according to Alan Ruddock in the Sunday Times,
is a term of abuse in Turkey used to signify a fool,
supposedly because anybody can eat one. That Conor
Lenihan might easily lay claim to the label he seeks
to stick on others, or flawlessly personate a buffoon
in the eyes of many who have the misfortune of attending
the same conferences he does, should prove insufficient
to win him a fool's pardon for the racist jibe he
hurled the way of Joe Higgins in the Dail. In telling
the Socialist Party TD to 'stick with the kebabs'
he unleashed a double salvo, one at each of his
targets. He sought to attack the Turkish community
in Ireland while aiming to undermine those who would
fight the corner of people severely disadvantaged
in the lopsided Kingdom of Conor.
Higgins has distinguished himself by working on
behalf of Turkish migrant workers. He observed that
'the snide comment
referring to my fights
against the exploitation of Gama workers, ill behoves
the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign
Affairs who has responsibility for overseas development.'
Higgins has campaigned on behalf of Turkish GAMA
workers who, according to one report have been 'ripped
off by their employer and ignored by the unions,
labour inspectors and authorities who are supposed
to protect them.' Lenihan, straining under the weight
of the white man's burden, has been less than tactful
in his considerations of those from distant shores.
one level it might appear that there is little to
worry about - 'sure it is only Conor doing what
he does best.' We could take his remark to mean
'stick with the kebabs; they are better company
than me and you are guaranteed to get more sense
out of one before you eat it.' Conor, after all,
has been dismissed on one website as the Fredo of
the Lenihan dynasty. Giving vent to such benign
sentiment Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman Bernard
Allen said Lenihan should 'think before he talks,
especially on sensitive matters.' It is the perennial
problem with Fine Gael - forever chasing after the
disappointingly, the same stance seems to have been
adopted by Green Party foreign affairs spokesman
John Gormley who described Lenihan's outburst as
'unwise as opposed to racist.' Fintan O'Toole begs
to differ; pointing out that the remark was made
during a debate on a subject not remotely linked
to race. 'It was cool and deliberate and intended.'
Like Pennywise the clown from the Stephen King book,
It, something vile has been fermenting away
behind the affably inane Lenihan exterior.
people on the receiving end of Lenihan's racist
comments do not share the benign perspective. As
Cumali Aydin - a Turk working in Dublin - complained
in the Irish Times, it is bad enough to face
such bigotry without the same sentiments finding
an echo chamber in the country's parliament.
purveyor of racist sentiment is not only a parliamentarian,
in the Dail by dint of popular election, but also
a minister of the state, in government as a result
of cabinet selection. Minister of State for Overseas
Development, what next - a paedophile taking responsibility
for the welfare of children?
Irish society there exists a hierarchy of victims,
where our calibrated system of sanctions makes it
safe to heap abuse on the heads of some rather than
others. Would Lenihan have remained in his ministerial
position had he said 'stick with the niggers', or
told Ian Paisley to 'stick with the orange bastards'?
Nor does it take a master's degree to work out the
outcome were a Sinn Fein TD to have made the kebab
comment. He would be hounded and treated like a
leper. Few would be making excuses for him or rushing
with the offer of a fool's pardon.
Lenihan's immediate boss Irish Foreign Minister
Dermot Ahern has sent a clear message around the
globe that here in Ireland publicly expressed racist
sentiment at the heart of government carries no
sanction. Ahern tried to give his underling some
ministerial cover. The remarks, he said, had been
made 'in the heat of the moment'. Consequently,
it was not a resigning matter - even if Lenihan
only made the apologies necessary in order to save
his own redneck.
TD Joan Burton, who once worked as a minister for
overseas was much less sympathetic to Lenihan and
rightly argued that his position was untenable.
She described how he had 'slunk into the Dáil'
to make 'an absolutely miserable apology, and then
slunk out again.' Better that he continue slinking
and skulk his way out of political life altogether.
is not as if Lenihan had just gatecrashed controversy
for the first time in terms of his portfolio. In
November last year he caused a stir when he accused
aid agencies of spending large sums of money on
campaigning work in Ireland rather than sending
it abroad to the poor. 'Some NGOs spend enormous
amounts of money on advocacy as opposed to sending
money to the Third World.' The director of Trócaire,
Justin Kilcullen, described Lenihan's comments as
'outrageous.' Trócaire expenditure amounted
to €200,000 a year on policy and advocacy functions
out of a total budget of €45 million. Concern
and Christian Aid also dismissed the contention
claiming that they both spent less than 1% of their
budgets on advocacy.
the time Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh
hit out at Lenihan's 'discourteous, combative and
offensive' remarks.' Ó Snodaigh then outlined
what he felt was the real agenda motivating Lenihan's
contempt for the aid agencies.