Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Africans’ tales of acceptance in Ireland are heartening

Column: There was no suggestion of racism on the part of Irish officialdom, just of a distinct lack of sympathy for the plight of the individual

By David Adams
The Irish Times, May 9, 2013

It was soon apparent that the women had no intention of saying only what they thought their audience might like to hear. When I had raised this as a concern on the way in from Dún Laoghaire, my companion, Jane, a good friend and work colleague, shook her head: “No, I think they’ll grab the opportunity to tell their stories.” And so they did.
The opportunity Jane spoke of was provided by the Irish section of Awepa (Association of European Parliamentarians With Africa) which had invited a number of African women living in Ireland to Leinster House to relate some of their experiences since taking up residency here. Jane and I had been asked along as observers.
More on another occasion about the sterling work of Awepa’s Irish section, but just to say it is among the most active in Europe, thanks in part to funding from Irish Aid that has allowed it to employ a full-time staff member, Simon Murtagh.
It was a small, relaxed gathering, sympathetically chaired by the head of Irish Awepa, Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan. There were seven African women in attendance – from Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Uganda – and a number of TDs. Simon and I were the only males present.

Helpful garda
Josephine, a young mother of three from Ghana, began by telling us how a neighbour used to regularly throw soiled nappies into her back garden: “No matter how often I asked her to stop, she would just laugh and keep doing it.” Josephine tried ringing the local Garda­ station, but despite being repeatedly assured an officer would visit her house, none ever appeared.
Eventually, in tears, she went to the station and explained the situation to an off-duty inspector. He couldn’t have been more helpful. “Right, we’ll soon sort this out,” he said. Within an hour he had spoken to the neighbour, and there was no more dumping of nappies over the fence.
The gardaí­ fared very well at the meeting, although a bit of training on cultural differences wouldn’t go amiss. The women recited instances of borderline racist attitudes by a few officers, but there was certainly no suggestion of institutionalised racism, or anything close to that. Moreover, it is a great source of comfort to the women that members of the Irish police force, unlike their African counterparts, can be so readily held accountable.
Unfortunately, other institutions of the State did not fare quite so well as the Garda. Again there was no suggestion of racism on the part of Irish officialdom, just of a distinct lack of sympathy for the plight of the individual.
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