Interview: Shane Murphy – Antiroma demonstrations in Ireland
Shane Murphy is an activist from the informal initiative, Waterford Against Racism, that fights against the increase of hatred and interethnic tensions in the Irish city of Waterford. His civilian occupation is as a primary school teacher. In late October 2014, in Waterford, several hate demonstrations directed against the local Roma community occurred. We talked with Shane, on social networks, about the hatefulness, the status of Roma in Waterford and the roots of hatred. The situation in Waterford, in many ways, is very similar to the situation which prevailed in the Czech cities where anti-Roma marches and demonstrations took place.
What is happening in Waterford? And what is the intiative, Waterford Against Racism?
Our group is a free group of people who disagree with the rise of racism in society. We are trying to do something active against it. In our group there are both Irish and people of other nationalities from Waterford and the surrounding area.
The situation concerning the anti-Roma hatred has had a long development culminating in the October demonstrations. It all started at the beginning of June 2014 with the creation of the Facebook group, Waterford Against Roma. The group soon gained about 3,000 fans, which is a high number because Waterford has only about 45,000 inhabitants and the entire area of Waterford about 100 thousand inhabitants. It scared me when my Facebook friends started liking an incredibly racist group; people I know! Under the posts on the Facebook group, Waterford Against Roma, there swarmed disgustingly racist comments. Many people reported the page and Facebook removed it. They then subsequently set up a new hateful page, Get Them out of Town, that was later removed by Facebook too. Today’s version of the page is called Waterford Against Street Crime and Organized Begging.
On June 11th we organized a public meeting on the situation in Waterford. It was attended by about 100 local people. Afterward, it was a quiet summer. The situation escalated in October, sparked by a particular incident, and was followed by two hateful demonstrations.
What is the starting incident? What happened?
The lives of the Waterford Roma community changed. From what I know of the Roma, many are originally from Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. At the beginning of October, near the street where Romanian Roma live, there was a mugging. A musician who was returning home at night from a concert was attacked. The attackers could not be seen well, it was dark, but it was stated that they had “Romanian accents.” Then all hell broke loose on the social media networks. There were many “guaranteed true stories”, for example, about how Roma mothers give heroin to young children, and so on. Many now accuse the Roma of being drug dealers, but this was not stated originally.
The first anti-Roma demonstration was on Saturday 25 October, and followed by a second on Sunday evening. Both were organized on Facebook.
How was it done? What about the Roma against which the demonstration was headed?
Saturday’s demonstration was the first against the Roma, aimed at Roma living in a house on Manor Street, near the spot where the musician was attacked. There were about 30 Roma living in the house, a total of four families; one family was actually a single mother with three children under 5 years old. The house was rented using special rental terms and a non-standard lease. Business for poverty. Rent for the entire house, comparable to the Waterford area would be about € 400. Roma, however, paid rent not for the house, but as individuals. I am told that the total rent the owner collected was much higher than the normal rent for similar housing in our city. In the back yard of the house was a tool shed, where they had accommodated three other people in poor conditions.
The demonstration began on Saturday, October 25th at about half past five in the evening and was poorly organized; attended by about 200 people. The organizers had not prepared speeches and there seemed to be no real plan of action. The crowd gathered in Manor Street, across the street from the house inhabited by Roma families and chanted hateful slogans like “Out, Out, Out”, “Roma scum”, “Roma out”, and “Burn Them Out”. A group of attackers separated from the crowd and tried to break into the house from the backyard. Police, who had just arrived in large numbers, prevented them from entry and one of the attackers was arrested in the yard. Then the mob smashed windows and damaged doors of the Roma house and the police evacuated the Roma to safety.
In the beginning, at the location, there were just a few policemen. Ordinary police officers do not carry guns in Ireland. Later, the Armed Response police force arrived.
Where were the Roma evacuated?
They were taken about ten kilometers away to the town of Tramore, where they were staying in a holiday house until the morning and were guarded by armed police. They stayed there only one night, but panic broke out among some of the people of Tramore who did not agree with Roma families finding refuge in their town. They feared unnecessarily as keeping the Roma in Tramore was not the long-term plan. In the morning they were taken away to a secret location. Recently the evacuated Roma returned to Waterford.
And next, the Sunday demonstration?
On Sunday, October 26, the day after Saturday’s demonstration, some evacuated Roma reappeared in Waterford. They were there briefly, at the house where they lived, to take some clothes and personal belongings. People saw them, and the entire Waterford knew that “they’re back”. But they were there just for a short visit. In the evening, a crowd gathered again on Manor Street, this time a little smaller and again chanting hateful slogans, but in front of an empty house. Police arrived and explained to the hateful demonstration’s participants that they were chanting before an empty house. The demonstrators did not believe them so the police took one of them into the house to prove that it was really empty. The crowd decided to march to the nearby William Street, where there was another house inhabited by Roma. In front of that house, the crowd chanted hateful slogans until eleven o’clock, when it was broken up. There were stories of a third Roma house being attacked later that night.
It is quite scary…
Yes. The demonstrations in Waterford were seized on by other groups; various fascists, and nationalists alike, from far and wide. Some are already on the Internet promising to come to Waterford to support the regional racist and anti-Roma demonstrations.
Roma have become the scapegoats here, an easy target for which people frustrated with economic problems can concentrate.
What are you planning next?
Shortly after the anti-Roma demonstrations we organized our own demonstration against racism and mob violence. Members of the African and Traveller communities came to support us, which we appreciate. The general situation of the Roma in Ireland today, in many ways, resembles the situation of Travellers a few decades ago. Travellers are now more integrated into Irish society. Their situation today is much better. This gives us hope.
translated by Hakeem Smith