Friday 22 September 2017

Mary McAleese: 'Trump and Brexit have left people feeling empowered to be racist'

Mary McAleese says Ireland must remember the importance of acceptance

Former president Mary McAleese. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Former president Mary McAleese. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Sarah MacDonald

Former president Mary McAleese believes the rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote have left people feeling "empowered to be openly hostile and racist, as if that is acceptable".

Ms McAleese said the rise in hate crime in the US and the UK in the wake of the vote for Brexit and the election of Mr Trump was "extremely worrying" and she appealed for any hate crimes here to be dealt with "robustly".

She said she hoped that Irish people would not get involved in the "kind of things that we heard of during the Brexit campaign or during the Trump campaign", such as the "name-calling, the stereotyping and the racism".

"My worry is that in other countries people sort of feel empowered now to be openly hostile and to be racist, as if that is acceptable," she warned of the fallout from the Brexit debate and Mr Trump's anti-immigration platform.

She was speaking to the Irish Independent ahead of the arrival this week of the first 82 Syrians in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

The former president is spearheading a bell-ringing initiative aimed at sending a message of welcome to immigrants during St Patrick's weekend.

On Sunday, March 19, Ms McAleese will formally relaunch the bells of Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford city, which have been silent for 18 months due to ongoing repair work.

At 11am that day the "Joy Bells" of the Church of Ireland cathedral will ring out once again as part of the anti-sectarian ecumenical initiative. It will also see churches around the world ring their bells that day in solidarity with immigrants.

"Part of what we hope to ensure with our bell peal is that no such intolerance ever occurs in our country which has its own phenomenal history of being the immigrant elsewhere," the former head of state explained.

She said there was nobody on the island of Ireland who did not have an emigrant cousin, uncle, aunt, sister somewhere in the world.

"We know that story and we know how important a warm reception is to people," she said.

She also paid tribute to Ireland for having "absorbed very significant numbers of non-Irish nationals over a very short period of time".

"We have done that with a downturn in the economy and without resorting, at the political level, to the kind of things that we heard during the Brexit campaign or during the Trump campaign. I hope that that remains the case."

But she stressed that this was not to say that there were not people who had on a daily basis encountered nasty hate crimes perpetrated by individuals. "I would like to think that we deal with that very robustly and stop that in its tracks."

The bell-ringing initiative is the first of its kind and has been co-organised with Dean Maria Jansson of Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford, the daughter of an Irish mother and Swedish father.

St Patrick's weekend was deliberately chosen because the national saint is, according to Ms McAleese, "by far the most famous and successful immigrant to Ireland".

"He was the trafficked child; he was the refugee and the immigrant who impacted on his adopted homeland in remarkable ways and made such a contribution. He tells us through his story how important it is to remain open to others and the gift others bring to us," she said.

Irish Independent

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