I’ve written in the past about European countries being forced to confront racism and xenophobia, which is especially the case in nations where large scale immigration is making the countries more ethnically and racially diverse. One of the latest countries confronting discrimination is Ireland. Unlike many other Western European countries, Ireland was never colonial power. In places, like France, Spain, and Britain many immigrants are coming from former colonies, but since Ireland didn’t have colonies, Irish immigration is a little less predictable. Nevertheless, Ireland is facing some of the same problems as other European countries. Many Irish people do not accept the new immigrants, and this is especially true for Black immigrants, who come mostly from West African countries like Nigeria.
Traditionally, Ireland has been a country of emigrants.1 Given this fact, it should be no surprise that there are more people of Irish descent in the US alone than there are in Ireland, but in a surprising twist of fate, the trend is beginning to reverse.2 With Irish birth rates above replacement level and a new wave of immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, Ireland is actually gaining more people than it is losing. Some hope that this will contribute to growth in the Irish economy, which has been one of the weakest economies in western Europe.
Right now, there is little research on this trend, and the manifestations of anti-immigrant attitudes and racism come to light with stories this one. The gist of the story is that in a suburb of Dublin nearly all of the approximately 90 children who couldn’t find a school to attend were black kids.
The children will attend a new, all-black school, a prospect that educators called disheartening.
About 90 children could not find school places in the north Dublin suburb of Balbriggan , a town of more than 10,000 people with two elementary schools. Local educators called a meeting over the weekend for parents struggling to find places and said they were shocked to see only black children.
“That overwhelmed me. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I just find it extremely concerning,” said Gerard Kelly, principal of a school with a mixture of black and white students in the nearby town of Swords.
The parents at Saturday’s meeting in a Balbriggan hotel said they had tried to get their children into local schools but were told that all places had to be reserved by February.
Almost all of the children are Irish-born and thus Irish citizens, under a law that existed until 2004.
There is no way this is merely a coincidence, especially when a neighboring town has mixed schools. It should be noted that they are not starting a school that only admits black pupils, like this poorly worded headline from The Times Online suggests. The school is made up overwhelmingly of black children because those children “mysteriously” were not allowed to enter many of the local schools.
Part of the problem is that the Irish government allows schools to discriminate on the basis of religion, which ends up being a form of indirect institutional racism.
About 98 percent of schools are run by the Roman Catholic Church, and the law permits them to discriminate on the basis of whether a prospective student has a certificate confirming they were baptized into the faith. Some of the African applicants were Muslim, members of evangelical Protestant denominations or of no religious creed.
Since many immigrants are not Catholic, these schools were allowed to not accept them without a Catholic baptism certificate. It is difficult to know how many black children who were Catholic were also excluded. I know many of the African children are Nigerian, and many Christian Nigerians are Catholic, so I’d be curious to see how much religious discrimination and racial discrimination overlapped in this case. Clearly, this is a great case for the separation of church and state, and this is an issue that the Irish will have to confront as they become a multicultural nation.
I suspect that the 2004 referendum changing laws that allow parents of Irish citizen children to also become citizens is part of an anti-immigrant backlash. It will also be interesting to see how the role of the Catholic church changes because of immigration. They may lose some power. Ireland can’t call itself democratic when 98% of their schools are run in an openly discriminatory fashion.
Over the next few years, I expect to see more stories on discrimination like the case in Balbriggan. Hopefully, we will see more pro-immigrant organizations developing from ethnic Irish and immigrants.
- Emigration with an “e” refers to people exiting the country. This is how I teach the words in class: Immigration with an “i” means into and emigration “e” means exit. [↩]
- Unfortunately, this article is now a paying article, but I was able to read in my New York Times home delivery. [↩]