24 February 2000 Edition

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Voices raised against racism

``They are not to blame for the current housing crisis - successive governments are. They are not responsible for the disgracefully low levels of social welfare - successive governments are. They are not responsible for the long delay in the processing of their applications - successive governments are'' - Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD.
Pat Guerin of the Anti-Racist Campaign put his finger on it when he said that ``racism did not come to Ireland in a refugee's suitcase''. He referred to a recent leaflet dispersed around Dublin by the Immigration Control Platform (ICP). The leaflet cautioned that refugees should be tested for AIDS on arriving in Ireland. While they failed to state what would be done in the event of a refugee testing positive, Guerin said, the obvious implication was that they would not be allowed into the country. A member of the ICP attended the meeting but said nothing, choosing instead to take notes.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin commended Dublin Sinn Féin for taking the initiative to organise the meeting. He traced republican opposition to racism from the ideology espoused by the original Irish republicans, who took their inspiration from the tenets of the French revolution - liberty, equality and fraternity. ``During the course of the struggle for Irish freedom, many republicans looked with sympathy and solidarity to those other people around the globe who were denied the right to self-determination by their enforced inclusion in the British Empire,'' he said. O Caoláin also referred to the racism which has been directed towards Irish people in England and the tragic irony of Irish people now inflicting the same brutality on others. He concluded, in the words of Peter Finlay SC - who resigned recently from the Independent Appeals Authority in protest at the system - that what we have in relation to government policy is ``a total and complete travesty''.

One important reminder of the legacy of racism in Ireland, which Ó Caoláin touched on and Traveller Bernard Joyce later elaborated, is the racism to which the Travelling community has been subjected over the years. A leaflet distributed by Joyce pointed out that Travellers' lifespans are only now as long as those for settled people living in the 1940s. The number of Traveller children who die in their first year of life is three times higher than that of the settled population. Travellers are routinely refused basic services, whether it be in the local pub, a shop or laundrette, daily manifestations of racism.

Rosanna Flynn of Residents Against Racism spoke of the Garda harassment inflicted upon Belmondo Wantete, an African refugee who has had a litany of falsified charges leveled against him. This includes a charge for possession of a dangerous weapon - the weapon being a pestle (one of those little kitchen utensils used for grinding foodstuffs). Another asylem seeker, Ekundayo Joseph Ominiyi, who had been imprisoned for being a political activist in Nigeria, has also had to endure garda charges. Both these men have cases coming up in the Circuit Court, on Monday 28 Febuary at 10am and 14 March respectively. Rosanna urged people who wish to fight racism to attend the pickets outside these hearings.

An Phoblacht
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