Alan Farrell TD: Swans?
It’s interesting to see this morning just how widespread the conviction is that Ireland’s State institutions are simply impervious to racism in Irish society.
The dominant conception of racism in Ireland is as something emanating from stupid and ignorant people. So in the case of the children taken from their family by the Gardaí, you have people who think that neither An Garda Siochana nor the HSE are at fault, but rather, the authorities had no option but to act when confronted with an alert by the member of the public. It may very well be the case, this argument goes, that the initial alert was founded upon paranoid racist fantasy, but that does not mean that the authorities should have reacted any differently in their investigations.
Let’s confront this argument. If I ring the Gardaí and tell them I suspect the child across the road is going to be hit by an asteroid tonight, will they come out and take the child to a safe place? Highly unlikely, but according to those who say the Gardaí could not have acted any different, the Gardaí would still be obliged to act in this case. After all, the child *could* be hit by an asteroid, so there is no room for discretion on the part of the Gardaí’s part, no room for using knowledge of physics or probability.
It’s only because the Gardaí considered that Roma parents abducting blond haired children is a realistic possibility, despite the complete absence of any evidence to suggest that it is, despite the fact that blond haired Roma children are quite common, despite the fact that even if one Roma family had abducted a child –and there is no evidence to suggest that this has ever happened anywhere- it would be glaringly racist to assume that another Roma family would be likely to do so, and despite the fact that the image of Roma as abductors of children is one long established as part of Europe’s shameful history of racism, that they turned up at the families’ doors.
Let’s use another example. Suppose I ring the Gardaí and tell them I suspect Alan Farrell TD has been eating the swans at Phoenix Park but have absolutely no evidence apart from the fact that he looks like a man capable of eating a swan. How likely is it that the Gardaí will act upon this, and that he will be interviewed? It is very unlikely, because in this case the Gardaí will exercise a degree of good judgment (one which you would hope would also apply if I were to tell them instead about some Chinese man I saw who looks like a man capable of eating a swan, but you can’t be sure).
The point is that no such good judgment applied in these cases because the Gardaí acted –as an institution- informed by racist attitudes vis-à-vis Roma families. The idea that the officers involved acted in “good faith”, as Justice Minister Alan Shatter put it, is besides the point – they operated in “good faith” that wild racist prejudice has a real basis in fact. All the establishment TDs, crime correspondents, former Gardaí and parties sympathetic to the authorities who have taken to the airwaves to claim that there is no evidence of institutional racism in these cases are closing rank and seeking to limit damage to the standing of white Ireland, where racism is only the preserve of ignorant individuals, not the august institutions of State that might be setting up a checkpoint at an airport or an estate near you, to hunt out the ‘welfare tourists’ and other undesirables.
One final point: the notion that a DNA sample is an ideal and appropriate instrument to use in such circumstances, so as to clear up any doubt, is also founded on the same racist prejudice. Does one have to conduct elaborate experiments in order to confirm that a child is unlikely to be hit by an asteroid?