Two events in the northern and southern parts of this island sent conflicting messages to its ethnic minorities in recent weeks.
In the Republic, the General Election results showed that anti-racism parties that defend multiculturalism are becoming stronger by increasing their seats in the Dáil. Even the bigger parties that have dominated Irish politics have allowed the transformation of Ireland’s society into a multicultural one.
The only openly racist party in Ireland, Identity Ireland, did not make the breakthrough it was hoping for. Their candidate in Cork North Central, Peter O’Loughlin, came last with a mere 0.36 percent of the vote.
Identity Ireland’s electoral failure means that political racism is not an issue in Ireland, but this does not mean that social and economic racism do not exist. Additionally, the fact that Identity Ireland is also against Ireland’s membership of the EU contributed to their failure. The Irish in general are pro-Europe and feel safer in the EU especially after the latest recession. All in all, the election results are a rejection of racism and austerity.
In Northern Ireland, however, where we are still awaiting the Stormont elections in May, an East Antrim MP from the Democratic Unionist Party, Sammy Wilson, was speaking with a member of the public while the microphone was on during filming for the BBC’s Spotlight programme about the referendum on the UK’s EU membership.
Wilson responded to the phrase “Get the ethnics out too” with “You are absolutely right.” Later he claimed that what he said was taken out of context, and that he was agreeing with what the man said previously about getting the UK out of the EU. The DUP issued a statement describing the anti-ethnic sentiment as disgraceful.
The problem, though, is that such an incident is so believable, as it’s not the first time senior members of the DUP have been accused of such comments. In 2014, in his support of racist remarks about Muslims made by Pastor James McConnell, the DUP’s former leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson made his own racist statements about Muslims, referring to them as terrorists and that he could only trust them to go to the shop for him. Another senior party member who was vocal in supporting pastor McConnell was Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots, who has held various ministerial jobs in Northern Ireland Executive.
There is an important difference between the DUP and Identity Ireland. While Identity Ireland is the Republic of Ireland’s smallest political party, without any political representatives at any level, the DUP is Northern Ireland’s largest party with representatives at all levels, including local councils, Stormont, the UK and the EU parliaments. Another important difference is that while Identity Ireland is openly a far-right party, the DUP nominally welcomes multiculturalism and has supported bringing Syrian refugees to the North. Additionally, a lot of DUP voters do not agree with their views on a number of social issues, but they vote for them because of the sectarian nature of politics in the North.
The issue becomes more complicated with parties like Ukip and TUV who stand to the right of the DUP on such matters, which might encourage some DUP politicians to move further to the right in order to appeal to a substantial minority of voters. In some cases they might even be saying what they actually believe.
Clearly there is a rejection of political racism across the island of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, however, it seems to be more complex due to the complexity of its politics, and the fight against racism is trickier.
Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast