The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

One For All And All For One

Why Bernadette McAliskey's Exclusion from the USA Affects Us All

Paul Dunne • March 13, 2003


Bernadette McAliskey, as regular readers of The Blanket will already know, was recently excluded from the USA shortly after her arrival at O'Hare Airport in New York. I won't go into the details here; they've already been covered more than adequately in The Blanket and a few other places (see my weblog for a fairly complete list). What I want to do instead is explain why I think this is important, more, why I see in this event one of those telling moments when the mist clears and everything stands revealed, when the real relationship between things is brightly illuminated. In particular, the case throws a strong light on the relationship between Ireland and the United States of America.

The story didn't so much as fall dead from the press as never quite make it there in the first place. The Belfast Telegraph ran two short pieces on it, the Irish Times one, and RTÉ gave it a mention. And that was it. No outraged commentaries from columnists, no grave and measured editorials, no continuing coverage. Just a mention, a shrug, and on to other things. And it's not just the mainstream media in which the story is conspicuous by its absence. The new Internet phenomenon of "the weblog" is still dominated by Americans, but there are a few dozen Irish out there "blogging" away. However, not one of these Irish webloggers condescended to mention the matter, save myself, Mick Fealty, Sean McCann with a very good piece, and a belated brief mention on "The Plastic Cat", though a few Irish-Americans did cover it as well. Now, one can't expect webloggers to cover current affairs if they don't want to, or indeed write about anything other than that bad pint they had last night, the latest pop record they've been listening to, etc., etc. But surely one could expect that every Irish person with the time and energy to self-publish on the Web might spend a wee bit of that same time and energy in consideration of the fact that an Irish person can now be excluded from the USA solely on the whim of anonymous US officials? Well, apparently not.

So, why be bothered? Well, we're not talking now about some chancer slipping in without a green card to work in the "black economy". This is a woman paying a visit to friends and family. She's not there as the Bernadette Devlin who was in the Bogside in '69 and told us that "the tear-gas isn't so bad once you get used to it", nor as the wee slip of a girl who gave Reggie Maulding a good slap for himself in the House of Commons for telling lies about Bloody Sunday, nor as the H-Block campaigner, nor as the indefatigable commentator who always tells it just how she sees it. This is a private citizen on private business, a surprise visit to see friends in New York and to attend a christening, another trip to a country she's been to many times before. And what could be more natural than to want to fly over for a week to see the new baby?

This is not a political issue, in the sense that it's not about whether you agree with Bernadette McAliskey's political views and opinions, whether you approve of her past, whether you think she's right in opposing the coming war against Iraq, or any of that. It is simply about an Irish woman being excluded from entering a country in which she has many friends and relations, because while at home in Ireland she dared to open her mouth and express opinions critical of the present US administration. I can't see how any Irish person, no matter how apolitical, could stay silent in the face of that. It's not as though the USA is some obscure place with which Ireland has no connection. Many if not most Irish people have relatives in the States; at the very least, most will know someone who emigrated there -- I know I do. Clearly, this is a case of, Bernadette McAliskey today, me or you or yer man down the road tomorrow.

In my school days, a common experience was being hoisting up by the ear onto one's hind legs in front of the rest of the class, and berated for one's shortcomings in the Latin language -- for stumbling while reciting the declination of "mensa", let's say. That was an exemplary action on behalf of the Latin teacher, intended to encourage the rest of us to get the table of first declension nouns or whatever off by heart. So too, Bernadette McAliskey's exclusion from the USA is exemplary: we are all, every one of us, watching as one of our number is grabbed by the ear and given a going-over. We are being told: keep your opinions to yourselves, look the other way when the planes land at Shannon, what we do in Iraq is nothing to do with you... in short, "shut up and get with the program".

So why the silence across the land? What is it lads? Is it a case of, "oh, but she's from the North", and therefore nothing to do with us? Or do ye just not want to offend the Yanks? A bit of the old "whatever you say, say nothing"? If so, if the silence is born of the desire to do nothing that might offend the government of the USA, then I must say that it won't have the intended effect of making them nicer to us. Grovelling and cringing merely makes the strong despise you. But in any case, I'd thought that the days of touching the forelock and doffing the cap with a respectful "soft day tank God sor" and all the rest of the old "colonial cringe" repertoire were long gone. Or have we merely exchanged the old master for a new one? Isn't it time we copped on to ourselves, and learned to stand up for each other? Because if Irish people aren't prepared to stand up and be counted when one of their number is arbitrarily prevented from visiting a land with which most of them have ties through blood or friendship, with which their country has had such a long and close relationship, when in God's name will they stand up and be counted?

It's not that the Irish are silent on all issues. They seem very anxious about a whole range of things happening in far-away lands and far-off places to people they don't know. Isn't it strange, then, that they can't muster any enthusiasm for one of their own? Paul Mattick nailed down this mentality when, writing of the new leftists of the 60s, he noted that,

"They find their inspiration not in the developmental processes of their own society but in the heroes of popular revolution in faraway countries, thereby revealing that their enthusiasm is not as yet a real concern for decisive social change."

Such enthusiasm is rife in Ireland. We're very worried about all sorts of things, so long as they are happening far away and we can't really affect them anyway. It's a childish way of looking at the world.

It's been used and abused so many times it's become a cliché, but ... "First they came for the communists...". An over-reaction? after all, it's just one woman, it was just a deportation. I think not. I'll grant that the Americans haven't started putting us in camps (though it's not so long ago, after all, that their closest ally did); but this is symptomatic of our place in America's eyes, and of our place in the world. If we want to improve that place, we have to stand up for ourselves. We could make a small start by standing up for Bernadette McAliskey.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

13 March 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:

Anthony McIntyre


One For All & All For One
Paul Dunne


Brave New World, Indeed.

Tommy Gorman


Ireland: Direct Rule Continues
Paul Mallon


9 March 2003


The Fundamental Problem Of Non-Constitutional Law Vis-À-Vis The Northern Ireland Question
Paul Fitzsimmons


To: George Bush and Associates
Karen Lyden Cox


An Open Letter
Vincent Doherty


Stupid White Men - A Review

John Nixon


Avoiding Conspiracy Theories

Anthony McIntyre



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