Diverse Republic, by Bryan Fanning, UCD Press, 250 pp, €30, ISBN: 978-1910820711
Diverse Republic is a very current chronological history of diversity in Ireland, taking in such topics as politics, religion, social policy, immigration, racism, discrimination and xenophobia as they shape the ever-changing face of the country. The book also highlights the reluctance of some to accept the changes and cultural adjustments that come with the global movement of people. Through the exploration of far-right perspectives, the author explores how nationalist and nativist sentiments have created spaces for the extreme right to rise, and the resulting impact on the immigrant experience.
Through the instance of Leopold Bloom, the Irish-Jewish protagonist of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the book attempts to draw the reader into a deep reflection on the ideas of citizenship and Irishness. It investigates how minority communities have been treated throughout Irish history. Thus, the readers can draw a parallel between Huguenots, Jews, Travellers and the modern-era immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who have all been on the receiving end of abuse, discrimination and institutional racism in Ireland. The author shares his extensive knowledge of history, politics and social policy in an engaging manner, keeping the reader curious about the next chapter and even more so about current affairs.
One of the cornerstones of Fanning’s study is Irish identity. It briefly discusses the role of the Catholic church and the state; the emergence of the main political parties and the history of discrimination against ethnic minorities, starting with the treatment of Jewish people before moving on to the Travelling community, refugees and asylum seekers in direct provision centres and following this timeline up to the present day to demonstrate how racism, discrimination and xenophobia are still prevalent in Irish society.
The book seeks to inform its audience about the attitudes adopted by Irish political leaders towards ethnic minorities in Ireland. Arguing the need for proactive social policy measures which encourage ethnic minority participation in Irish society, it also shines a light on lack of political participation, language barriers, persistent institutional racism and the difficulties faced in accessing the Garda, courts, civil services, schools and other public institutions.
In the chapter titled “The Umbrella of Citizenship”, the author quotes Leopold Bloom, when he refers to a nation as: “the same people living in the same place (…) or also living in different places”. Bloom was not considered by some to be a citizen, despite being born in Ireland. Similarly many other people born in Ireland have been denied citizenship because of the 2004 referendum which provided for the stipulation that at least one parent must be an Irish citizen. As a result, many people born and raised here have been deported, with only a few cases making the headlines over the years. Many residents, furthermore, cannot vote, not only those whose parents are not Irish, but the vast majority of non-Europeans and even resident EU citizens. The author states that “citizenship is a prerequisite to integration, but not all citizens can be presumed to be integrated”.
Even though immigrants live, work and pay taxes in Ireland, they are prevented from exercising political participation. They thus have no voice to change the issues which directly impact their own lives. The author points out that: “societies are still relying on the thin notion of EU citizenship – one that conferred mobility rights but not the right to vote”. In like manner, British citizens made the decision to leave the European Union, while immigrants had no opportunity to take part in the decision-making process. Many of them had to leave that country as a result.
This disenfranchisement of immigrants leads to vulnerability, particularly those who came from non-European Union countries, and even more so those such as refugees and asylum seekers, who are fleeing persecution. The author points out that they are commonly: “seen as a burden” by Irish government and society. The direct provision system is only one example of institutional racism in Ireland. Not only does it prevent refugees and asylum seekers from integrating and contributing to society but it continues the tragic legacy of punitive institutionalisation in Ireland.
In the chapter “Inclusive Communities and Social Cohesion”, the author identifies the biggest challenges to inclusion and social cohesion not as immigration but coming from the “wealth and circumstances of groups”. Fanning uses Ballyhaunis as an example of a cosmopolitan town with direct provision centres and a high percentage of immigrants. According to the 2016 census, the non-Irish-born population is over 17 per cent. Some small Irish towns have a higher proportion of immigrants than others, driven by the needs of meat processing factories, which recruit immigrants from abroad into their workforces.
Diverse Republic tackles the topics of localism, identity and citizenship with skill. It stresses the fact that people in Ireland commonly “ask one another where they are from and to trace the connections they have to a locality”, which is directly connected with who belongs. The author further explains the nuances which allow for both inclusive localisms. Where communities embrace immigrants and unite in efforts to prevent deportations; and exclusionary localism, determined to prevent immigrants moving into an area.
Direct provision centres are usually established in former hotels or hostels and managed by commercial operators. In 2019, there were two arson attacks on premises intended as accommodation for asylum seekers, while the car of one Sinn Féin TD was set on fire outside his home after he condemned the attacks and intolerance of the far right. The rise of the right, its widespread use of misinformation tactics and the way the movement tries to radicalise people is discussed in depth over three consecutive chapters: “Buying on Nativism”, “White Irish Nationalisms” and “Irish Far-right Perspectives”.
Undoubtedly it is crucial to have resources such as this book to inform readers about the establishment of these groups, and the reasons why societies may give room to them. However, in the opinion of this reader, a member of a minority community, the book was less successful in those three consecutive chapters focusing on nativism, nationalism and far-right perspectives. These chapters detail the main stakeholders’ backgrounds, their behaviour towards immigrants, and major events they have organised and attended. Moreover, it also goes into detail on some of their high-profile attacks and hate campaigns, which one may find difficult to relive.
Another aspect of the book that fell short for me is the somewhat simplified comparison between vulnerable groups. The chapter “Making Ireland Modern”, analyses the country’s shift from rural to urban society, and the displacement of the Travelling People. Then it refers to the political problem: “on a much smaller scale, the unwanted rural poor who flocked to the shanty towns and ‘favelas’ of South American cities”. This does not account for the complexities of racial dynamics in the majority Afro-Brazilian “favelas” which, built on a tangled history of slavery, racism, colonially imposed debt and social control is not directly comparable to the social forces and racism that disrupted the traditional way of life of the Travelling community.
This book is a solid, accessible foundational text for newcomers to the subject and a useful resource for everyone on the struggles of ethnic minorities in Ireland, including information about the rise of the far-right movement, their modus operandi and impact on society. Reading it would benefit everyone who lives here, particularly white Irish people who may not be fully aware of the never-ending oppression and institutional racism faced by ethnic minorities. As the author observes: “The republic of Ireland is said to be one of the most globalised countries in the world, yet it is still influenced by nationalism.”
Jane Xavier is a Brazilian activist, Black feminist and social scientist who has lived in Ireland for more than fifteen years.