Racist comments about the Irish in Australia are tolerated there when such comments about other groups would not be, it has been claimed.
Recently "Drunk Paddy’s $500k flood of tears" was a headline in The Age newspaper and the jokes were quick to follow after a young Irishman was convicted of drunken behavior.
Tragically the young man, Padraig Gaffney, was so affected by the coverage that he committed suicide
Irish Australian commentators were outraged “Is this a new style of journalism? Shall we expect titles like "Wogs bash WASPs in nightclub," said one comment. "Curry Munchers smell up bus," "Chinks buying up suburbs"?
Such headlines mean anti-Irish racism is alive and well in Australia, according to a leading member of the ex-pat community.
Eoin Hahessy, a graduate of Limerick University, has long campaigned for the Irish abroad to be allowed to vote in elections at home.
Now Hahessy, a university media spokesman, has spoken out in the wake of the suicide of Irishman Padraig Gaffney in an op-ed piece for the Irish Independent newspaper.
In the Independent article, Hahessy claims: “In one article there was no thought given to the fact that the headline was blatant racism – made OK because it was about the Irish.
“The Age, one of Australia’s leading newspapers, was the offending masthead and the comments poured in.
“Within a few hours the offending headline was changed. Yet it was too late for Padraig Gaffney. The 29 year-old at the center of that headline and the butt of incessant Australian national media jokes took his life on Thursday night.”
Hahessy quotes Gaffney from an article on the day the hotel story broke when he said: “This entire thing has ruined my life completely. I’ve spent 10 years in Australia trying to better myself and in the space of one night everything can be taken away from you.”
Like so many other Irish in Australia, Gaffney had worked on building sites after his arrival from Ireland.
Hahessy added: “A carpenter by trade, he flew with his girlfriend to Melbourne for a weekend and it would change his life. He drank too much, he loosened a fire hydrant, he destroyed some floors of a hotel. Two actions undeserving of a national punch line.
“Yet racism towards the Irish, cloaked in a smile, is extremely common Down Under.
“It starts with your accent and progresses to your pronunciation. The Irish inability to express ‘th’ is a constant source of merriment.”
Dubliner Susan Kelly told the paper how, when applying for a marketing role with a respected organization, she was greeted by the laughing HR manager.
She revealed: “My colleague said she must tell you why she was laughing, my colleague said to me ‘don’t mention potatoes’.”
“I didn’t think my accent was that strong but she said it was.”
Hahessy adds: “It is not something to cause you to flock to the barricades, but would it happen to a Chinese, an Indian, an Indonesian or even a French girl? Would a HR manager make rice jokes to an Asian?
“The answer to all these is “no”, because it is acceptable to be racist to the Irish Down Under.
“Australia has developed a conscience towards its history and an acceptance of foreign cultures. ‘We recognize Aboriginal people as rightful owners of this land’ are common addendums at public events or on TV programs.
“Australia genuflects to its historic genocide. Yet despite this cultural leap, Australians still bump gormlessly into moments of racism.”
In the article, Hahessy recalls how Irishman Alan Joyce, head of Australia’s national carrier Qantas, has been an easy target for vitriol because of his roots.
The Australian newspaper mocked Joyce’s accent in an article on the statements the airline’s chief made in relation to an investigation into the engine explosion on an Airbus A380.
The Australian reported Mr Joyce as having said: ‘‘Tiz too arly ter judge waaat dat issue is an’ ‘oy long it ‘ill take ter be fixed … It cud be ahn issue wi’ de casin’ or it cud be an issue wi’ de turbo-ines …’’
A typed letter, sent to his home, read in part: “It’s coming soon Paddy. You can’t even see it! The Unions will fight you … Qantas is our airline, started & staffed by Australians, not foreign filth like you.”
“All your evil plans … will come back to you very swiftly, & kick you (sic) Irish FOREIGN ARSE out of the country,” the note continued.
Hahessy says many in the Irish community Down Under brush blatant racism off as Australian mate-ish humor.
He added: “Such appeasement allows the Irish to be the butt of the joke, the international punch bag.
“Tommy Tiernan, the cultural plasterer of Irish stereotypes, proclaimed Australia as the land where only the dregs of the Irish go. True, we do ourselves no favors.
“In Perth bulging Irish wallets are still shunned. Our reputation as wild tenants precedes us. A tension between the Irish who come here to make a life, and those who desire to get the leg over, certainly exists down here.
“Every crass Irish headline solidifies our good-time Charlie stereotype, and it deepens the Australian pool for water cooler racism.
“White and jovial, with a fondness for a drink, we Paddy’s are easy targets.
“Padraig Gaffney – lampooned as the poster boy for our global stereotype – snugly fit into that narrative. But its outcome sits awkwardly for all those involved.”
You can read more about Eoin Hahessy at his website, www.flightofthecubs.com.