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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 18 December, 2014

Column: A response from an Irish taxi driver

Following on from the debate about attitudes towards non-Irish national taxi drivers, one Irish driver says he has noted antipathy towards non-nationals – but that it is also important not to pigeonhole Irish cabbies.

Catherine W

ON MONDAY, THEJOURNAL.IE published an exclusive investigation into the use of green lights by a small number of Dublin taxi drivers. A handful admitted that they were used to denote that the vehicle was being driven by an Irish national (others using the green light said it merely was to indicate that their taxi was available for hire).

The reaction to the article grew in the following days: the National Transport Authority said that it had not seen a prevalence of the lights but that, regardless of their purpose, they should be removed. Then Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that any signs to indicate ‘Irishness’ of a driver were “inherently racist” and xenophobic.

Readers were split in the comments section of any article relating to the nationality of taxi drivers – some believed it was the consumer’s right to choose which taxi they used; others believed it unfair to make a distinction between drivers.

Luke*, an Irish taxi driver, wrote to TheJournal.ie with this thought piece on his own experiences at the ranks. (*We have held back Luke’s full name at his request).

I’M AN IRISH taxi driver and I have to admit that over the last few years I’ve noticed an increasing antipathy towards African drivers from some of my colleagues. I find it very troubling that anti-African driver sentiment seems to be on the increase. While always wrong and misplaced, this sentiment is born out of a growing sense of disenfranchisement and despair, compounded by consistent demonisation by the media.

I think that the root causes need to be addressed, rather than just pigeonholing Irish born drivers, as has been happening in Irish media for several years.

It seems to me to be obvious that the reason why anti-immigrant sentiment is increasing in the taxi industry, is that other industries have always firmly closed their doors to immigrants, and that incomes in the taxi industry have been decimated as a result. It is pretty galling then to hear the hypocrisy of people who do the least to help integrate immigrants, criticise those in the industry that does the most.

I regard some of the media commentary on the issue to be lazy at best, and cowardly at worst. It is easy to pick a few examples out of several thousands, of people who are racist. If any industry, including media, had the intake of migrant workers that the taxi industry has had, with the resulting loss of income to those already in the industry, there would be some backlash. The taxi industry has its fair share of idiots, but no more than most, and I would suggest that the self-righteous and pseudo-intellectual snobbish world of journalism has more than its fair share.

The issue of racism goes much deeper than the taxi industry. Bullies in the media know that by accusing others of racism, it deflects any such criticism from them, and also absolves them from making any meaningful contribution towards the integration of these new minorities in to wider society. By calling someone else a racist, the commentator is saying ‘ Well look at me. I’m such a beacon of decency and culture!’ Media treats racism as a real hot potato; better to stigmatise those suspected of being associated with it than to examine its root causes.

It also serves to create a class of Irish worker who are increasingly despised by many, and who can be manipulated and abused by the powers that be, because they have the racist tag. Nobody has any time for a racist, so they can be treated like dirt and nobody will care. The irony is that many people now are doing to Irish taxi drivers exactly what they accuse the drivers of doing, and engaging in simplistic stereotyping.

If the problem of racism is to be properly addressed, let’s not funnel immigrants into one industry, and then feign horror when some people in the industry react badly. If everyone in society, including the media, did their fair share of integrating immigrants in to wider society, there would not be any racist backlash, in the taxi industry or any other. There would be no need for your report of yesterday, or my mail of today, to have been written.

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