Monday, January 28, 2019

No laughing matter for the Italians of Galway

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

An anti-racism event in Galway city centre

A few weeks ago I was invited to a meeting in a Galway pub in which members of the region’s Italian community met up with representatives of the city’s anti-racism network.

Up to a dozen immigrants from Italy attended the meeting and it was interesting to note how united they became as they discussed an issue close to their hearts for two hours.

Unlike, say, the Irish in London when I was a young lad, the Italians in Ireland don’t tend to stick together or live in the same area. Most of them had never met each other before and all four corners of their native land were represented in the pub.

What drew them together was a common concern that an anti-immigrant meeting being held in Co Galway this week was not representative of their little community.

I took some of their phone numbers and, as a result, wrote an article for Irish Central which proclaimed that an immigrant to Galway was holding an anti-immigrant meeting in a Headford pub.

People laughed at the heading. They felt it was ridiculous. Here was a man who had moved to another country to build a new life organising a meeting to oppose or demonise refugees and asylum-seekers who had left war-torn Syria or Libya to build new lives.

Ironically, the person who has organised the far-right meeting has also been using his business page on Facebook to support 'Ire-exit', the campaign for Ireland to leave the European Union.

He seems to be blissfully unaware that it is membership of the EU which allows him the right to live and work in Ireland without any need for a visa.

Yes, you couldn’t make it up.

But it was clear from the Italians I talked to that night that this was a deadly serious issue for them.

They wanted to make it clear to me and the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN) representatives at the meeting that they saw the proposed event in Headford as an embarrassment and a sinister development for a small town in the West of Ireland.

Protesting against racism in the City of the Tribes

They told us a lot about Matteo Salvini and his Lega Nord party that night.

They thought they had left the kind of politics in which some people are not deemed “racially pure” behind when they left Italy for the West of Ireland.

The kind of rhetoric which demonises minorities seems even more appalling than ever this week, as the proposed meeting in Headford comes in the same week as Holocaust Memorial Day. Just in case anyone needed reminding of the dangers of demonising minorities or valuing one group of people over another.

They told us of how Salvini blames immigrants for bringing drugs, theft, and violence to their land or how he described Italy as a giant refugee camp before the election which saw him become Deputy Prime Minister last year.

For these Italians, who have seen their migration to Ireland as a good thing, Salviini’s words about immigrants are nothing more than hate speech.

“We, European citizens, came here with all the comfort of a Ryanair flight and knowing that we could always go back. I am at home and I plan to stay for good, but I am an immigrant, an economic immigrant, I have been working in Ireland for the past 13 years,” one of them, Marcello, told me.

“I am ashamed of being associated with a person who is happy that people drown in the sea trying to make a better life, with a person who is an immigrant in Ireland supporting a party that against the law kept women and children confined in a ship, a person who supports throwing women and children on the street with no support, while the crazy Italian bureaucracy decides if they are refugees."

He asked me how many Irish people had crossed the sea to find a better life, just as the Italian man who is hosting this week’s “xenophobic meeting” in Headford moved to Ireland for a better life.

While some people laughed at my article – the idea that an immigrant would host an anti-immigrant meeting in a Co Galway pub – it was clear from the mood of the Italians that night that they were anything but amused by the prospect of Salvini’s party taking a foothold in Ireland.

A protest against racism in the heart of Galway 

And, over the past few weeks, as I recovered from surgery, I have noticed an alarming increase in the number of far-right videos circulating here in Ireland.

A video I watched last weekend described Salvini and his party as “patriots”, expressing admiration for Lega Nord and the hope that a party like his could emerge here in Ireland.

Some of these online videos might seem pathetic, as the same people interview each other week after week; but it is clear that there is a market for this kind of far-right material now in Ireland, given the anger and alienation people feel in the midst of health and homelessness crises.

It's so easy to focus anger onto the weakest (and wrong) targets, as President Donald Trump has done with his language of hate in the United States.

A lot of people are deeply unhappy with life in Ireland right now, with so many homeless on our streets, patients lying on trolleys in our public hospitals, and people being evicted from their homes.
Like Salvini, there are people in Ireland who are only too willing to spread hatred and division, and to blame the most marginalised in society for all of our ills.

As a result of the meeting in Galway in December, the region’s Italians are set to meet with the people of Headford tomorrow (Tuesday, 7.30 pm), to outline their opposition to the idea of a far-right meeting taking place in our midst.

They don’t want to see Irish political parties encourage hatred against foreigners, demonise them, or create the kind of environment in which violence against immigrants is deemed to be inevitable.
So they want to reach out to Irish people, to show that a fascist party does not in any way represent their views.

The meeting in Headford is being run in conjunction with GARN and concerned local people in the town. 
Some anti-EU material on the Facebook page of the Headford pub

“We can't ignore recent events, especially damage done to proposed direct provision centres or support for Peter Casey's comments. These are signs of communities who are only being fed an elitist government line on topics like immigration or are being exposed to far-right propaganda - the sole purpose of which is to sow division,” said Joe Loughnane of GARN yesterday.

“Our message of resilient communities campaigning together for better services and equal treatment is already resonating well with the concerned folk who've been in touch."

The meeting takes place in St Fursas Parish Hall, Headford, tomorrow evening (7.30 pm). The far-right meeting is still planned for a pub in the town on Thursday night, even though all traces of it have been removed from social media following the storm which erupted last month.

UPDATE: Since I published this blog post last night, I have since learned that the organiser of the Headford meeting has announced that he will no longer serve Travellers in his pub. See the screengrab below:

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -