Why Taoiseach Varadkar is bad for equality in Ireland
2017-06-15 11:23:18 -
This racist incident, still to be resolved by the Co Op board, is an omen of ‘I am not a racist but…’ Ireland, particularly as we are facing an ethnic minority gay Taoiseach who practically disavows the existence of racism and denigrates migrants, poor people and disabled people.

On the face of it, having supported immigration into Ireland and having been actively involved in resisting racism and discrimination of LGBT and disabled people for many years, why am I less than delighted that Ireland’s next Taoiseach is the son of an Indian migrant and an openly gay man?
After all, Ireland’s record of electing ethnic minority politicians is very poor. Apart from three Jewish TDs, a single Muslim TD and a couple of African and Traveller local politicians, Ireland has consistently upheld white supremacy, while protesting its non-racialism and continuing to incarcerate asylum seekers in direct provision hell holes and to treat migrants as mere economic commodities who must emulate ‘our culture’.
Examining Varadkar’s record of focusing on welfare fraud, calling to send home migrants who have become unemployed, not allowing gay parents to adopt children, calling for mentally disabled people pay for their incarceration in the Central Mental Hospital, and pushing migrants and refugees to accept ‘Irish culture’ explains why I am so opposed to this (unelected, remember) gay son of an Indian doctor becoming Taoiseach, well beyond my general distaste for Fine Gael’s reactionary conservatism.
For many migrants, Varadkar’s rise sounds like the immigrant’s dream come true. But according to Dublin-born half-Asian Dean van Nguyen, writing in The Irish Times, there is no reason to get excited by a man who has shown little interest in migrants or in Ireland’s racial issues.
“I’m somebody who thinks immigration is beneficial,” said Vardkar while Minister for Health in a previous government. “I’m in charge of a health service that is heavily influenced and dependent on migrants, doctors and nurses form overseas. So I’m somebody who believes it is good for our economy and society.” At that same time, he was calling for the deportation of unemployed ‘foreign nationals’ who should be offered three or four months benefits if they agreed to go home and forego benefits beyond that.
These suggestions, Van Nguyen argues, “fed into the trite typecasting that people come to Ireland only to claim benefits, while also undermining all immigrants’ hopes of being accepted in their new homes.”
While Varadkar did support accepting a small number of refugees from Syria (in fact, only 760 out of the promised 4,000 Syrian and other refugees arrived in Ireland in 2016), he’s shown that he sees immigration merely as ‘beneficial’ to Irish State and society and has warned about cultural differences, claiming that people will come to Ireland to work but will actually look down on our culture and look down on our freedoms and liberalisms and think they are wrong.
For me, Varadkar’s insistence that being the son of a migrant is meaningless signifies what Alana Lentin calls ‘post racialism’: “Declarations of the end of race ignores the continuing impact of racism upon socio-economic inequality in racial states.”
She argues that post-racialism, closely linked to culturalist solutions to problems seen as originating from excessive cultural diversity, is firmly set within the history of modern racism. That’s even knowing most people in Ireland prefer to ignore it, insisting despite evidence to the contrary that they are not racist, but that ‘Irish culture’ is endangered by all those immigrants and foreigners.
Varadkar will thus be the first post-racial Taoiseach, whose drawbridge mentality insists that while his own migrant father had worked so hard during the ‘tough’ 1980s, today’s migrants should work just as hard and emulate ‘our’ culture, and when becoming unemployed should go back home. That’s because, as he proudly stated in his election campaign video, it’s “all about hard work and ambition”.
Dr Ronit Lentin is retired as Associate Professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin.
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