It was with great shock and sadness that we heard of Patrick Guerin’s sudden death last week. Above all, Pat was known to his friends and many others as a dedicated anti-racist. I first met Pat in 1998 when he enrolled in the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies of which I was the coordinator for the first 15 years. He was challenging, original, and knowledgeable, bringing anti-racism into the classroom and was always keeping me on my toes – a true pleasure to teach. His MPhil dissertation was a set of life narratives of Irish anti-racism activists, but he managed to lose his computer file and to my great regret, never deposited the bound dissertation in the Department of Sociology, thus it is not available for consultation.
Teaching at Masters level means that some of your students and graduates become friends – Pat was certainly a friend. In 1999 he suggested we run a seminar in Trinity, titled ‘Emerging Irish identities’. Though I am a critic of the concept of identity, the seminar was a great success. It was organised jointly by us and by the National Federation of Campaigns against Racism, which, Pat wrote, was formed in March 1999, inviting affiliations from all open, democratic and non-party political groups campaigning against racism. Consisting of eleven groups, the NFCAR supported the right of immigrants to seek meaningful well paid employment; opposed the scapegoating of immigrants for the deficiencies of the Celtic Tiger and the deportation of what was then called ‘non-nationals’; opposed the discrimination against all ethnic minorities including Travellers and supported free movement for all. Concerned about the anti-immigrant hysteria, Pat linked this to his critique of Irish identity as overtly nationalistic, suggesting that ‘emerging Irish identities’ are anything but nationalistic or closed. His interest in anti-immigrant discourses was developed in a chapter he wrote for Racism and Antiracism in Ireland, which I edited with Robbie McVeigh, and which dealt with anti-refugee media discourses in the early 2000s. He developed his writing and editing skills in Asyland, a journal he edited for the Irish Refugee Council for which he worked as an outreach worker.
Pat was not only a good writer and a committed comrade, he also never shirked backing unpopular causes – his particular support for and work with Roma people is a typical example; indeed, through him I met several incredible Roma people who have made Ireland their home, despite the fact that Roma people are the only EU citizens regularly deported from Ireland and Western Europe. Pat was also not afraid to put his neck on the line – as member of Anti Racism Campaign (ARC), he and his comrades staged a sit down at Taoseach Bertie Ahern’s constituency office.
Pat had his personal demons and we were all delighted when he returned recently to the anti-racism scene, looking a bit worse for wear, but as humorously acerbic as ever. Never lost for a quick riposte, he always gave his support to asylum seekers and migrants who, he knew, were racialised by state and society. It’s true we didn’t see each other often recently – he kept saying he was about to visit me in my office, but sadly we kept missing each other, though we did meet on several occasion in the months before his untimely death. Our last interaction was about what Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI) was expecting of its supporters. Ever the straight talker, Pat asked ADI to become clearer, and was perhaps not patient – fifteen years later – to let them do things in their own pace. As for me, I am sorry that out last exchange was one of disagreement and that I was unable to tell Pat how much I admired and appreciated him. I will miss him as will everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him as the fabulous person and committed anti-racist that he was.
The proceedings of the seminar are available online at: https://www.tcd.ie/sociology/ethnicracialstudies/assets/documents/emerging_irish_id.pdf