The outraged media reaction to Naas, Co. Kildare Mayor Darren Scully’s comments on refusing to represent African immigrants as part of his job has occupied much space in Ireland in the past few week. Scully resigned from his mayoral position and was later fired from his job according to reports.
He apologized abjectly on the Marian Finucane Show on RTE.
"I didn’t put enough thought into it Marian," he added. "Obviously I was expressing my own personal view of dealings I had with regards to council workings with some people but I knew what I said was wrong.
"You cannot, you just cannot paint an entire continent with one brush by saying something like that. You just can’t do that. That’s unforgivable."
Scully surely realizes too late where his prejudice landed him, but there is every indication that there are many like him in Ireland.
Around the same time as the Scully incident, a Nigerian taxi driver was killed in an altercation in Dublin. It is unknown whether race played a part in the death, but the two incidents led to African community leaders holding a press conference to denounce what they called rampant racism.
A Nigerian diplomat, Dr. Georges Alabi, told the conference that he had no choice but to break diplomatic ranks and speak out after a Nigerian born taxi-driver was killed on the streets of Dublin.
“I’m foreign office. I should not comment,” Alabi told the Irish Examiner. “My family and I have personally experienced the stark reality of racism, with people repeatedly phoning our house and calling us niggers.
“We just need to do more in the area of political leadership. The silence is too much."
Until comparatively recently there were very few African immigrants in Ireland. That changed during the economic boom, but now that those times have faded.
In times of recession, of course, it is always outsiders, especially black outsiders, who are more likely to be scapegoated.
There have been a slew of racial incidents in Ireland, mainly involving back taxi drivers, but also some serious threats to families moving into previously white areas.
There will be a sense of déjà vu about that for many Americans.
Almost missed in the media coverage is the reality that Scully apparently received close to a thousand letters of support for his comments from Irish people from all walks of life.
Are they all racist? Hardly, but it goes to the Nigerian diplomat’s point that a much bigger effort has to be made in Ireland to try and bring new understanding to this very fraught area.
Good race relations, even in country as diverse and tuned in to diversity as the U.S., are difficult to maintain and need constant attention and direction.
The fact of an African American in the White House has shown what can be achieved here. Such an idea would have been preposterous just a few years ago.
Ireland may well need a government member who takes specific responsibility for ethnic issues as an immediate step to ease the tensions that are clearly simmering. An elected representative from a minority community could also play a large role towards achieving this worthy goal.