Wednesday 11 December 2019

Irish people have no right to be racist, says McAleese

Former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Sarah Mac Donald

Former president Dr Mary McAleese has said Irish people have no right to behave in a racist fashion having been the victims of racism like ‘no Irish need apply’ in some countries to which they emigrated.

Speaking as part of a panel discussion in the Jonathan Swift Festival along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, as well as economist David McWilliams and historian, Dr Ida Milne, Dr McAleese warned those “horrified” by the rise in racist anti-immigrant movements that “complacency” would “not serve us well”.

Noting that 17% of the population in Ireland “comes from somewhere else”, the former head of state said that these immigrants had made their lives here. “I think in general we have done a wonderful job in absorbing [them],” she said.

However, she admitted, “That is not to say that we have done a perfect job; that is not to say that we don’t have racism in our midst; that is not to say that some people who come here won’t experience the kind of racism that breaks your heart and makes you say, ‘hang on a minute, we were the people who were victims of racism, whether it was in England where it was ‘no Irish need apply’ or America. We have no right to behave like that,” she stressed.

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Professor McAleese, who is the new chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, also expressed concern over the growth of anti-immigrant and racist movements across Europe. Describing their stance as not new, she warned that social media had “oxygenated” and “helped them hugely”.

“They find friends very easily now; they can reconfigure and find strength in numbers,” she said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, warned that “Religion can be used to raise the barriers” and he said that when the world changes quickly the temptation for some is to use religion as an ‘identifier’ and “circle the wagons”.

Archbishop Welby was speaking after he preached at the National Service of Commemoration for the 150th anniversary of the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.

After the ceremony, Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Glendalough told the Irish Independent that the tradition in Ireland is “one of welcoming the stranger and not diminishing or demoralising the stranger”.

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys represented the Government at the service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, the Minister said politicians elected to the Dáil were there to represent everybody in this country. “I think what is important is that we aspire to represent all people and to be an inclusive society. That is what I want to see – respect for all colours, all creeds right across the board and respect diversity in all its forms.”

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