Reporting a nonsensical charge of racism between a Conservative Councillor and a union rep of Irish extraction, the Telegraph has allowed its online readership to revel in an orgy of Irish-bashing jokes. I’m not for one minute surprised.
The councillor in question made a harmless Irish joke in the general direction of a Unison rep, who has since taken things rather too far, involving a conciliation tribunal and thousands of pounds in compensation. (Personally, if a Tory public representative made an anti-Irish comment in my general direction, I’d respond with every word on the BBC’s no-no list and end in a flourish of complex hand gestures. I would not run to ACAS seeking reparation).
I don’t believe the councillor was being racist in the true sense of the word. Vaguely xenophobic, certainly. And possibly stereotypical of many conservative people of a certain age. But I don’t think the interchange was deserving of a compensation claim, which is ultimately paid for by the British taxpayer.
However, (and there’s always an ‘however’ with the Torygraph), in his discussion of the story, the Telegraph’s Douglas Murray has opened the paper to charges of bigotry. In the online version of the paper, the 70-plus comments that follow his piece form a litany of anti-Irish jokes, some gentle, some just plain nasty.
And they’ve been on the Telegraph’s site for four days now.
I don’t want to claim any form of racism here – after all, are we Irish a separate race? I would ask the following question though: if you were to replace the word “Irish” in all of these jokes the Telegraph feels are okay to display on its site with any other nationality or indeed racial group, would the story be still available on the internet?
I doubt it.
Does this mean the Irish are a soft target, unlike some religious or racial groups? Or more positively, does it mean that the social position of the Irish in Britain is now so much improved on the “Paddy off the boat” image of the past that people feel these jokes are no longer offensive? There are no more “No Blacks, No Irish” signs in the boarding houses, and there are many MPs and successful business professionals born of Irish parents in Britain.
The Irish no longer represent a form of underclass in this country and that can only be a good thing. However, perhaps some of these readers need a gentle reminder that it’s not that long ago that an Irish passport precluded you from the social success that is now enjoyed by contemporary Irish immigrants.