Hate speech: Unite warns culture of apology risks co-opting victims to assist rehabilitation

Unite logo white out of redBrendan Ogle says normalisation of hate speech a danger as by-election campaigns heat up

Union calls on Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to disassociate themselves from Fingal and Wexford candidates

November 21st:  Unite, which represents members working in all sectors, today (Thursday) said that there is a danger of hate speech becoming normalised.  Speaking in Dublin, the union’s Senior Officer in the Republic of Ireland, Brendan Ogle, also expressed concern at what he termed a culture of ‘apology, forgiveness and repetition’ which he said increasingly characterised such incidents and co-opted the victims of hate speech into the perpetrators’ rehabilitations.  Mr Ogle said that revelations of derogatory social media comments about Travellers by Fianna Fail Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee, running in the Fingal by-election, combined with repeated inflammatory statements directed against asylum seekers by Fine Gael’s Wexford candidate Verona Murphy, indicated that a discourse of hate was moving from the fringes to the political mainstream and he called for the introduction of robust hate crime legislation along the lines of that sought by the European Network Against Racism to which Unite is affiliated.

Mr Ogle was joined by Unite activists Dean Mulligan and Memet Uludag in condemning recent statements.

Noting that, as a trade union, Unite represents members of all backgrounds, Brendan Ogle said:

“We know that dividing workers on the basis of ethnicity, religion or national origin only serves to divert attention away from the right-wing policies pursued by successive governments – policies which have caused a housing emergency, over-stretched public services and chronic low pay.

“The fact that, following revelations of Senator Clifford Lee’s tweets and the statements made by Verona Murphy last weekend, both right-wing parties decided to continue supporting their by-election candidates sends a clear message:  political expediency is more important to Fine Gael and Fianna Fail than clamping down on the politics of hate.

“The qualified apologies issued by both candidates – with Senator Clifford Lee falsely pleading that her statements were made prior to entering politics and Ms Murphy claiming a ‘poor choice of words’ – have further served to normalise hate speech.   Both candidates followed up by meeting very publicly with representatives of those they had attacked, with Senator Clifford Lee meeting with Pavee Point while Ms Murphy visited a Direct Provision centre – in essence, co-opting the victims of their remarks into their rehabilitation before continuing with their campaigns as though nothing untoward has happened.

“By tolerating these statements and failing to completely disassociate themselves from these candidates, the two large parties are facilitating a culture of apology, forgiveness and – all too often – repetition”, Brendan Ogle said.

Dean Mulligan is a member of Unite’s Community branch and is contesting the Fingal by-election on behalf of Independents 4 Change.  He added:

“The language used by Senator Clifford Lee was disappointing and deeply upsetting for members of the travelling community, and coming from a high profile election candidate serves to normalise racist language which is damaging to all of us. I don’t believe that the Senator’s apology is enough, considering how damaging and demeaning her comments are and standards for election candidates should be much, much higher”. 

Unite activist Memet Uludag chairs the union’s Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Committee, where concerns about hate speech were raised at a recent meeting, and stated:

“We reject any attempts to target the Traveller Community or migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, or to scapegoat them in relation to housing, health and other social problems. Our economic and social problems are the results of government policies, and not the making of a small minority of very vulnarable people. Trade union members are united in our ambitions for a better world and we refuse to be divided by racism”, Memet Uludag said.

Concluding, Brendan Ogle said:

“Low pay, precarious work, the housing emergency and other social ills may cause alienation which unscrupulous and reactionary elements exploit, encouraging those on the economic margins to push down and attack other vulnerable groups based on race, ethnicity, religion or colour. That such reactionaries are now being joined by people seeking, and some already holding, seats in our Parliament is unforgiveable. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael should not be seeking to profit electorally from racism, bigotry and ignorance”.

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