Credit: Houses of the Oireachtas

People before Profit: We must tear down that racist statue in Galway

Can you imagine the scenes in People before Profit headquarters sometime yesterday afternoon? They’ll have been watching events across the water (in both directions) and seen how popular it is, all of a sudden, to tear down statues of people who allegedly committed crimes in the middle ages, and they’ll have wanted to get in on the action here in Ireland.

Some low-paid researcher was almost certainly assigned the task, by Boyd-Barrett and the gang, of researching every statue in every Irish town, until they could find one that Richard could complain about. Let’s hope the poor chap got a raise:

People Before Profit has called on local authorities in Galway to remove monuments, which the party claims glorify slavery and racism.

It wants a monument to Christopher Columbus in Galway to be taken down.

It is also seeking the removal of a plaque in Tuam, honouring Major Richard (Dick) Dowling, who served with the Confederate army in the US.

The Columbus monument, close to the Spanish Arch, was erected to mark the quincentenary of his 1492 voyage to America.

The explorer is reported to have visited Galway around 1477 and the sculpture references his trip to the west of Ireland.

The simple fact of the matter, and let’s be absolutely, 100% clear about this, is that People before Profit don’t give a hoot about the statue of Colombus. They didn’t care about it last year, and they won’t care about it in six months’ time.

They’ve just recognised the simple truth that there is a cohort of immensely silly people in the country who are enthralled by the sight of roving gangs of people in the UK, Belgium, and the USA who, they perceive, are taking the law into their own hands to right some historical wrongs, and they want to be part of the gang. There are people in Ireland who had never thought of the Colombus statue before today, and who may not even have known it was there, who are now convinced that it should be taken down because Black Lives Matter, or whatever.

The statue itself was a gift to Galway, made in 1992, by the people of Genoa, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage of discovery. It is speculated, though not confirmed, that he may have visited Galway in around 1477, fifteen years before he set off across the Atlantic in, as you’ll remember from primary school, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Sancta Maria.

Does the statue to Columbus glorify slavery and racism? That’s a matter of opinion, obviously, though given that it was erected in 1992, that seems to be a huge stretch. We don’t celebrate Colombus because of what happened to North America after Europeans discovered it, we celebrate him for the same reason that we celebrate Neale Armstrong for stepping on the moon – for having the daring and the bravery to attempt a voyage into the unknown, for the sole reason of expanding the boundaries of human knowledge, and achievement.

One of the things about the present moment is that all of this is being ignored, in favour of a “goodies and baddies” interpretation of history, in that everything ever achieved by mankind can only now be looked at from the perspective of critical race, or critical gender theory. “How did it impact women and minorities” is an important question, but it’s not the only question.

Indeed, if that is the only interpretation of history, we may as well call a halt to all future progress. Shouldn’t we put an end to space exploration, for example? After all, there is a risk that when, in the future, humans set foot on a habitable planet somewhere in the universe, we will accidentally bring with us a disease that wipes out the natives.

Anyway, none of this is about those bigger questions. There’s no thinking involved in the calls to remove Colombus from Galway. It’s just that People before Profit have never seen a bandwagon they won’t jump on. The Americans are tearing down statues, and they want to tear one down too. That’s all there is to it.



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