Home > Immigration and Asylum, Race > The Language of Exclusion

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.
Ní Chonduin
  1. October 29, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I will not comment on the age of consent and marriage in other religious groups. However theft is theft and if convicted should face the full force of the law!

  2. October 29, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    The Examiner reports that “Judge Ní Chonduin imposed a seven-day sentence which she backdated to when the girl, who resides in west Dublin, went into custody. A €200 fine was also imposed.”

  3. pmcauliffe
    October 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    What to think? Firstly, it is of course unjust and racist to extrapolate from one instance of theft and under-age sex that they accurately manifest a monolithic Roma culture. On the other hand, the “interrogation” of the girl’s sexuality was brought about at the instigation of her own solicitor (as noted above), presumably in mitigation. The judge is well within her rights to express concern about the age gap between the girl and her partner and to mention the possibility of statutory rape, so I will wait until I see the judgment before I assume its representation of “supposedly deviant motherhood.” That the DPP and HSE saw little objectionable about it might make it all the more predictable and reasonable that a judge would raise it in public forum

  4. October 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    What better representation of ‘deviant motherhood’ do you want than the accusation that Roma raise their children to steal? We don’t know why the DPP and HSE didn’t intervene and there won’t be a judgment – this is the joy of the District and the media discourse around a DC judgment is as valid a source as any. But there is a good range of scholarship on institutional reluctance to intervene in what are perceived as ‘cultural cases’ – I’ve written about it elsewhere. And that attitude, where it exists, isn’t helped by District Judges reinforcing the ‘cultural’ frame. As for the fact that ‘ the “interrogation” of the girl’s sexuality was brought about at the instigation of her own solicitor (as noted above), presumably in mitigation’ all that demonstrates is that Irish lawyers are also beginning to internalise this discourse of culture. Southall Black Sisters, for instance, have frequently spoken about how in cases such as that of Kiranjit Aluhwahlia, they narrated their client’s story according to distasteful cultural scripts because this was an effective tactic, even though they might have preferred to burst those scripts apart. The fact that these frames can be deployed strategically is besides the point. Finally, yes the judge should have mentioned the statutory rape point but the slippage from the point of law into a panic discourse of separate laws for separate groups is unnecessary, and does its own damage. I’m not making this analysis up as I go along.

  5. pmcauliffe
    October 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Insofar as the point relates to the tendency of Roma to raise their children to steal, I agree with you. However, questions about of a mother giving birth at 15 being convicted of theft would have been raised by any solicitor regardless of the ethnicity of the defendant and may very well have occasioned comment by any judge – if it is a tactic,it is one any defence would use regardless of culture discourse. The case shows the danger of making generalisations about a culture on the basis of one case. There is, however, also a danger of generalising in the other direction by imputing cultural scripts to what are very run-of-the-mill legal tactics and reasonable judicial observations

  6. October 29, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    How about the tendency of run-of-the mill legal tactics and reasonable judicial observations to play to the societal norm, so that they tend to catch cultural difference? I think it’s more than fair to work ‘in the other direction’ in this context. If the judges in question hadn’t engaged the question of culture, or had engaged it more with more nuance, I wouldn’t have a post.

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