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Taoiseach wants hate speech laws introduced in Ireland and admits country has racism problem

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Pic Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Pic Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Pic Steve Humphreys

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said new new hate speech laws are needed as he said he believes Ireland has a racism problem.

He also compared the current outcry about racism in the wake of the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by a police officer in the US to the #MeToo movement on sexual assault.

During an interview on 2FM Breakfast with Doireann and Eoghan, Mr Varadkar was asked if he believes Ireland has a problem with racism.

He replied: “I think we do. The truth is any country in the world has racism to some degree.

“Thankfully we don’t have the kind of problems with police brutality that they have in the United States,” he said, adding that the Gardaí are a “very professional police force.”

Mr Varadkar continued: “But everyone is aware of the way Travellers are treated and spoken about in Ireland.

“That’s a form of racism.

“Anyone who grew up in Ireland mixed race like me would be aware of the fact that people - when you look and sound different or you have a funny surname, people treat you differently and it isn’t always nice.

“It’s not something I talk about too much because it hasn’t held me back - if anything it’s probably pushed me on - also I had a lot of other privileges that helped counteract those kinds of disadvantages.

“But it does worry me a bit particularly for young people of colour who were born in Ireland, grew up in Ireland, Ireland is their only home, being treated as if they’re not fully Irish and that hurts.”

Mr Varadkar said: “In many ways what we’ve seen with Black Lives Matter reminds me of what happened with #MeToo a year or two ago - people no longer being ashamed to talk about their experiences of racism and being willing to talk about it and shame the people who are the racists.

“It’s almost like a switch flipped for a lot of people and I think it could be a good thing in that sense.”

He says steps have been taken to combat racism here like recognising Traveller ethnicity and making it easier to become an Irish citizen but more needs to be done.

“I think definitely we need to bring in some new laws around hate speech and hate crimes. It’s not easy to do because you don’t want to shut down freedom of speech either but we need to make some more progress on that.

“We need an anti-racism campaign as well just to raise awareness about it.”

He said people like footballer Paul McGrath and rock star Phil Lynott were heroes for him growing up adding they are: “people who were definitely mixed race, very definitely Irish and they were icons as well.”

He said people like hurler Lee Chin is a similar role model for young people growing up in Ireland now.

He said he wants to avoid the kinds of tensions over race seen in Germany, France and Britain.

Mr Varadkar said it’s really important that there isn’t a repeat of what happened in those countries here.

Anti-racism protests in the UK and elsewhere have seen statues of historical figures associated with colonialism or slavery torn down or vandalised.

Mr Varadkar said: “We have our own statues we might need to think about. There’s a statue in Fairview Park of an Irish Republican who was also a bit of a Nazi collaborator.”

This is a reference to the statue of Republican Seán Russell which has been a location for commemorations by Sinn Féin.

Mr Varadkar said: “Any statues that come down should come down legally - let’s not engage in violence because that’s not right.”

Online Editors