Some 350 people gathered in Cork city centre on Saturday afternoon for the ninth annual Cork Says No to Racism rally.
It was a vibrant, good-humoured, family-friendly gathering, and those in attendance heard speaker after speaker condemn those loud voices spreading hatred and division in this country.
The rally gathered on the Grand Parade before marching down Patrick Street, Winthrop Street and Oliver Plunkett Street, behind tricolours, banners and flags.
Joe Moore of Cork Says No to Racism said the rally was gathered to mark World Anti-Racism Day, a day designated by the United Nations to remember the Sharpeville Massacre, which occurred in South Africa on 21 March 1960, and in which 69 people protesting the racist pass laws were gunned down by Apartheid forces.
Mr Moore said the rally was fully in support of staff in the nearby City Library who, it has been reported, have been subjected to harassment and abuse by protests against LGBTQI+ young adult reading material.
He criticised the Government for its handling of the refugee crisis, and he said Minister Roderic O’Gorman, who had promised to take the “meanness” out of its direct provision system, had failed miserably to do improve the situation for those seeking refuge in Ireland.
Margaret Meehan of Travellers of North Cork said that, as a Traveller, she knew all too well the high price of racism on the most vulnerable in Irish society.
“Ask any of our children, many of whom have gone to school only to be told about the lives of the settled people, only to celebrate the settled people’s achievements,” Ms Meehan said.
“We were told we would never achieve anything. Fortunately, and slowly, this is changing, but we need to make sure that our children from different backgrounds are included and that they are culturally and positively represented in each classroom.
Mary Crilly, founder of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork, received a very warm and loud reception when she addressed the rally.
“For the past 40 years, every day unfortunately we meet women, mainly women, and men, who have been raped or sexually assaulted, and I am sick and tired of hearing ‘Don’t bring in new communities, don’t bring in asylum seekers, you’ll have more rape, you’ll have more abuse', and I find it so unacceptable that people say that, because it is not the truth,” Ms Crilly said.
“Gender-based violence is a global systemic issue that affects all communities. It is unacceptable and incorrect to use this issue to shore up racism and hatred.
“It’s the racists I would like to kick out, not the asylum seekers,” Ms Crilly said, to loud cheers.
Fionuala O’Connell, of the Cork Migrant Centre, may have slightly jinxed things by saying the weather had held out so far, as the skies then opened, but everyone stayed put and spirits stayed high.
Ms O’Connell said that when she moved to Ireland, she had always known she was Irish, even though society often said otherwise.
“I was born in South Africa, two years after Apartheid ended. My mother was born in Liberia, and my dad was born in Mayo,” Ms O’Connell.
“No child chooses their parents, no child chooses the country that they’re born in, no child chooses their hair colour, no child chooses the colour of their skin,” she said, adding that we all have to create a society welcoming to all children and represents all of humanity.
Kate O’Connell from Fermoy and Mallow Against Racism was hailed for Fermoy’s unequivocal rejection of far right protests against asylum seekers, but she insisted that she was only one of a very large group of people in Fermoy who every week work in practical solidarity with people living in direct provision in the town.
“You might have heard about Fermoy. What I hate is that you might have heard about anti-migrant protests there, but that is not the story of Fermoy,” Ms O’Connell said.
“Fermoy is a great place to live. It’s not without its problems, many people there cannot access secure accommodation, too many people sit on the housing list, we sit surrounded by green fields but they cannot build us social housing.” Ms O’Connell said “outside agitators” had come to Fermoy, but they had nothing positive to say, and their message of hate and fear had been roundly rejected.
The meeting heard from Socialist TD Mick Barry, who said it was very clear that ordinary people could see through blatant attempts to foster division and hatred.
He said the housing crisis and the Government’s decision to lift the eviction ban was something felt especially keenly by people of colour and immigrants.
“People who are immigrants and people of colour form a disproportionate section of those who rent in this country, so we need to speak out on behalf of all renters, but we need to be clear when we do that that we speak out on behalf of immigrants and people of colour as a key component part of the renters in this country,” Mr Barry said.
Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said the Irish people wanted to see everybody treated with dignity and respect.
“My dad told me about being in London and seeing on the doors the signs saying ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’, and that discrimination Irish people saw all over the world.
“So why would we want to put that discrimination on people who are coming to us now?” Mr Gould said, to loud applause.