NEW YORK — Following the Republican National Committee’s use of a presidential contender’s old mug shot in a St. Patrick’s Day message, the nation’s oldest Irish Catholic organization is firing back.
On Sunday, the GOP published a 1998 photo of Texas congressman and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke from a DWI arrest with a shamrock and green top hat, above the caption “please drink responsibly.”
“The Ancient Order of Hibernians are shocked and appalled that on St. Patrick’s Day, a day when America celebrates and honors the contributions that Irish Americans have made to our great country, the GOP would launch an attack on a prospective presidential candidate based solely on his Irish Heritage,” the group said in a statement on Monday.
“This offensive meme is nothing more than a 21st-century version of the scurrilous anti-Irish cartoons of Thomas Nast. As America’s oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization, founded in 1836 in response to anti-Irish bigotry, the Hibernians had hoped that the days when a candidate’s Irish ancestry would be used as campaign fodder were confined to the dark past; that today American political debate focuses on the issues, not the ancestry of a candidate,” the statement continued. “Sadly, this toxic tweet from the GOP proves we were optimistic and premature in our beliefs.”
Concluding their statement, the Hibernians called on the Republican party to denounce the tweet and issue an apology.
“The Ancient Order of Hibernians suggests that those responsible for this exercise in prejudice for political ends read the President’s recent proclamation of Irish American Heritage month,” they wrote.
“The Hibernians ask that the Republican National committee denounce this tweet defaming Irish Americans and their heritage, censure those responsible and offer a clear and unambiguous apology to the Irish American community.”
O’Rourke, who announced his candidacy last week, is a Catholic, but his faith has caused controversy before.
In 2011, while then an El Paso city councilman, he publicly tangled with a Catholic priest over gay marriage, calling out the “moral failings of the church you represent, especially as you try to take the moral high-ground in this debate,” when he was challenged for his stance in support of gay marriage.
More recently, he spoke of his faith when he attended a White House ceremony during Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to the United States.
In response to Sunday’s tweet, he dismissed it as “pettiness.”
Coincidentally, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey — who also frequently touts his Irish heritage — used the feast day to recall the long history of belittling Irish immigrants.
“In the 1870s, the code images for Irish people were drunken apes. The same sort of calumny is used today, when immigrants are called rapists and drug dealers. When we speak about immigrants as less than human, we become something less than what God intended us to be,” he wrote in a Tweet on Sunday.