‘Do me justice, treat me fair …’

Published in Editorial, Issue 1 (January/February 2020), Volume 28


‘They say we’re lazy and dirty got
But sure where’s the use to grumble,
And if they visit an Irish cot
They’re made welcome though ’tis humble.
But in public works the country round
Or where hard work is to be found,
In the railway tunnels underground
You’ll find the boys of Ireland.’

So goes the nineteenth-century navvy’s lament popularised by singer and collector the late (great) Frank Harte. Both Frank and the anonymous balladeer must be turning in their graves at the revelation in a survey by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission that 45% of Irish people believe that some races/ethnic groups were born harder-working than others. And in a recent sermon the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, voiced his horror at ‘the emergence of a new language of racism’ in Ireland.

Such language is nothing new to those of us familiar with the wilder reaches of the internet and social media. What has changed recently, as Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc observes in this issue’s Platform (pp 12–13), is that this on-line phenomenon has emerged into the ‘real world’ as an active protest movement. It has gained traction, moreover, in response to genuine concerns about such issues as housing, homelessness and the deep crisis in the beef cattle sector.

There are historical parallels here. In this issue’s Big Book review (pp 60–1), John Dorney reminds us that in the 1930s Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirt movement ‘lapsed into a kind of violent agrarian protest, as O’Duffy adopted the cause of farmers who objected to paying land annuities to the de Valera government’.

At the same time a sense of proportion is called for. Today’s protesting beef farmers have made it very clear what they think of the self-styled alt-right ‘patriots’ who have tried to attach themselves to their cause: ‘Farmers don’t want anything to do with them’, according to one. And in the recent by-elections Fine Gael’s Verona Murphy was not rewarded by the Wexford electorate for her dog-whistle remarks about asylum-seekers, while in Dublin Fingal the most prominent advocate of alt-right policies, Gemma O’Doherty, in spite of the massive publicity she has garnered over the past year (or perhaps because of it), could only muster 1,026 first-preference votes, 4% of the total cast.

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