Racism in Ireland draws attention

Racism and xenophobia in Ireland are drawing fresh attention.

The New York Times published an op-ed about the case of Una-Minh Kavanagh, a native of Vietnam adopted at six-weeks-old by a Kerry woman. Now in her early 20s, Kavanagh was shaken and spat upon by a group of teenagers in Dublin as others watched without taking action.

Kavanaugh published her version of the story in The Irish Times in June:

I don’t believe Ireland is a racist society, but racists live among us. People are living in ignorance not just in Dublin but across the country.

In his op-ed piece, David Conrad wrote that Kavanaugh’s story raises “new and uncomfortable questions about racism and identity on the Emerald Isle.”

Ireland, like the rest of the world, has changed dramatically with the rise in global migration. Seventeen percent of Irish citizens were born outside of the country. Yet the Irish have been markedly slow — politically, socially and legally — to recognize foreign-born citizens as fellow Irish men and women.

Conrad is wrong about such questions being new. I wrote about this issue more than four years ago in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As is the case in other parts of the world during any period of history, racism and xenophobia are usually driven by economic fears. Conrad seems to miss this reality.

In Ireland, unemployment remains over 13 percent. The rate spikes to more than 31 percent among men 25 or younger and over 25 percent among women in the same age group. That’s who attacked Kavanaugh.

That doesn’t excuse racism, but Conrad shouldn’t be so surprised that intolerance is on the rise more than four years on in Ireland’s economic downturn.