The Children’s Ombudsman has pledged to review procedures so his office can take complaints from children about racism after young black Irish people and children living in direct provision asked for a seat at the table of policy-making.
Dr Niall Muldoon made his comments during a ‘youth against racism’ webinar organised by the Cork Migrant Centre at Nano Nagle Place. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the webinar heard emotional testimony from young people about their own direct and daily experiences of racism.
Mr Muldoon, who attended with the CEO of Tusla, Bernard Gloster, said their contributions raised many important issues, including for his own organisation.
He said the findings of a major study on the views of young people living in Ireland’s direct provision system, similar to one published last year on children in emergency accommodation, will be published within weeks.
“Our office has had no complaints about racism but that’s probably because we haven’t done enough to facilitate those complaints,” he said.
And he said he will do all he can to ensure that the voice of those in direct provision — a system he said should be abolished — is heard at the highest levels.
Mr Gloster also said the issues raised need to be discussed by several State agencies in the hope that the voices of those who contributed to the webinar will be heard far and wide.
All who contributed to the webinar said racism should be treated separately from bullying, and they asked to be involved in policy-making to ensure a more multicultural Ireland.
Cork Migrant Centre programme coordinator, Dr Naomi Mascheti, said the killing of George Floyd brings the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement to the fore — especially for the young people she works with on a daily basis.
“These kids who took part in the webinar are Irish. They consider themselves Irish-African. Many have been born here, all they know is being Irish. They speak like Irish kids, they eat like them, they listen to the same music. The only difference is they don't have the same skin colour. They are Irish in all other areas."
“These kids have voices, they are calling for change, they need to be heard, and importantly, they want to influence that change. They would like a seat at the table of policy-making to influence change and they want to say that they can be part of how this happens."
“We often say that our children are the leaders of tomorrow but they are our leaders today."
Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh told the participants that they are the future of Cork: “Be proud, stand up, chest out, you are Cork — you are part of our city."
The event was supported by a number of migrant support groups, including the UCC Africa Society, UCC University of Sanctuary, UCC Fáilte Refugees Society, Cork City of Sanctuary and Cork City Council’s Social Inclusion Unit.
'FOLLOWED AROUND STORES BECAUSE OF MY SKIN COLOUR'
Fionnuala O’Connell, youth leader
Fionnuala O’Connell, 24, a youth leader with the Cork Migrant Centre, has an Irish dad and a Liberian mother.
Born in South Africa, she and her family moved between Liberia and Ireland before eventually deciding to settle in Ireland in 2010.
“I am constantly asked where I’m really from because people think you can’t look like I do and be Irish,” she said.
"And when they see or hear my name, they find it difficult to process. How can I have a name like Fionnula O'Connell - it's about as Irish as it gets - and look like I do?
“In Liberia, I’m not considered Liberian, and here, I’m not considered Irish. I feel like an outsider, not accepted by either.
I’m followed around stores because of my skin colour - the colour of what people perceive to be a criminal.
“It’s happens to my sisters, to my boyfriend, to my friends who are black.
“People would rather stand than sit next to you on a bus. It’s little things like this that make you feel uncomfortable.
“There is no representation in the media, while the language and images used to portray black people are often negative, and perpetuate stereotypes.
“This can no longer be denied and ignored. We have to come together to ask Irish decision-makers to work with us to have this addressed in our society.
“It is no longer acceptable to do nothing and let any form of bias, discrimination, and prejudices go unchallenged.
“I began volunteering at the Migrant Centre to help build the teenagers’ confidence and I have seen it increase."
Andrea Williams, choreographer and model
Andrea Williams, a choreographer and model, was born in the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde. She's been delivering dance workshops for teenagers at the Cork Migrant Centre for the last three years, with her collaborator, DJ Stevie G.
She said her birth nation’s position in the mid-Atlantic, between Africa and the US, means it played a key role in the slave trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, and influenced its citizens’ sense of their national identity — a unique blend of African, European and American.
Ms Williams said that when her country gained independence in 1975, its citizens faced an identity crisis: “I feel this might happen with black teenagers growing up in Ireland today — they might feel that they don’t belong, especially when they’re experiences on both sides might be people not accepting them."
“You are not Irish because you don’t look Irish or you are a mixed kid. And you’re not considered black because you’re not fully black. I know what that cost my country and I don’t want these teenagers to feel the same pain of not knowing who you are. It’s hard enough to be a teenager. We all know how intense it is to go through all those emotions — and on top of that, the fact that you might feel that you don’t belong somewhere just makes everything extremely hard."
“These teenagers are the future. For some of them, Ireland is all they’ve known. This is their country. They should feel secure and comfortable enough to tell us what’s going on for them. They are all full of hope and dreams and we shouldn’t kill those dreams. It starts at home, it starts in school and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about these things.”
Tumi Isa Daniel, environmental analyst
I still wake up every day, thinking that there is a 50% chance that someone will say something about the colour of my skin.
Tumi Isa Daniel, 26, an environmental analyst with Cork County Council, moved to Ireland with her family 12-years ago, and has been living in Cork for the last seven years.
“I moved here when I was 14, and I remember my mum telling me that people will judge me because of the colour of my skin. I had to work twice as hard to be accepted. When I started secondary school, people were really nasty. They called me monkey and gorilla, and said I was ugly.
People would touch my hair and say 'this is so disgusting, it feel like snakes on your head’.
“I hated school, and experienced this kind of thing in every year. There was always something: it was my looks, the colour of my skin, my hair. I felt unseen, invisible. I moved to Cork for college, studying pharmaceutical chemistry in CIT, and to be honest the experience was great.
"But I still have random strangers using the ‘n’ word towards me, on the street. I still wake up every day, thinking that there is a 50% chance that someone will say something about the colour of my skin. I could be having a good day, but it just takes one person to say something so nasty."
“In 2017, four young adults sitting opposite me in a McDonald’s outlet in Cork city, called me monkey, gorilla, and used the ‘n’ word, they told me that my skin looked dirty and one told me to go back to the jungle. I didn’t know what to do so I left, went back to my car and cried. I didn’t have the courage then that I do now.
"This is not just a US problem. It’s a problem all over the world. I’m not just fighting for me now. This is for my sister and for my kids."