The Language of Exclusion
What to think of this story from today’s Irish Examiner, headlined ‘Judge: Roma raising kids to steal’? Colin has already blogged on the situation of Roma in the North. This story from the Republic turns on statements by two judges of the District Court; Judge Aingeal Ní Chonduin and Judge William Early about the case of a 16-year-old Roma girl. The girl had admitted theft of €320 worth of children’s shoes at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, in Dublin, on June 11 last, possessing stolen underwear, taken from a shop in Dublin city centre, on a date last July and failing to attend her court case on another date. Her solicitor told the court that the girl had been brought to Ireland at the age of 13 by her partner, now aged 21, and his family. At age 15, she gave birth to their first child. The Health Service Executive had conducted a welfare assessment but had not deemed any action to be necessary.
Now to the judges’ statements. Yesterday, Judge Aingeal Ní Chonduin, passing sentence said: “That seems to be the culture, the family owns her that is the way the families function, unfortunately, to go about to steal…,” she said. “It is a different culture, it does not go with our ways and our shops are being robbed blind, I feel sorry for these children.” At an earlier stage in the case, Judge William Early had expressed concern about the age gap between the girl and her partner. He had said: “It seems we have a 15-year-old child who appears to be living with a 20-year-old gentleman…This is statutory rape if that man is responsible for the conception of the child.” The DPP had not recommended prosecution. In response, Judge Early remarked “Either there are two different laws for people in this country or there are not. If people are to be treated equally before the law they should be treated equally and there should be similar expectations of people…“I understand that some cultures are impenetrable to a certain extent but they should be treated equally before the law.”
This morning Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism and an advocate for Roma rights, asked for Judge Ní Chonduin’s resignation. I want to wait for further media and government reaction (if it comes) for a full post. But for now, two observations will do.
- Both judges suggest that crime – theft and statutory rape – characterise the Roma by reason of ‘culture’. This is what Etienne Balibar would call ‘neo-racism’, a racism which does not identify itself as such but which distinguishes between in and out groups on the basis of notionally ‘impenetrable’ culture rather than ethnic origin. It depends for its effect on the sort of denial inherent in Judge Ni Chonduin’s rhetoric – in setting up a ‘billiard ball’ model of culture; untouched by other social forces.
- The gendered aspect of this racism is evident in the interrogation of the girl’s sexuality, relationships and motherhood. This move recalls the Citizenship Referendum of 2004, which focused on the supposedly deviant motherhood of migrant women and their consequent unfitness to ‘belong’ in Ireland. Siobhan Mullally, Ronit Lentin and – outside the Irish context – Nira Yuval Davis have written about this. The portrayal of Roma as inadequate parents, raising their children for crime, illicitly taking from a vulnerable Irish public, echoes the ‘Roundabout Roma’ controversy of 2007.