Nothing.

These comments were made as the trial against the FDNY got underway earlier this month.  The topic of the day was the allegation that white FDNY candidates with criminal backgrounds seemed to be getting much more lenient treatment than minority candidates with similarly troubled pasts.

Former assistant commissioner for FDNY personnel Patricia Kavaler testified that FDNY big wigs might call members of a review board to vouch for white candidates with checkered pasts.

“You’re dealing with a lot of Irishmen who are drunks and they get into bar fights and they get arrested and they get arrested again.  They fight, they sock their girlfriends…they get arrested because they fought with the police when they got arrested.  This is boys being boys.  That type of thing.”

How does one even begin to deal with this?

First off, we have to let Kavaler off the hook.  It appears she was simply relaying what she had heard someone else say.  She apparently did not say these words herself.

However, since these drunken Irish comments were reported in exactly one news outlet -- the New York Daily News -- there were no follow-up questions seeking clarification.

So, let’s say Kavaler heard some other FDNY bigwig say this.  Isn’t this nearly as newsworthy as anti-black comments?

Look, I am not naïve.  Are there Irish members of the FDNY who like to drink?  I know several.  Do the Irish in general like to drink?

Often, Irish folks themselves put this message out.  When basketball great and Queens native Chris

Mullin was recently inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, several stories linked his alcoholism with his Irish American upbringing.

Watch any episode of Denis Leary’s FDNY show Rescue Me and it will probably confirm every existing stereotypes.

Okay.  Fine.  So, let’s pretend the FDNY bigwig who claimed, “You’re dealing with a lot of Irishmen who are drunks,” is named Kevin O’Donovan, or something similarly Hibernian.  This is still inexcusable.

In a forum dedicated to correcting the wrongs of racial or ethnic bias, there is no way comments about drunken, brawling Irishmen should be allowed to pass unremarked upon.

Unless, that is, we are then going to discuss Mafia Italians and dumb Pollocks and cheap Jews or any other lame racial/ethnic/religious stereotype.

That all being said, it could be that the FDNY has a serious problem.  It simply does not look good that, in a city like New York, only 3% of firefighters are African American.

It is true that it is very much a job passed from father to son, which gives New York’s white ethnic groups a leg up, and it’s hard to pass a law against that.
It’s also true that other major cities have found ways to diversify their firefighting ranks. And that presumably goes for gender also.

We’ll let New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams have the last word. She recently lamented that the number of female firefighters has stayed at around 30 for the past several decades because the FDNY is “an old Irish club of sexists.”

It begs the question -- how can Irish firefighters find time to be sexist when they are drinking and brawling and getting arrested all the time?

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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