In the wake of Francis Fitzgerald resigning, the Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltachta got a new minister, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan.
This is Madigan’s first cabinet position and already she is facing opposition.
Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said, in the Dáil that appointing a TD who has had anti-traveller material circulated in their constituency to the position of minister for Culture, Heritage and Gaeltachta “incredible”, and said that it didn’t say much about the Taoiseach’s “willingness to incorporate minorities”.
Coppinger is refering here to a leaflet distributed in 2014 which opposed a halting site being built in Madigan’s constituency in South Dublin.
Madigan has defended her comments, saying that her position is not bigoted, but rather economic. The land where a halting site would have been built is worth 7 or 8 million and Madigan argues that it would be more financially viable for that land to be sold and for 60 families to be housed.
This argument falls flat, however, when we consider that Madigan’s economic argument suggests that Halting Sites should be built on land that isn’t as financially valuable.
Looking at the current conditions of halting sites, which are often described as “third world” or “shanty towns”, there is a need for good quality accommodation to be built for the Travelling community.
Halting sites must also be built with a mindfullness to the needs of the community. In Cork, members of the Travelling Community refused to move onto a new site, in part because their horses didn’t have facilities on the site.
Madigan is clearly prioritising private property of middle class families, as well as class segregation, over housing minorities that are already not sufficiently provided for.
Artists should respond
Given that artists see the importance of their work in giving a platform to, and exploring, various social and political issues, it should be seen as unacceptable that someone with any kind of racial or cultural bigotry is minister responsible for the arts.
Additionally, there are a number of artists from Traveller backgrounds who have managed to overcome difficulties in making a career in the arts, who deserve the professional and social support that they and their communities need.
To firmly oppose Madigan as the minister for the arts would be a stand against racial bigotry and a show of solidarity with the Travelling community and specifically with those who are our colleagues in the arts.
In order to make it clear that Madigan’s views are not welcome, and even to remove her from her position, artists need to be organised.
There are a number of representative bodies within the arts, such as the Arts Council, the unions, the National Campaign for the Arts, Visual Artists Ireland, Theatre Forum and others.
Looking at the aims and advocacy of The Arts Council, The NCFA, TF and VAI, it is clear that they look to promote the arts in society as well as supporting artists and arts workers. The unions, on the other had, are the traditional way that workers can engage with their employers, which includes the government, as much of the arts in Ireland in state funded.
While many individual artists are opposed to Madigan in this position, there needs to be campaigns led by the organisations that represent people working in the arts. This can only be achieved through active and democratic engagement between these organisations and people working in the arts.
We have seen how gender equality is being tackled by the theatre community since Waking The Feminists, but there needs to be an extension of this, to fight for equality of people from all classes and communities.
Remaining silent on a minister who does not support that equality only allows racism to continue.