Radio: The birth of a nation

  • 22 November 2006
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What should we call the newly-arrived migrants to Ireland without being racist or xenophobic? New citizens, non-nationals, foreigners?

Well, drop the 'non-national' phrase anyway because it's a misnomer. The word 'national' has its origin in the French word for birth – naissance. Everyone is born in a country, a nation, so no one can be a non-national.

Terry Dolan deconstructs words and explains their origins each Monday at 3pm on Sean Moncrieff's unscripted chat show on NewsTalk 106 (Moncrieff, Monday to Friday 2.30pm). Anyone can text in a word and Dolan will explain it and its usage. It's a good slot, and always throws up some interesting nuggets about everyday language.

In this case, the word "foreigner" is more appropriate, according to Dolan, as it just means someone from somewhere else, but it seems that we're afraid to use that one.

Ireland's new citizens were also the subject of Today with Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday to Friday, 10am-midday) on 16 November. For two hours, Pat Kenny went out and about in Dublin's north inner city. For the first half, he walked Moore Street and met the "new Irish", as he repeatedly called them.

Moore Street is now home to African beauty parlours, vendors selling phone cards, Chinese restaurants, Asian food stores. There are still the fruit and veg stalls and the Dublin women selling fish. FX Buckley butchers is there, where it's been since 1932, but these days it has its welcome sign in 13 different languages and there are pigs' trotters, heads and feet in the window.

Pat Kenny spoke to Gabriella David, who was buying sausages made like they are back home in Romania. She's been in Ireland for three years with her husband. They have a good life here but it's hard for their parents to get a visa to come and visit them.

He met a fishmonger who's a Dub, born and bred, and not so sure about the "new Irish". There was the Chinese woman doing a Masters in the Smurfit School of Business – she wants to promote business between Ireland and China. And in the African hairdressers, he spoke to Mary, who was "dark and lovely like the hair she cuts". Then there was her pal Reggie, a community worker who spoke of the racism experienced by Nigerians in Ireland and about how ghettoisation is a normal reaction for any community – they just want to live near each other. The next generation will mix, he said. The children are their future.

Pat Kenny came accross a picture of Bertie Ahern on the wall of the Chinese hairdressers. The owner spoke beautifully about the difference between Irish and Chinese hair, as only a Chinese woman with a Dublin accent can. Great radio.

The second half of the programme was a panel discussion, but there were just too many people involved and they were all the 'old Irish'. The show was a welcome break from the regular mid-morning mediocrity on RTÉ Radio 1, but it could have been fantastic if there was Pat Kenny just asked the questions and let the 'new Irish' do the talking.