Scully should quit local councils following outburst

 

OPINION:The Naas mayor’s case shows public officials have a responsibility in what they do and say

ON MONDAY night the then mayor of Naas, Councillor Darren Scully, spoke to Niall Boylan of Classic Hits 4FM to get some feelings off his chest that had been disturbing him for some time. He said: “As a public representative, I have been met with aggressiveness and bad manners, so after a while I made a decision that I was just not going to take on representations from black Africans, that I would be very courteous to them and I would pass on their query to other public representatives.”

He added: “Everything I do as a councillor is for the general good . . . It saddens me that people would call me a racist, because I’m not.”

In doing this, Scully, however, did not indicate any problem with aggressive Irish people or bad manners from people of other nationalities. While we all feel stress from time to time and it can be good to talk, in this case he would have been better off to have discussed the matter with party colleagues or his family.

We can recognise that public representatives face challenges in their roles. They are supposed to represent all the people, and quite often individuals approach politicians when they are in distress. Of course some people are just difficult, and even a public representative should not have to deal with demanding and aggressive constituents.

Scully’s resignation as mayor of Naas is welcome, but he should also consider his position as an elected councillor on both Naas Town Council and on Kildare County Council. Public representatives have a particular responsibility with regards to what they do and what they say.

The reaction to the declaration that he would not represent people from black African backgrounds was phenomenal. It was also noticeable there was considerable support for his views. Many of the comments were along the lines of “I am not a racist, but” and “Some of my best friends are black”. Others do not give such qualifications.

Scully’s comments have served to bring the issue of racism onto the mainstream media agenda. The discussion has been one of the biggest stories this week in Ireland and has featured in the international media.

Ireland is an increasingly diverse society, and this diversity has been crucial to helping attract some of the top international companies to locate operations here. So, for economic as well as social reasons, there can be no place for racism in Ireland.

The problem is on the rise in this country, but incidents are not being reported. I refer to under-reporting because the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration records just over 100 racist incidents a year, while the police in the United Kingdom record more than 100,000 incidents a year.

Recent research by the Immigrant Council of Ireland has found racism is a routine experience for immigrant and particularly black immigrant public transport workers. Research by NUI Galway has also found racism a prevalent feature of other workers’ interacting with the public, including, for instance, taxi drivers.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland found 45 per cent of their members had heard or witnessed racist comments in the month before their conference in 2010. Show Racism the Red Card recently launched a Racist Incident Report Card calling for people to use our website to report incidents. On receipt of reports we offer advice to complainants.

We have reports of racism in the workplace, with employers threatening employees who speak their own languages, of landlords sending abusive texts to potential tenants and cases of antisocial behaviour in neighbourhoods, in which racism features.

Racism can be tackled with a range of measures including amendment of legislation for increased sentencing over racism as an aggravating factor in crime. Alongside enforcement of penalties, there is a need for education about racism among the public and particularly among young people across Ireland.

Show Racism the Red Card is primarily a project aimed at educating young people about the problem, and how they can respond. Through harnessing the profile and role model status of top sports stars in Ireland such as hurler Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Ireland soccer international Kevin Kilbane and Derry City player Éamon Zayed, we have been successfully effecting a change in attitudes among young people.

Hopefully the debate arising from Scully’s comments will effect such a change in the wider population in Ireland – and in particular among our politicians.


Garrett Mullan is co-ordinator for Show Racism the Red Card- an education initiative set up to tackle racism in sport and society. www.theredcard.ie