Anti-Irish abuse in England

Return of anti-Irish prejudice in Britain?


Poster advertising Saturday’s “anti-IRA” march in Liverpool

Last week saw the announcement of an “anti-IRA” march in Liverpool by
hardline English Defence League splinter group the North West Infidels
(NWI), a far-right street protest movement. The march is an
anachronism, a feeble attempt by the far-right to relive past
‘glories’ – but if you scratch beneath the surface of English society
anti-Irish prejudice still lurks.

Thousands of Irish people have emigrated to England over the last
three years. They’ve arrived in the country with over 600,000 Irish
born citizens, but are quite often completely unaware of the
difficulties past generations faced moving here.

Occasionally you may notice the signs of a previous tension; a total
stranger might approach you in the pub upon hearing your accent to let
you know their relative was killed while serving in the North, as if
you were to blame or should apologise.

For me the soft face of anti-Irish sentiment first hit home when
people began to leave comments under articles I’ve written suggesting
it’s time for me to move home and hand my job and house over to a
British person. I felt it was my own fault for venturing below the

It turns out I’m not alone. British-born journalist Brendan O’Neill
regularly receives “Paddy-bashing’” abuse for simply having an Irish
surname and occasionally speaking out against “Catholic-bashing”.

This Saturday Liverpool’s Irish community had planned to march against
racism. The event is organised by the James Larkin Society with the
hope of countering the worrying rise in far-right activity targeting
Muslims, trade unionists and Irish republican groups living in the
north of England.

Outraged by the prospect the North West Infidels have called for their
own protest billed as “Stop the IRA march in Liverpool”, despite the
event having nothing to do with the IRA.

The poster in red, white and blue boldly declares: “Over the past
several years the city of liverpool and north west england has seen
the rise of anti-British feeling projected on them by immigrant
families from the republic of Ireland.”

The rhetoric is laughable, but it’s being backed up with physical force.

“These people are much like the Islamics. They take take take with one
hand and abuse their host nation with the other. They openly support
sinn fien [sic] and the irish republican army and we are expected to
stand by, smile and allow them to spread the hatred for britain.”

Last February, in scenes unseen since the 80s, hardline British
nationalists stopped a march commemorating Liverpool-born Republican
Sean Phelan and racially abused marchers.

The NWI, usually dedicated to harassing the Muslim community under the
pretence of protesting “extremism”, have openly expanded their remit
to include targeting Irish families.

Any sane English person would stay away, as the protest represents
something abhorrent to right-minded people, and while most Irish
immigrants have no interest taking part in an anti-racism protest or
republican commemoration, even a fringe re-emergence of anti-Irish
street marches should come as a warning to us all.

The rhetoric of groups like the English Defence League is just the
recycled racism of the 1980s when the National Front and British
Movement would stage “anti-IRA” marches as an excuse to attack and
intimidate Irish immigrants. As a consequence many Irish people moved
to the forefront of the fight against the far-right in the UK and
played a central role in beating the fascists off the streets.

The unspoken rule seems to be that Irish people are white, so
discriminating against them can’t be racist. When BBC3 screened RTE’s
documentary about Irish rappers last week the soft face of anti-Irish
prejudice quickly surfaced on Twitter:

“You should be Happy They Spitting Bars and Not Blowing up Sh*t#IRA”

“Irish rappers on bbc three!? Give it a rest, f**k off back to the
fiddle and flute you potato eating chumps!“

“Irish rappers!!…potato famine has resulted in some damage chromosomes
me thinks”

Similar Tweets about any other nationality could potentially get the
person arrested or fired from their job, but when the jokes are aimed
at the Irish it is written off as “banter”.

Brian Whelan

This is a situation helped by our love of self-deprecation and general
thick-skinned nature when taking criticism, but outbursts like the
above should not be tolerated. It’s up to us to decide when the joke

The recession has scattered an entire generation of Irish youth across
the globe, hopeful and idealistic, but ultimately abandoned by our own
government and without any networks for support. While the French
government has created new constituencies abroad to represent their
expats, Ireland withdraws support closing the RTE London office at a
time when more Irish people here need a voice than ever before.

A fractured Irish community with no connection between the old
generation and the new arrivals can make an easy target. Without a
sense of our own history anti-Irish sentiment might seem like
something that doesn’t affect you, but if left unchecked it could come
marching down your street next.

Brian Whelan is an Irish journalist living in London. He blogs at and Tweets at @brianwhelanhack.

Have you experienced anti-Irish prejudice abroad? Let us know about it
in the comments section below.