Monday, April 16, 2012

In Tackling Racism We Must Return To The Innocence of Childhood


‘Anti-Racism Educational Work With Young People’
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, Dublin North Central
Marino Institute of Education
Monday April 16th 2012

I am delighted to have been given an opportunity to speak to your Conference on this very important issue concerning ‘Anti-Racism Educational Work With Young People’.

I would first like to pay tribute to the sterling work continually being done by the ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ Campaign and in particular Garrett Mullen who co-ordinates this important movement.

It is important to reference the fact that today marks the beginning of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. The fact that we have Norwegian delegates here today, and that his victims were members of a sister political party of the Irish Labour Party, reminds us all of the potentially poisonous and murderous effects of racism.

We remember the victims of the awful events of July 22nd last year today and those events only make us more determined to build a world devoid of fear, racism and discrimination.

We have much work to do and sport can play a central role in achieving our aims. This year promises to be a magnificent celebration of sport with the European Championships upcoming, and of course the London Olympic Games this summer.

It is important to remind ourselves of the oath that is taken on behalf of all participants before the games themselves:

In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams

And I suppose those are the types of ideals that we hope all our citizens would aspire to:

To play an active role in community and society.
To respect the rule of law while advocating against injustice
Pursuing happiness and natural highs
In the true spirit of humanity and citizenry
For the glory of the human spirit and for humanity as a whole

We are not just advocates of removing racism from sport; we believe that the promotion of sport is key in the fight against racism.

In my previous existence as a primary school teacher, the greatest moments of joy for me where days on the sideline of a football pitch, cheering and encouraging our school teams alongside parents and families. It is a microcosm of what we want to achieve in education – children of different abilities, playing together, with a singular goal, encouraged by their families and mentors.

Of course it is even better when you win!

Sport and politics are inextricably linked. Team sports represent areas and by extension countries. As a result mixing sport and politics is inevitable and therefore can lead to positive re-evaluation of a country’s identity.

The great French soccer side of the late 90s with players of various ethnic backgrounds was a powerful rebuttal of Jean Marie Le Pen’s far right agenda.

The boxer Barry McGuigan, a Catholic from the border town of Clones, who represented Northern Ireland and briefly united a sectarian divide during the murderous period of the 1980s as he reigned as a World Champion.

However Nationalism often leads to a rigid interpretation of identity, one that is exclusive not inclusive; one which can promote a toxic mix of religion, politics and triumphalism that celebrates hate and separation.

We cannot merely rely on words to encourage our young people to aspire to be tolerant and broad-minded. We need legislative muscle to underline our intent.

Our Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act dates back to 1989, has proven to be totally ineffectual, and does not reflect the nature of our modern Irish society. There has never been, to my knowledge, even one successful prosecution under this Act. We need robust legislation to tackle those who will cheaply and lazily incite hatred against minorities for whatever motive, personal, monetary or political.

I want to work with interest groups like the Show Racism the Red Card Campaign to devise and to draft new legislation that will help us all to re-evaluate what is most important about living in a modern-day Republic.

Education is key. Our children are not born with hatred in their hearts but they learn it from adults that surround them.

We need to return to the innocence of childhood.

If you listen to Yoga instructors they will tell you to re-learn how to breathe as a child breathes.

If you read Christopher McDougall’s excellent ‘Born to Run’ he explains how sports manufacturers now accept that the most effective way to run is barefoot, as comes naturally to children.

My experience in the classroom, in an area of acute disadvantage, taught me that there is no such thing as a stupid child, and no such thing as a bad child.

And also that ‘Impossible’ is only an opinion.

I wish you every success over the coming days in your endeavours. Racial harmony is possible. We must make it possible.