Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Are all Tribes welcome here?

Is Ireland a racist society?

It’s a subject most of us choose to ignore, something that makes us just a little bit uncomfortable in the context of how many people from our own island have chosen – or been forced to make - new lives in other parts of the world.

The island has changed beyond all recognition over the past 20 years and it was significant that there were no representatives of the mainstream media present when the Galway Anti-Racism Network was launched at a public meeting which attracted a capacity attendance this week.

The speeches went on for almost four hours, yet nobody complained. It was the first time in memory that such a diverse range of speakers shared a platform, to share their own experiences of racism in the City of the Tribes.

Under the title ‘All Tribes are Welcome’, it was amazing to see the positive reaction among the attendance at the launch at the Galway Rowing Club.        
The capacity crowd at the Galway Rowing Club. Photo: Shane Broderick

These were people who rarely get a mention on the national airwaves, people who feel marginalised and that their voices are never heard. 

The atmosphere was all the more electric because no event like this had ever taken place in the city before.

The organisers of the meeting have called for an overhaul of the Incitement to Hatred Act after being taken aback by the sheer number of people who attended and shared their stories. They are also hoping to liaise with Gardai and schools to bring the anti-racism message into the wider community.

Speakers included an African taxi-driver, members of Ireland’s Muslim community, a former asylum seeker, a Traveller woman, and a black-Irish woman. Each of them told the four hour meeting of their own experiences of racism in Ireland.

Taxi-driver Henry Williams spoke of the casual racism of late night revellers on the city’s taxi ranks who walk pass three or four black drivers before getting into a cab with a white Irish driver for their journey home.

Singer Sharon Murphy, star of BBC television series ‘The Voice’, told the meeting about the pain she experienced growing up as a black person in rural Co Galway and the fear she felt when she first visited Harlem in New York.

As more and more black people got onto the subway train, and more and more white people got off, she realised she had inherited a fear of people of her own skin colour during her childhood in Connemara.

“In Clifden, in Connemara, I learned to be afraid of people like myself,” she said. “I remember the terror I experienced when I first went to Harlem. I realised the negative messages I had been given about black people.” 

Former asylum seeker Mosa Moshoeshoe spoke of the pain of trying to live on €19.10 per week under the Direct Provision system, when she was keen to work. 

She said she was a poor role model for her children, but because she was a refugee awaiting asylum she did not have the option of getting a job in Galway. Even though she has since been granted permission to stay in Ireland, she has been unable to find a house to rent.

Mosa told the meeting about a friend in Co Wexford who was unable to rent out a house. She was turned down by a landlady when she phoned to see if a house was available. A day later, her Irish friend discovered that it was still available.

Her friend was pretty sure she had been turned down for the accommodation because of her African accent.
Bridget Kelly of the Galway Traveller Movement said her community faced daily discrimination in the areas of accommodation, health, employment, and education. 

“Being refused access to hotels and pubs, being unable to get a house when people find out you are a Traveller, you feel ashamed of who you are,” she told the hushed attendance.

Imam Imbrahim Noonan spoke of the Islamophobia he has experienced from people who were later shocked to realise that he was Irish-born. He said that his children, whose mother is Pakistani, had experienced a different form of racism.

Speakers at the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network.
Imam Noonan, of the Galway Islamic Cultural Society, pointed out that Islamic terrorists were only a tiny minority among the global Muslim community. Yet some people in Ireland wanted to blame all Muslims for the actions of the tiny minority.
According to a spokesman, Joe Loughnane, the number of people who turned up for the first public meeting of the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) vastly exceeded the expectations of the organisers.

“People brought food and were keen to engage with each other,” he said. “We couldn’t believe it when the place started filling up 20 to 30 minutes before we even began. People were just so happy to share their stories.

“They had never been in a room that was so diverse and yet everybody seemed to be speaking from the same page. The message was very much one of solidarity and positivity. People seemed to recognise that this coming together was something that needed to happen.

“All of the speakers were thrilled by the reaction of the people in the room. They did not feel judged and they were so happy to share their stories. There was a real spirit of action, of getting things done, in the room.

“People were taken aback by how similar their experiences were. It was unprecedented to have a black taxi-driver, a Traveller woman, a black Irish woman, an asylum seeker, and Muslim representatives sharing the same platform in the West of Ireland.”

He said it was clear that racism was an issue in Ireland, but that a lot of it took place behind people’s backs. 
Mr Loughnane spoke of his own experience growing up as a half-Irish, half-Pakistani man in Galway. He found that he experienced racism when he went into the city centre with one of his parents, but not with the other.
“There is this sense of people being taught to hate themselves or being ashamed of who they are,” he said afterwards. “Thankfully, we do not have an active far-right here in Ireland. But we want to challenge racist myths that are out there. We want to challenge racism wherever we see it.”

The meeting concluded when Ms Murphy led a spirited version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’.

* Thanks to Shane Broderick for the photos of the GARN launch. For further information about the GARN, who meet every Tuesday evening, check out their Facebook page at:


  1. Well done to you all. Galway seems to be the vanguard of a new anti racism grass roots movement, much like Harmony in Dublin was in the 90s.

  2. Nobody will mention the elephant in the room - that Joe Loughnane is an anti-Semitic bigot who brought shame upon NUIG when he roared abuse at a guest speaker and denied him the right to speak. I still haven't heard an apology from Loughnane, 2 years later. "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free". Where does that leave room for Israel? Or maybe you don't think Israel should exist?

    1. Checked your YT channel. You're a bit 'single issue'.

    2. The issue of Joe Loughnane's alleged "anti-Semitism" was raised on the national radio station, RTE Radio One, two weeks ago. Joe confirmed that he had abused a guest speaker in the run-up to the NUI Galway referendum and admitted that he made a mistake. He also alleged that he had been racially abused by Zionists in the lead-up to the vote. As far as I'm aware, Joe has consistently campaigned against the (illegal) occupation of Palestine by Israel. He is anti-Zionist, anti-occupation (which is an emotive issue for Irish people, given our own history), but certainly not anti-Semitic.

  3. "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" is a common refrain from Loughnane. Once again, where does that leave room for the Israeli state? Where will the generations of Jews born on that land live? He doesn't support the two state solution and is therefore a hardliner.

    Regarding "abuse by Zionists" received by Loughnane, I haven't seen any evidence of this. Something tells me that Loughnane would construe a civil disagreement in opinion as "abuse". He doesn't know how to listen or debate as documented in the NUIG video. If he has evidence of said abuse, I will gladly change my views.

  4. I think it's quite clear that you've got a cozy relationship with Joe Loughnane. This was a puff piece designed to massage his over-inflated ego. Probably why you could never cut it as a real journalist. It's laughable that a guy who openly spews bile against Israelis is pretending to run an anti-racism network. There is nothing more to be said. Loughnane's cowardly, thuggish reputation will follow him for the rest of his life.

  5. Thanks for taking the trouble to come onto my blog to insult me as a journalist.

    Amazing how it's always the Zionists who resort to personalised insults. It's as though, deep down, you realise that you are defending the indefensible when it comes to Palestine. As though, in your heart of hearts, you recognise that a monstrous injustice has been inflicted on the Palestinian people, through land-grabbing, colonisation, and occupation.

    As for Joe Loughnane, I have seen the video from two years ago and I agree that his treatment of the pro-Israeli speaker at NUIG was appalling. I don't have any "cozy relationship" with him and it's not my job to defend his actions.

    His "thuggish" behaviour two years ago, as you put it, should not take away from a very successful launch last Thursday. If I thought he was, or any of the organisers were, anti-Semitic I would not have attended the launch.