An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

21 May 1998 Edition

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Me Feiners and Ourselves

by Meadbh Gallagher

On Monday in Dublin, the biggest literary prize in the world in monetary terms, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, went to a Romanian author, Herta Muller, for her book `The Land of Green Plums'.

It was with sickening synchronicity that as Ms Muller - now an immigrant in Berlin - was being lauded and applauded for her literary exposure of recent Romanian history, 20 of her compatriots found hiding in freight trailers brought in through Rosslare Port were being treated to a very different official Irish welcome.

Sickening because it reminds so much of our own history, of the smug ceremonies and elite barstools from where Irish people have been safely lauded for being at the cutting edge of literary or musical talent, while behind the bars and in the kitchens, the same Irish have known the racism that predominated and the stereotypes they were expected to live up to.

Sickening because, even as they were processing the 20 Romanians' claims to stay, the Irish authorities were confident that because the trucks had come via France, the EU's Dublin Convention would apply, and they would eventually be sent back there to make their claim for asylum.

Sickening also because on the same day, Justice Minister John O'Donoghue admitted there would be no amnesty for existing asylum seekers in Ireland and announced his government will rush through anti-immigrant laws to make it even more difficult for people to come to stay in this exclusive island.

The bumptious, self-righteous O'Donoghue epitomises the mé féinism that predominates current southern Irish political culture.

He has deliberately deceived the public with statistics on immigration and its cost. His excuses for plain old racism, newly fashioned and delivered with a sense of moral right all of his own making, leave even the Tory Michael Howard in the shade.

But he is on safe ground. His cronies in Fianna Fáil and the PDs and much of the Opposition back him all the way.

In the mé féin mind, the historical necessity for Irish people to emigrate or to seek asylum elsewhere is in the dim and distant past, nothing to do with where we are now.

And the privilege which flowed with the US decision to grant visas to hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants in the very recent past is written off because after all, everyone loves the Irish, and why wouldn't they want us there.

There is no sense of the history of all our families, and the suffering of a huge number of them, from which, ironically, we are now standing to benefit. There is no sense that others too have proud histories, traditions and much to offer.

The mé féiners simply believe that Mr or Ms Irish is now such an object of desire that the waves will part before them no matter where they go.

How nice to see such national confidence. What a relief after years on bended knees. How awful though, that the Ireland of the mé féiners could give us the very things we have hated in others.

How worrying that their national largesse cannot in turn be applied to Romanians, or any other people who choose or are forced, for whatever reasons or fancy, to come here.

It is ironic that it is only now, after years of misrepresentation and slant, that there is a chance to learn and to show that the mé féiners in Irish politics have rarely been republicans.

O'Donoghue and his cronies need the wind taken out of their puffed-up sails. It is ourselves who are best placed to do that.

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