The period between when a person is charged with a crime, and a verdict is rendered, is a difficult one for any media organisation. Under Irish law, Yousef Palani is innocent of the charges against him until such time as a jury decides otherwise. Those people shouting at him yesterday afternoon, outside Sligo Courthouse, were pre-empting and pre-judging a legal system that exists for the protection of us all. Regardless of the charges against him, Mr. Palani deserves a fair trial, and a jury with an open mind, just as any of us would, in his position.
We do not, at Gript, presume him to be guilty. Nor should anybody else.
What is clear, though, is that Mr. Palani is not of Irish background. Just as the person charged in the murder of Ashling Murphy is not of Irish background. There is a lot of discomfort in the media when it comes to addressing that fact head on, and we wouldn’t be much of an alternative media outlet if we didn’t address it head on here.
This weekend, in Ireland, we will once again have a national conversation. We love national conversations. This one will be about homophobia, and the challenges faced by Gay Men, and Lesbian Women, and those who are transgender. Already there is talk of hate crime laws, just as, in the aftermath of the Ashling Murphy murder, there was a national conversation about misogyny, and the need for Irish men to be better.
It is precisely these conversations that makes the backgrounds of the suspects relevant. If politicians and journalists are going to claim or infer, as they have done in both cases, that the real culprit for the deaths of the victims was societal misogyny, or societal homophobia, then it is immediately relevant that neither of the suspects charged with the crimes is from an Irish background.
If there is homophobia at play, and if there is misogyny at play, then it is fair, and indeed vital, to note that in Ireland’s most high-profile cases this year, the homophobia and misogyny are alleged to have been imported.
And that raises another question: Given that we all agree, in this progressive country of ours, that homophobia and misogyny are awful – how much sense does an immigration system that appears to import both to one degree, or another, make?
But that part of the conversation is, as we say, is not one that we comfortable having.
There are understandable reasons for that, in a way: No good comes from scapegoating migrants as a group for the crimes of individuals. If you are the kind of person who gets outraged when feminists absurdly declare that all men are potential rapists, then at least have the consistency to recognise how offensive and absurd it is to suggest that all migrants are potential murderers. They are not. Most of them – the vast majority – just want a better life for themselves, and their children.
The issue is one of policy. What great national interest is served by admitting migrants from parts of the world where cultural attitudes towards things like homosexuality and the role of women are so vastly different from our own? We do, as a country – this is what it means to be independent, after all – have the right to decide who lives here. Does it really make sense to admit people who grew up in countries where female genital mutilation is a standard practice? Or where honour killings are considered legitimate? Or where the penalty for homosexuality is death? What does that gain us, exactly?
It is of benefit to any society if the overwhelming majority of the people who live within it share a common set of values. Values, of course, are not the same thing as political opinions. There are people in Ireland who voted against same sex marriage – hundreds of thousands of them. What we do not have in Ireland, however, is a large segment of the population who believe that homosexuality should be a crime punishable by death. We share a common baseline of tolerance and acceptance, regardless of our policy preferences.
Similarly, the baseline value that women are equal to men, and deserve to be treated with respect, and free from sexual harassment or violence, is almost universal amongst Irish people. In contrast, there remain cultures and countries in the world where women can be traded into marriage as chattel, or property. There remain societies where sexual harassment is regarded as a sign of masculine virility, and societies where beating your wife is seen as a husband’s right. Do people brought up with those values add to our own? Is diversity, in that instance, really a strength?
It is a statement of fact that every time an immigrant commits a crime in Ireland, immigration policy is a factor. That does not mean that our immigration system is a failure because some crimes are committed – of course, every immigration system will result in some migrants who commit crimes. Sometimes even terrible crimes. But shouldn’t we also be able to talk about our immigration system, and ask the questions above, in a mature, and reasonable way?
I do not have answers to all of those questions. But I do know that they are not illegitimate. If these are the values we regard as vital and foundational, then it is not unreasonable to check whether those who wish to become part of our society share them. Or to prioritise immigration from countries and cultures with similar values to our own. Racism is a terrible evil. But so, in its own way, is shouting “racist” at everybody with basic questions about our immigration policy, or ideas about how to tighten and improve it.
Unfortunately, the conversation on this island is dominated by Ireland’s NGO blob, to whom every problem under the sun can be explained by homophobia and misogyny and racism, or some combination of the three. A mature society, though, would be able to have a calm conversation about immigration, too. We won our independence so we could be sovereign. Being sovereign means deciding who can cross our borders, and stay here. We seem unwilling to remember that.