In an extensive investigation into the issue of Orange Walks in Glasgow, David Leask of The Herald spoke with a range of figures who offered their perspectives on a subject which gained greater scrutiny than it ever has in the recent past after a turbulent summer.
Canon Tom White, the victim of an assault as he stood outside St Alphonsus Church following the celebration of Mass, and Jeanette Findlay, the Chair of Call It Out: the campaign against antiCatholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism, were among those Mr Leask spoke to as he canvassed politicians, academics and campaigners to understand the various perspectives which are informing the debate.
His work was illuminating for those who are concerned about the summertime activities of the loyal orders and others on the streets of Scotland, but among the analyses of the issue and its roots in and effects on Scottish society lay a gem from nil By Mouth’s Dave Scott.
Seemingly seeking to undermine Call It Out’s much-needed efforts to challenge anti-Irish racism, Mr Scott asked: “as an Irish person myself, is there an Irish community in Scotland?”
This was a question, remember, which is posed by a man who thinks about such issues for a living.
If there is no Irish community in Scotland, then we at The Irish Voice have been wasting our time for the last five and a half years. If there is no Irish community in Scotland then the many Irish cultural bodies and associations are indulging in a fantasy. If there is no Irish community in Scotland then the families who form that community and who for generations have kept alive that culture and maintained their link to Ireland are very foolish indeed.
Of course, here the foolish ones may also be Dave Scott and his organisation. In fact, that seems the likelier option when you consider a statement of such monumental stupidity and arrogance. Those are strong words, but a strong response is required to the question Mr Scott posed.
He is seeking to act as a gatekeeper, identifying himself as Irish while closing the door on a community which wishes to do the same, placing the Irish community into a sectarianism framework where they do not wish to be and do not belong in order to satisfy his own agenda and that of his organisation.
It is hard to take seriously a man who on the one hand proclaims his very welcome desire to remove from our society mindless hatred, prejudice and discrimination yet on the other hand has the gall to dictate to a minority group how they should be identified and the rules by which they should play the equality game.
Recognition and identification
We can deal with Mr Scott’s query over the existence of an Irish community in Scotland by asking: who has the responsibility to ask for such recognition and who can grant it? I do not see other communities having to ask for this same privilege.
In fact, Scotland is generally—and rightly—able to recognise the obvious existence of communities which form this society. Italians, Poles, Pakistanis and Lithuanians do not have to fight to be identified as such, much less seek approval for their ethnic and national identification from an anti-sectarianism organisation.
The Irish community, however, must constantly justify its own existence. Despite being multigenerational, talented and highly motivated and sharing our culture openly and willingly with other communities it is clear that there is a stumbling block around our identification with Ireland and Irishness.
Too often our Irishness is either dismissed—as in the ‘plastic Paddy’ comments of Mhairi Black MP—or used as a tool to question our attitude to Scotland or even our right to live, work and build our lives here, as seen in the knuckle-dragging ‘why don’t you go home?’ narrative, which has been so en vogue in recent years.
There is in a large section of Scottish society a lack of understanding and respect for a community of people who have been born here, will die here, contribute to society here and will achieve the great milestones of their lives here, but who identify with Ireland and feel—to greater or lesser degrees—some form of Irishness.
An identification with Ireland is not a slight on Scotland. It is possible—clearly—to feel positively and affectionately towards Scotland, while in your heart honouring the history of your family and community by maintaining your connection with a country that—beginning in the grip of devastating hunger and continuing through subsequent waves of economic migration—has sent her children to the four corners of the earth.
A very peculiar challenge
The Irish in Scotland are not an anomaly as an immigrant community for refusing to break their link with ‘the old country’—a behaviour completely typical of immigrant communities around the globe. Rather, the attitude present in Scottish society of studiously and wilfully failing to understand that an immigrant community may possess its own characteristics, its own culture and its own identity when looking at the Irish community in Scotland is an unusual position for a host nation to display.
When such questioning comes from someone identifying as an Irish person themselves it becomes even more bizarre. When it comes from someone who seeks to affect policy on such issues it stops becoming bizarre and starts becoming dangerous.
Naturally the immigrant communities mentioned here (and others) face challenges of their own—some shared with the Irish community and others quite distinct—but they do not face a challenge to the very fact of their existence.
At a time when the fight against anti-Irish racism has a new weapon in the form of the Call It Out campaign, we must treat with suspicion any attempts to solve the problem of anti-Irish racism not by changing attitudes and demonstrating the realities of hateful behaviours, but by solving the problem of the Irish community.
If there is no community then it can’t experience racism; if there are no victims then there can have been no crime—and anti-sectarianism efforts can continue their strategies. unchallenged by the fact that the Irish community in Scotland is disproportionately affected by hate crime, poverty, ill-health, poor housing, unemployment and imprisonment.
Who has the duty to seek out this sort of recognition? No-one. Other communities do not have to beg to be recognised, and nor should we. Who can grant this recognition? Certainly not Dave Scott and nil By Mouth.