John McDonagh speaks to Irish Labour Party Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin via telephone in New York about Irish Stand, a benefit for the ACLU being held in New York City on Saint Patrick’s Day evening. (Brian Fleming is in the studio with John.) (begins time stamp ~ 42:35)
John: We’re going to play a clip off YouTube that went viral. It’s one of your senators over there in Ireland. Now, how do you pronounce his first name? – it’s in Irish.
Brian: I think you’ve got two options: You can go AY-gon Ó Ríordáin or A-yon Ó Ríordáin.
John: Yes, and he’s in town organising something called Irish Stand at the Riverside Church, uptown, to show resistance to Trump’s new policies that are coming in. So we’re going to play the clip and we’re going to make a phone call and have him on – he’s in town.
Audio: Clip of a YouTube video of an address Labour Party Senator Aodhán O’Riordáin made in The Seanad in November 2016 is played.
John: And you’re listening to a clip from YouTube that went viral and that’s of an Irish Senator, Aodhán Ó Ríorhdáin, and he’s in New York and I have a feeling if his name was ‘Mohammed Ó Ríordáin’ we would be calling him in Ireland and we wouldn’t be calling him from uptown by Columbia University. Aodhán, welcome to the United States!
Senator: Thank you very much.
John: We’re glad you made it in. And what is the project that you have working because you’ve been definitely making the rounds – I was watching you on MSNBC during the week and you’re putting together something on March 17th at the Riverside Church.
Senator: I am and thanks for having me on. Yeah, on Saint Patrick’s Day as you know yourself the Taoiseach, our Prime Minister, comes to America every Saint Patrick’s Day. In fact, he’ll be in Washington DC on Friday, sorry – tomorrow, the sixteenth and he’ll be handing your president, Donald Trump, a bowl of shamrocks as happens every year and that coincides with the new travel ban coming into force. So considering that and considering the fact that there’s a huge number of Irish-American names surrounding Donald Trump – Bannon, Conway, Pence is an Irish-American, Ryan – we felt it was important to take a stand and to show I suppose Muslim-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans that the Irish are an immigrant people as well and that we stand with them at this time of fear and uncertainty. So in the Riverside Church on Friday, Saint Patrick’s Day, at seven thirty in the evening we’re having an event in aid of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) celebrating the Irish immigrant experience but making the point that the Irish immigrant experience is exactly the same as other immigrant experiences and that we stand together at this great time of uncertainty.
John: What was the reaction from the viral video that you had? Were you worried about getting into The States? And what was the reaction in The Twenty-Six Counties to you standing up and making that statement because, as you know yourself, a lot of people were reluctant to come forward because you could jeopardise business relationships or it could jeopardise even just getting your visa to get into the country?
Senator: I think I said what I said because in Ireland obviously we just have had Brexit as well and Brexit had had the previous summer and there was a huge amount of anti-immigrant feeling in that debate, too, and nobody expected Brexit to happen and it did. I think it’s probably accurate to say that nobody really expected Trump to get elected until it happened and so when I said my words I didn’t really think it was going to go very far and then as soon as I sat down and as soon as the video went up on Facebook we got a huge amount of response from Americans to our office – people very emotional on the phone, crying, people sending emails – and then a lot of the American websites picked up the video. So it wasn’t until somebody told me over Christmas that I really needed to do something about it that we decided to have an event. I have to say I was a little bit worried as to whether I’d get in or not but what also convinced us that we should do this event was in talking to Irish-Americans here about potentially being involved at the event I got the sense, and we got the sense, that some people are literally afraid of standing up in case their own immigrant status could be questioned or their own visa could be re-checked and I found that quite interesting and also scary. And also, what I’m learning now is that there’s a number of undocumented Irish in New York who feel that they could actually be made an example of in case the administration is accused of only targeting certain nationalities that they may try to make an example of a few Irish people as well. So it’s a very fearful time but sometimes when you’re most afraid is the time to actually stand and say something.
John: So what exactly is happening this Friday night – Where is it? How can people get involved? And who is going to be involved?
Senator: Well we’ve a great amount of support from people who can’t be there, Rosie O’Donnell for example and Liam Neeson, but Martina Navratilova has come on board and is supporting us and Hozier and all these various Irish celebrities but you can go online to Irish Stand dot org and book your ticket. It’s fifteen dollars. Everything goes to the ACLU. There may be space on the night but the tickets are selling out very fast so I think if you want to turn up on the night and pay your fifteen dollars and on the way in that would be fine, too. And we have a lot of speakers that Irish people would be familiar with – Colum McCann, Maeve Higgins – and speakers that people based in New York would be familiar with. And we’re placing a big emphasis on Muslim-America and young Muslim speakers who are going to speak about their own experiences and finding common cause with them because this is a travel ban that’s going into effect tomorrow and we’ve a number of people from Yemen and from a Muslim background who are going to talk about xenophobia. Because remember you know when Al Smith, a good New York man, ran for office – for the highest office in the land in 1928 – he effectively lost the election because of anti-Catholic sentiment so I think the Irish have to remember that they have to overcome religious bigotry in this country and there’s parallels between what the Irish went through and what other religions are going through now in America at this time so I think we need to remember that.
John: Well Aoghán, the American government has its tentacles all around the world and one of the years, I was over there as a veteran and I brought over statements from Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, we blocked the road in Shannon because of all the military, US military, aircraft going into Shannon refueling and heading to bomb the Middle East and also a lot of people might not know but our government actually has the customs post in Shannon and in Dublin where they can stop an Irish citizen (and a Muslim) from anywhere in the world from leaving Ireland and getting on a flight to the United States so I mean there’s a lot of moving parts with the American government and the things that they’re doing, particularly with the military aircraft that refuels in Shannon, but the policy that we have now is being implemented in Ireland.
Senator: Well yeah, and there’s a number of various, different things happening that absolutely is something people should be very, very uncomfortable with – that the pre-clearance at Shannon and Dublin will be forced to do that. But we’re also making the point, by the way, that while Irish politicians are over in Washington trying to advocate for the fifty thousand undocumented Irish-Americans, which is something they should do, but as Marty Walsh (Mayor of Boston, MA) said in Boston he won’t support anything that just focuses on the Irish. But there’s also twenty-five thousand undocumented workers in Ireland from other countries. So while the Minister of State and the Department of Justice – I didn’t get I suppose, I wasn’t successful enough in trying to get them regularised and hopefully will be in the position to do it soon but I don’t think it’s right or just for the Taoiseach to be in Washington talking about the fifty thousand undocumented Irish when we’re not doing the same for you know Filipino or whatever nationalities who are in Ireland undocumented as well. I think we need to be – we need to be consistent in what we’re trying to achieve. So I think on Friday night we can bring an awful lot of these things together. We’ll be reading out a message from the Migrant Rights Centre in Ireland on Friday night talking about the plight of undocumented workers in Dublin and in Ireland. Obviously, we want undocumented Irish here to be regularised but we also want to make sure that we don’t just do this for the Irish – we do this for everybody. But I got the sense though that finally there’s a level of understanding breaking out between different groups who possibly were suspicious of each other – we’ll have a rabbi and an imam speaking together on Friday night, we’ll have people of an Irish background, and African-American backgrounds – I think that at the end of the day you know we’re all human beings and maybe in the past we’ve forgotten that but maybe when people feel that fearful about their future they actually begin to overcome those differences and realise there’s something bigger at stake.
John: Alright, Aodhán, before we go off – it’s five to eleven here in New York City – how can people get involved, get tickets? And what time and where is it?
Senator: Irish Stand dot org. The Twitter handle is @Irish Stand. It’s the Riverside Church, 7:30, Patrick’s night – so go to the parade, have fun, but remember that the Irish are immigrants and we have to stand with all immigrants at this time so the Riverside Church – it’s where Martin Luther King made his famous speech Vietnam War speech in 1967. It’s almost exactly fifty years since he made that speech in that location. Seven-thirty, Riverside Church – we’d be delighted to see everybody of any background there but of course, especially the Irish.
John: Alright, thank you. And that’s Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, just over from Ireland, organising an event on Saint Patrick’s night and thank you for coming on.
Senator: Thanks a lot! (ends time stamp ~ 55:35)