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OPINION: Calling Ireland a Colonial Power is an insult and a disgrace

If there’s one thing that UN officials are good at, it’s wrapping their extreme, agenda-driven ideologies in an official-sounding guise.

Last week, at the United Nation’s CERD19 convention in Geneva, Jamaican academic Verene Shepherd pressured the Irish government to rapidly implement new legislation to combat what she called “hate speech”. According to the Irish Centre For Human Rights, she went on to urge the Department of Justice to ‘take all measures necessary to make racists uncomfortable’, and said that Ireland has an obligation to acknowledge its participation in colonialism of the Caribbean.


Speaking as a mixed-race Irishman with a Jamaican mother, I would say that the assertion that Ireland has some colonial past to answer for would be funny if it wasn’t so insulting. Not only did Ireland never colonise another nation, but it was itself colonised by the British Empire. There were indeed some Irish people in the West Indies during the colonial period, but a huge proportion of these were shipped across the Atlantic against their will in bondage, forced to do back-breaking labour as indentured servants and political prisoners.

The Irish first arrived in the Caribbean in the mid-1600s, after Oliver Cromwell’s capture of Jamaica. Following the Siege of Drogheda in 1648 – during which the Irish rebellion was ruthlessly crushed – Cromwell’s son, Henry, who was Major General of the English garrison in Ireland, forcibly transported thousands of Irish men and women and children to the West Indies for the purposes of indentured labour.

Over the next seven years, over 12,000 political prisoners were involuntarily shipped to Barbados. Here they worked brutal 12-hour days on a plantation in the blazing sun under an overseer, with one set of clothes to a man. Their living quarters were primitive cabins made of plantain leaves and sticks. Conditions were harsh and alien.

Life back in Ireland was not much better. Some sources suggest that between 1641 and 1652, the population of Ireland dropped by two thirds due to famine, mass deportations, and war. Scholarly estimates indicate that between 30,000 and 80,000 Irish people were shipped to the West Indies in total during this period.

To say that this was an act of colonialism would be as insulting as saying that Africans colonised America when they were shackled and dragged across the Atlantic in slave ships. Call me crazy, but I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of Irish political prisoners would rather be somewhere other than the Caribbean – like, for example, Ireland, the homeland from which they were forcibly torn by a colonising empire.

These kinds of agenda-driven statements would hardly be out of character for Ms. Shepherd, however. A UNESCO official previously accused her of “abusing the name of the UN to bring her own agenda to the media.” Shepherd is the director of her university’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies, and a believer in the bigoted idea that modern Europeans – who never owned slaves – must pay reparations to modern peoples who never were slaves. These are totally ideologically-possessed ideas. In fact, the rationale of collective racial punishment to address the sin of racism is utterly contradictory and nonsensical.

This insult to the suffering experienced throughout Irish history is a regular occurrence now from supranational bodies like the UN and EU. Just earlier this year, the European parliament passed a resolution calling for colonial reparations from member states, including public apologies.

Individuals aren’t responsible for the actions of their race. All Mongolians aren’t responsible for Genghis Khan. All Africans aren’t responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. And Modern Europeans aren’t responsible for their country’s history either. One of my own Caribbean ancestors was a slave to Napoleon, and I hardly feel any entitlement towards modern France for that.

But all of this is especially galling in Ireland. The overwhelming majority of our Irish ancestors were the victims of colonialism and slavery – not the perpetrators. What do we have to be ashamed of?

I, for one, am not ashamed of my Irish heritage, and I never will be.


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