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RACISM ROW AFTER 7 SECONDS STAR IS HELD FOR 4 HOURS; Singer in airport visa ordeal.

Byline: PAUL CLARKSON

IMMIGRATION checks were blasted as "racist" yesterday after singer Youssou N'Dour was held for FOUR hours at Dublin Airport.

The African star nearly missed his gig at the Red Box in Dublin after officials almost refused to let him into Ireland.

N'Dour, 43, - famous for his hit 7 Seconds with Neneh Cherry - was stopped as he got off a flight from London on Monday night.

By the time officials had passed the Senegalese singer's visa papers he was more than an hour late.

The Green Party yesterday said the fiasco was "indefensible" and accused immigration officials of racism.

Spokesman Ciaran Cuffe demanded an apology from Justice Minister Michael McDowell and said: "We must have a full explanation why an internationally renowned singer was treated like this.

"It's an embarrassment and it is not the first time this has happened.

"Many African artists have suffered the same fate.

"This case has all the appearances of racial profiling. It appears if you are not from the EU you will have problems passing immigration.

"We must review immigration criteria and the methods used for screening visitors to Ireland."

Phillip Watt, director of racism watchdog NCCRI, said: "You would think common sense would have prevailed in this case.

"It sends out a very negative image to the world when such an international star is put through this.

"They may have been following the strict letter of the law but we should be more flexible at times."

N'Dour has sold millions of records in a career spanning four decades.

His duet with Neneh Cherry reached number two in 1994.

He has also worked with Peter Gabriel and was hailed as the African Artist of the Century in 1999.

He had just played a number of gigs in England as part of a European tour.

A Department of Justice spokesman refused to comment on criticism over the handling of the affair. The fiasco was sorted out when Fianna Fail TD Eoin Ryan contacted the department and vouched for N'Dour and his band.

But Deputy Ryan hit out at claims by Green TD Ciaran Cuffe that the government was guilty of "racial profiling".

He said: "The musicians were only detained while inquiries were carried out.

"Cuffe needs to explain what he is accusing the government and immigration officials at Dublin Airport of.

"It is a serious allegation and should be withdrawn.

"Why should this government apologise on behalf of immigration officials when the musicians did not possess the necessary visas?

"The officials acted responsibly and made their inquiries professionally.

"After I contacted the Department of Justice and explained the situation the group was let in.

"What this incident shows is that immigration officials are doing exactly what they are employed to do."

But the Red Box said last night that they had been told by officials no visa was needed for the gig.

Spokeswoman Jill Foley added: "Youssou N'Dour was delayed briefly yesterday.

"His show was delayed but after intervention from TD Eoin Ryan it was resolved.

"Youssou took the stage at Dublin's Red Box last night for an extended show.

"We apologise for any inconvenience caused but it was beyond our control.

"We would like to point out that all work permits for our artists were in place.

"We were informed, as was the artist, that no visas were required after a Senegalese agreement with the EU."

CAPTION(S):

PRESSURE: Justice Minister McDowell; HELP: Eoin Ryan TD vouched for N'Dour; HELD UP: N'Dour was an hour late for his concert in Dublin
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 18, 2002
Words:589
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