In March of this year, the results of a study into institutional racism in Ireland commissioned by Amnesty International were released at a press conference, at which leading British human rights lawyer, Imran Khan, described Ireland as being in the "dark ages" with respect to racism. The study documented hard statistical evidence of institutional racism, such as the fact that "only one per cent of non-EU doctors became consultants, even though almost half of junior doctors were from outside Europe". The Irish Times was the only newspaper to cover the launch and there was a grand total of one opinion piece written in reaction to the report, an article by Tom McGurk in the Sunday Business Post, which denounced the findings as "platitudinous and inaccurate moral indignation" by "politically correct thought police".
McGurk did not profer any evidence to challenge the report's findings, but relied primarily upon simple assertions "we are neither historically nor culturally racist", "the allegation that ? despite the extensive and comprehensive body of equality and anti-discrimination law it has enacted ? the state is still in the dark ages is simply nonsense". This article was the sum total of the newspapers' reaction to the worrying findings of the most professional, up to date and comprehensive study yet carried out on institutional racism in Ireland. The report's recommendations remain unimplemented and almost entirely unknown.
Wednesday 24 May saw a conference on Islamophobia in Dublin. The arguments and evidence presented at the conference were briefly described in both the Irish Times and Irish Independent. Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality authority, described rising evidence of "physical and verbal abuse" and some "media reporting that does stereotype muslims". Once again, the evidence and arguments put forward by this conference only merited a single reaction in the newspapers.
Liam Fay, writing in the Sunday Times, simply dismissed the conference's validity, by attacking the straw-man argument that "critics of Islam are racists". Indeed, he got so carried away as to suggest that the very existence of such a conference amounted to a modern day "witch-hunt."
One of the trademarks of Islamophobia is the irrational assumption that Muslims are particularly likely to be both fundamentalists and terrorists. A very good example of such irrationality can be found in the media coverage of the Afghan hunger-strikers. Despite the fact that the hunger-strikers were clean shaven, seeking refuge in a Christian church and denied any sympathies for the Taliban, the possibility of them being connected to the Taliban was repeatedly raised in the media. The Irish Times was the first to raise the connection ? choosing to highlight the fact that the uncle of one of the men had been a Taliban minister and the man himself had been a civil servant under the Taliban, a tenuous connection which was repeatedly raised in subsequent reporting.
The Evening Herald, on Tuesday 23 May, went further still in claiming that the hunger strike had been directed by mobile phone by "senior Taliban figures".
Mick McCaffrey's article cited anonymous "sources" as the only evidence for these claims. He failed to explain how these sources were able to so easily trace senior Taliban figures whom the US army has been hunting for years. Maybe his sources could tell us where Osama is? In any case, why would the Taliban have any interest in our asylum process? If the Garda really believe that these men are taking direct orders from the Taliban, why are they now freely walking our streets?