Beardsley case shows we must all play by the rules when it comes to tolerance

Beardsley case shows we must all play by the rules when it comes to tolerance

It is no longer acceptable to engage in the business of singling out people on the basis of their ethnicity.

This is the harsh lesson that former football star Peter Beardsley has - perhaps - learned in the past week.

The former Liverpool and Newcastle United player has been banned from the game for almost eight months after an independent commission accepted charges brought against him by the Football Association that he had racially abused a player.

There appears to have been no malice on Mr Beardsley’s part – rather he is a man who has been caught out by what amounts to a growing intolerance of actions perceived as lacking in tolerance of diversity.

The complaints were initiated by a young midfielder with a Middle Eastern background. The Commission concluded that Mr Beardsley made remarks that were "obviously racist".

However, it also effectively gave the 58-year old a free pass, concluding that there was no evidence that he was "ill disposed to persons on the grounds of their race or ethnicity", adding that it was "also relevant that he has not had the benefit of training and education about offensive racist remarks and the importance of not making them."

You could call it a fool’s pardon.

Peter Beardsley is one of a number of people in positions of authority who has simply been caught out by the pace of change in society and the workplace. However, it really is important to find the right balance and not to end up in a situation where people are pressed into corners.

Moreover, the workplace should not become a happy hunting ground for opportunistic lawyers and litigants.

The Labour Court has – as it happens – just ruled that a part time lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, Ali Selim, should receive an enhanced award of €7,500 in compensation after he was made redundant. He had appealed an earlier award of €4,000 from the Workplace Relations Commission claiming that the amount was insufficient. He sought reinstatement but this was denied.

Mr Selim had provoked controversy following comments made on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme on the issue of female circumcision. He later apologised while insisting that he opposes any form of female genital mutilation. Soon after, the decision was made to terminate his contract.

Trinity contended that this was a genuine redundancy which arose from the appointment of a new professor. The Court declined to take the bait. In its view, TCD had failed to establish that Mr Selim’s role was redundant. It dismissed the College’s contention that Mr Selim’s classes had attracted "insufficient student interest."

Charges that employers engage in contrived redundancies with the aim of getting rid of employees that they no longer want are increasingly being brought, these days. Certainly, any form of sneaky behaviour is to be condemned. At the same time, organisations should be left reasonably free to reshuffle the deck when required. The reality is that, in life, you cannot freeze relationships in aspic.

The law, however, is pretty clear on this matter.

There must be substantial grounds for a redundancy – for example, the cessation in the requirements for the work of the kind carried out by the employee in question. This can offer scope to employers who are engaging in major restructuring involving the introduction of new technology.

However, the process used of selecting people for redundancy must be well engineered.

In the landmark Kerry McGarvey case, a worker was selected for redundancy being seven months into her pregnancy at the time. She was awarded €30,000 by the Equality Tribunal though the award was reduced on appeal to €20,000.

In mainland Europe labour markets are often highly rigid with the result that opportunities are simply not available for those outside the organisation.

Employment tribunals and courts should be mindful of this fact. That said, it is perhaps no harm that someone in Dr Selim’s position can achieve a form of vindication as it will surely lead to a lessening in the degree of alienation experienced, or felt by members of his community.

What is clear is that the position of certain ethnic groups with attitudes on social issues that are anathema to the liberal mainstream poses serious challenges to those in charge of organisations, particularly in the medical and educational sectors.

Over the past year, the city of Birmingham in the British Midlands has been caught up in a drama, with educationalists seeking to promote courses designed to help pupils to better understand LGBT issues. The school principals and teachers, in turn, are being challenged by religious traditionalists from within the Muslim community.

Demonstrations have been taking place outside schools and there have been calls for the resignation of school principals. Management need to stand full square behind the teachers involved without acting in a manner designed to deepen the sense of alienation that exists within some immigrant communities.

It is a tricky situation for the authorities who, after all, owe a duty of care to those charged with the tricky task of running the schools in their areas.

It is also important to be aware that Muslim communities are themselves deeply divided on this issue of education in LGBT issues.

Dame Louise Casey, author of a major report on integration in Britain, has hit out at what she terms these "homophobic demos" adding :

If I was gay and watching what was happening in Birmingham, I would say it was discriminatory

The schools affected have secured a High Court injunction yet the protests have continued.

We are good, it seems, at achieving an awareness of our own rights – less so, when it comes to getting into the minds of those with whom we differ. Contestation between various groups in society appears, if anything, to be growing.

In this latest confrontation, what we are witnessing is a clash between people with a strong sense of embattled community and religious identity and those with a strong belief in individual personal freedoms.

Versions of this clash of identities can be observed closer to home within Irish hospitals where people from immigrant communities have long played a key role in keeping the Irish medical show on the road. Young Irish female doctors have, on occasions, been advised to tread with caution as they build relations with people whose mindsets are simply very different.

Peter Beardsley is far from alone when it comes to his difficulty in adapting to a world which is greatly transformed since the days of his youth - when a bit of racial banter was something to be endured with a shrug and a laugh.

Employers, who no doubt have plenty on their plate, these days cannot afford to lose sight of the gaps in perception that can grow up between the people who work for them. In Ireland, we have experienced an unprecedented surge in immigration.

It has brought us many benefits, but also plenty of challenges in its wake.

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