By Stephen McKinley
A British newspaper columnist could be prosecuted under the U.K. Race Relations Act after a police investigation into claims that she incited racial hatred in an article attacking St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
The columnist, Julie Burchill, writes for the Guardian and News of the World newspapers, and is known for her vicious and controversial attack articles.
Her July 29th column in the Guardian linked the Irish to fascism and child abuse, according to a report in The Scotsman newspaper.
The subsequent police investigation was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, the British equivalent of the U.S. Attorney General’s office.
Irish organizations in the U.K. condemned the columnist as racist.
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In her article, Burchill described St Patrick’s Day as the celebration of “almost compulsory child molestation by the national church, total discrimination against women who wish to be priests, aiding and abetting Herr Hitler in his hour of need and outlawing abortion and divorce.”
The mention of Hitler apparently referred to Ireland’s Second World War neutrality and to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera’s controversial commiserations to Germany’s Ambassador to Ireland in 1945, when Hitler committed suicide.
Also in the article, she refers to the Irish flag as “the Hitler-licking, altar boy molesting, abortion-banning Irish tricolor.”
The piece deals with Burchill’s patriotic desire to fly the Union Jack. She wrote that she was only able to do this during the World Cup, because at other times in the U.K, it would be politically incorrect to fly the flag. She said often the Union Jack was treated as an “undercover swastika,” and she also referred to the Royal Family as a “bunch of overpaid Germans.”
John Twomey, a social worker at the London Irish Center, reported the column to the police, and then told reporters, “it was grossly defamatory of Irish people and very abusive. Every Irish person who saw it was slack-jawed in dismay when they saw it. I felt it was likely to stir racial hatred and that the 1976 Race Relations Act had clearly been breached.”
The Act gives the police considerable powers to investigate allegations of racism. The BBC’s director general Greg Dyke was interviewed recently over comments against Welsh people by The Weakest Link quiz show presenter Anne Robinson.
Tom Griffin, assistant editor of the Irish World newspaper in London, also attacked Burchill’s column, saying, “any person from an Irish background would regard what she wrote as trying to link the Irish nation with child abuse and fascism. If you tried to think of two things in which to denigrate a nation, the slur couldn’t get much worse.”
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales said, “it is an entirely inaccurate and warped representation of the Catholic faith – and a smear on the Irish nation.”
And Jerry Kivlehan of the Federation of Irish Societies said, “as far as we are concerned the article is racist and anti-Irish.”
Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, defended Burchill’s column.
He said: “anyone who’s read more than a couple of her sentences knows Julie Burchill frequently indulges in over the top, iconoclastic polemic. That is why she both irritates and exhilarates her readers, not all of whom take everything she writes literally. The Press Complaints Commission has considered three complaints about her column of 29 June and has decided it falls within the boundaries of personal opinion or general comment. We agree. We are aware that the police have received a complaint from John Twomey but have heard nothing formally.”
Burchill told reporters that she stood by her complaint and vowed to fight it.
Referring to Twomey, she said, “this man, in my opinion, is quite detestably and unfairly using the Race Relations Act to attempt to stifle all criticism of the Catholic Church and its quite shockingly bad record on women’s rights, supporting fascism and child abuse. I shall be fighting this case every step of the way and have already been promised support by a number of organizations representing children molested by Catholic priests.”
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said, “the case is still under review but a decision may be expected quite soon.”