One hundred years on from the publication of The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality (1923), Call It Out assembled speakers from academia and beyond to discuss the legacy of this document and the challenges it created for Scotland’s Irish diaspora in the intervening years. With over 100 registered to attend, the conference – held in the University of Glasgow on 23rd May - heard from academics, human rights groups, and writers on a variety of topics. Keeping the Church of Scotland’s infamous document as a reference point, speakers used their respective expertise to expose the multifaceted issues Irish immigrants faced (and continue to face) over the course of six lively hours. Fáilte Call It Out’s Vice-Chair, Paul Quigley gave a brief welcome speech at 10am before handing things over to Dr Patricia Walls. Dr Walls – a respected researcher with decades of experience in a number of health-related fields – examined ‘Racism, Religion, Rights, and Realities’ during the last century in Glasgow. Dr Joseph Bradley - who lectures in sociology, the media and sport at University of Edinburgh – spoke about Irish ethnicity in Scotland, past and present responses to discrimination, and the cultural consequences of prejudice. Professor Willy Maley –Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow – ended the first plenary session by floating the idea of establishing an Irish history month in Scotland. Using March as a relevant choice, Prof Maley talked about how best to handle the obvious difficulties of such a proposal. Breakout sessions Parallel breakout sessions, facilitated by Call It Out’s Frank Devine and Paul Quigley, featured Dr Michael Connolly, Professor Jeanette Findlay, Danny Boyle, Dr Maureen McBride and Dr Sarah Anderson. Topics included faith and football, workers’ rights, economic inequality, developing anti-racist curricula in schools, and an exploration of the little-known experiences of Catholics in Scotland’s prison system. The final plenary session, chaired by Danny Boyle (BEMIS), linked the Irish community’s experience of racism to the present Race Equality and Human Rights policy landscape in Scotland.
BEMIS CEO, Rami Ousta, spoke about the challenges facing all ethnic minority groups in modern Scotland. He also spoke of the many times he had personally faced attack for raising issues relevant to the Irish community in Scotland. This was followed by an address to conference by Margaret Lance, a community activist from the multi-ethnic African community who shared the story of her life and the challenges facing her community - her contribution made clear that the issues that unite us as ethnic minority communities in Scotland are far more fundamental than any that might divide us.
Finally, and in a very moving contribution of the story of her own family, Dr Lynne Tammi-Connolly told us of the trafficking of three of her relatives to Canada by the Scottish authorities despite all attempts by their family and a number of Catholic priests to have the children returned to their parents. The facts around the enforced assimilation and/or removal of Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland from the late 1800s to the 1970s was both shocking and heartbreaking to hear. In closing the conference, CIO Chair Jeanette Findlay thanked the speakers and audience members for their participation in a productive day-long discussion. ‘Decades overdue’ One attendee praised the speakers, the breadth of discussion topics, and hoped the conference would become an annual event - despite being ‘decades overdue’. Another audience member described the day as a ‘timely reminder of the lasting impact of an awful document’. ‘Despite the Church of Scotland having rightly apologised for [the document],’ they said, ‘it created a mindset that still persists to this day, meaning anti-Irish racism has never been tackled, let alone eradicated.’ Paul Quigley, as event Chair, thanked the speakers for addressing ‘political and racial hostility to Irish Catholics.’ ‘We hope this conference will act as a springboard for further action, as our community continues to strive for acceptance and equality in contemporary Scotland.’