Race pressure points no longer can be ignored


ANALYSIS:Research suggests that recession-prompted tensions have strained race relations in Blanchardstown, home to Toyosi Shittabey whose funeral took place yesterday, writes BRÍD NÍ CHONAILL

FRIENDS, FAMILY and the local community have shown their support in the wake of the death of the Nigerian teenager Toyosi Shittabey on Good Friday. The multicultural rally held in Tyrrelstown on Monday evening well reflects the diverse local society in the wider area of Blanchardstown in Dublin 15.

Religious figures, local gardaí and community leaders have spoken out showing leadership in a bid to curb a backlash following Friday evening’s alleged racist attack. Despite descriptions of the incident as “once off” and claims by gardaí about a lack of racial tension in the area, in light of this tragic loss of a young life there is no room for complacency on a local and national level.

The Blanchardstown area constitutes one of the fastest changing parts of the country: according to the 2006 census, it has the fastest growing population in the country, but more significantly 22 per cent of its population, or double the national average, are non-Irish nationals.

Diverging from the national picture, in Blanchardstown, Nigerians comprise the largest group of non-Irish nationals, followed closely by Polish, Lithuanian and British. While the migrant population is itself extremely diverse, it is not evenly distributed throughout the entire area but rather is concentrated heavily in certain parts.

Tyrrelstown, where Toyosi lived, is one such pocket.

Nationally, migration into Ireland has placed additional demands on public service provision. Blanchardstown is a good example of a pressure point or an area where, in light of increased demographics, services such as schools have struggled to keep abreast of the growth experienced.

Between February 2008 and 2009, I conducted research, financed by the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Science, on the views of local people – both Irish people and migrants themselves – on migrants, their impact on the Blanchardstown area and their contribution to redefining Irish identity. While the Government was held to account for the failure to provide adequate services such as social housing, the same was not the case as regards schools.

The reaction across all social classes of Irish participants I interviewed was the same: migrants were seen as contributing to the shortage of school places and as being a general drain on resources. As one local school principal told me, commenting on the cutbacks in language support teachers, “it would take very little to be anti-immigrant.”

Race and skin colour are issues we cannot ignore. In the same study I conducted, stereotypes were cited regarding Africans, with Nigerians specifically being identified.

Personal examples of differential treatment were provided by black participants. Toyosi, or some of his friends or classmates, may have recognised the findings of broader research regarding discrimination in Ireland, where blacks have consistently been identified as the group who experience the most discrimination.

While children were depicted by both migrant and Irish participants in a positive light in the research, as a positive force capable of breaking down barriers and overcoming difference, including skin colour, some caution was expressed regarding how they are treated. One Nigerian participant, who made reference to the 2005 riots in France, spoke of Irish society currently “breeding rebels”, referring to black children who in the future “will complain”, “will ask for what rightly belongs to them”, and will point to their parent who “slaved for this country . . . You might treat their parents with disrespect or disdain”, he warned, “but their children . . .”

Interestingly, the issue of racism and discrimination was also raised by Irish participants who spoke of what they perceive as the unfair treatment of white children in local school settings in a disadvantaged area.

Migration in all its various forms is not something that is going to disappear, even in recessionary times; rather it will remain a permanent feature of Irish society. The composition of the Irish nation in the 21st century, no longer white and homogeneous, if it ever was, requires a critical examination to move to a more inclusive definition.

The State has a role to play in fighting racial discrimination but the funding cut-backs in the Equality Authority budget in 2008 and the complete erasure of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (the NCCRI) do not bode well for the fight against racism.

The Government cannot afford to be complacent, in particular in light of the current economic circumstances – indeed migrant participants I interviewed in Blanchardstown traced changes in attitudes towards themselves primarily to the economic downturn.

There is a need on a local level to hear the voices of people such as Toyosi’s friends, cited in newspaper articles in recent days, regarding their treatment in Irish society – and perhaps a public forum for reasoned debate and exchange among the Irish and migrant population.

The rapid transformation that the Blanchardstown area has experienced, and looks set to continue experiencing, particularly the marked demographic changes, has challenged the work of local agencies and service providers who are very cognisant of the diversity of the local community. Good work continues to be done every day at the local level and by Fingal County Council that takes this diversity into account. While the Government has introduced a Minister for Integration, this is an area, even in our current economically challenged times that demands more attention, effort and resources to head off potentially much more costly challenges down the line.

Dr Bríd Ní Chonaill is a lecturer in the department of humanities at Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. Her Blanchardstown research, Perceptions of Migrants and their Impact on the Blanchardstown area: Local Views, was conducted in 2008-09

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