Friday, March 25, 2005

Michael McDowell, Olukunle Eluhanla and Irish Attitudes to Race and Immigration

An Spailpín's spidey sense detects no small amount of back-slapping and smug satisfaction in the media over Minister for Justice Michael McDowell's decision to rescind his earlier deportation order on Nigerian student Olukunle Eluhanla. Mr Eluhanla will now be allowed back to Ireland to complete his Leaving Cert, that famously cruel exam which most of our own young people would go overseas to avoid, although what happens to him after he completes his Leaving Cert remains a matter for conjecture.

An Spailpín remarked to a prescient friend once upon a time that one of the marvellous things about the Irish was our remarkable innate politness, that we never insulted a man or hurt his feelings if we could help it. Same friend curled his lip and corrected my observation to saying that the Irish never insult a man to his face - once his back is turned we have no problems declaring him a blot on the landscape and a menace to all.

So it is with our immigrants. The media cheerleading for multi-cultural Ireland (which means multi-cultural Dublin, of course - you'll still be waiting for your plate of couscous when you stop off at Mother Hubbard's on your way back down the country) is not reflected in the attitude of actual people, who, as that poll on TV3 last night showed, think that unicultural Ireland is just fine, actually. They are loathe to admit it in case people don't think they're sound, but the populace in general thinks that Africans belong in Africa, and not in Artane or Athlone.

Unless the situation is personified in the form of Mr Eluhanla, of course. Then it's all a case of what can we do to save the poor craytur, who has only one dream in life, that of five honours in the Ardteist. Then it's time to break in twain the galling chain and bring Olukunle home. Eamon Dunphy is wrong in his analysis that the public outcry in favour of Olukunle Eluhanla proves that the nation is not inherently rascist - it just proves that there is no rule in Ireland that does not have an exception.

This duality on the Irish nation's part was best explained to An Spailpín by a man he knew in New York many eons ago, a man called Frank, and appropriately so. Frank was a philosopher, and few were the points of life on which Frank did not have an opinion, frankly expressed.

Frank thought that if a black man arrived in Frank's home town in the West of Ireland, the black man would be the most popular man in the town. Everybody would want to be his friend, because he was so different and so cool. Nobody would be able to stop themselves from buying him pints and talking to him about life in the bush. It'd be just fantastic.

If a second black man turned up, that'd be just great too. The people would know that it had to be lonely for Sambo knocking around the town on his own with no-one to talk to about the lions and tigers back home, and now he has a buddy who understands the bush just like Sambo does.

And then a third black guy arrives in the town, and when three of them go down to the local for a couple of pints of an evening - when in Rome you know - the boys would look up from their pints, say "Jesus Christ, would you look at those fucking niggers," and resume the position once again.

Three was the threshold figure for Frank - I've often wondered what it is for Longford. I get the quesy feeling we'll find out one terrible morning though, and then Pat and Marian and Joe will spend the day wringing their hands and wondering how this could ever have happened. Big mystery alright.

One final point - Sham Shmyth has some interesting reflections on the longer reaching implications of Mr McDowell's changing of his mind. Sham administers the customary Dublin media belt of the crozier for those who have their reservations about the imigrant population coming here: "They conveniently ignore the fact that many areas of the services industry such as restaurants and hotels, not to mention retail stores, would grind to a halt if they did not have non-national staff to call upon."

I know for a fact that Sham is not a racist - he couldn't go on half as many junkets to New York if he was - but doesn't his services and retail stores grinding to a halt argument mean that the only reason immigrants should be here is so that the indiginous population have someone to supply them with cigarettes and change their linen on weekends away? What if immigrants coming here don't want to skivvy for the next forty years - how many honours do you need in your Leaving for that? If an immigrant doesn't fancy handing stacking loaves of Brennan's bread in Spar in Milltown does that mean that we, the State, leave him in Lagos to Hell?

If the only reason we're allowing the level of immigration we are is to keep retail stores and restaurants ticking over, does that mean that if you as an immigrant don't want to waitress or chambermaid that we as a nation don't want to have anything to do with you? That is the logical conclusion - if a wave of immigrants arrive who just want to study Irish say, the retail stores and restaurants are nicely buggered, aren't they? Do we have to launch a probe to Mars to see if we can have a few little green men behind the till in Centra? Have we thought this one through at all, or should An Spailpín Fánach just stick to bluffing Gaelic football and writing badly in Irish?

Happy Easter one and all.