Racism verdict could be counter-productive

22nd September 2000

IF I got on a bus and the bus driver called me a culchie and told me to go back to Cavan, it is very unlikely that the driver would end up in court, facing a prison sentence.

Yet this is what is happening to a bus driver who has been found guilty of abusing a black bloke in Lucan.

There may have been some extenuating circumstances but it seems clear to me that the sole reason the bus driver is in hot water is down to the race of the abusee.

I’m not all that worried about a man that uses racist abuse getting his comeuppance but I am worried about the possible effect it might have on public opinion.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some popular sympathy for the driver and that the case exacerbated negative opinions about foreigners among a section of the population.

In my view the driver should not have been charged under any race law. What he did was clearly abusive and unacceptable under any circumstances and he should have been charged accordingly.

There is a very important principle here to be thrashed out and if we get it right it will save us a lot of the heartache that most other western countries have gone through.

The principle is whether discrimination should be tackled by direct action. If you think it should then you’re in favour of affirmative action programmes, race relation laws and positive discrimination.

If you think, like me, that direct action is not the right approach, then you favour general anti-discrimination laws and secondary (as opposed to positive) discrimination.

For example, direct action would involve a quota of women, black people, disabled people, etc, for the Garda or the Civil Service.

I believe that such quotas are in themselves unfair and create a backlash against the people they are supposed to serve.

I’m much more in favour of secondary discrimination. For example, the Department of Education have a programme where some schools in severely deprived areas are given extra teachers.

These children then enjoy lower class sizes. It won’t directly favour them over other children as they have huge disadvantages to start with and no-one presenting themselves for a job is directly discriminated against.

In the case of the Garda, instead of quotas there could be publicly funded research into why women don’t apply and the conditions of employment varied accordingly.

The central point is that people must be treated as individuals. No-one must be disadvantaged because the group they belong to were more successful in the past.

The experience from other countries is that the anti-racist laws and agencies cause a lot of resentment and contempt. Much public support for the right wing is drawn from these attempts to shortcut social progress.

There is an inherent human resentment against the ‘outsider’. The outsiders of today are minorities and women.

Many women taking up roles traditionally occupied by men were characterised as “hard bitches” or “she-men”. Change brought resentment. How much harder those women would have had it if they were installed as token women rather than on their own merits?

I must say that the evidence given by black people here as to their treatment on the street is appaling and sickening. The word “nigger” causes something to drop into the pit of my stomach over and above most other insults.

But still, the people who use that word should be hauled up under general legislation.

I’m not arguing for an instant that they should be let away with it and I have said before that the general population has a role to play here. If you hear someone being abused racially let the abuser know that they don’t speak for you.

The legislation is on the books. So be it. But practice is often more important than the letter of the law. Let’s not construct a race relations industry by calling a crime by any other name than it is.


As well as that…

The farmers must be sick

As I sat trundling along the M50 at five miles per hour following a truckers’ convoy, I couldn’t help thinking that the farmers must believe that someone is out to get them.

You might remember how the IFA ended up paying £250,000 a day for ignoring a court order not to block access to meat factories.

Compare this with the treatment the truckers got. Our convoy (do you like the “our”) was accompanied by what looked suspiciously like a Garda escort.

A few weeks back, thousands of commuters were stranded when rail workers picketed bus depots. The guards only got involved when the CIE boardroom got blocked.

Do you see a pattern emerging here?

Apparently, it all depends on who calls the guards. The lads will be round in a jiffy if your trade is meat or if you’re a company executive.

When the broader public is left stranded, no-one, it appears, ever invokes the law on our behalf.

At least I was only five minutes late. The farmers were out the best part of a million quid for an action that didn’t inconvenience one member of the public.

I suppose when it comes to the farmers you could say the stakes were higher.