Apologies. I had a look around earlier but did not spot Deputy Catherine Murphy sitting right behind me. As we go forward, we should have a committee session on this where we can hear people talk directly about their experiences.
I want to address a couple of points. Racism is not exceptional. When we start talking about racists as individuals, we lose the ability to see how imbued racism is in every aspect of our society. I prefer to talk about racism because it is everywhere. If we are fully honest with each other, we will acknowledge that we all have used it at some stage in our life. I have used it, I am ashamed to say, and I think every one of us has done so. There certainly are some people in this Dáil - not here today, from what I can tell - who have used it to get into this House. That needs to be called out. Only a couple of weeks ago, a Deputy used it in a parliamentary question in order to get attention. That needs to be called out. Whatever way this House is configured in the weeks ahead, I will continue to call it out if I see it in my colleagues or in people across the aisle.
There are good policies coming on board and there are many goods plans. This House has huge capacity and influence in regard to this problem, not so much in terms of influencing policies, which are important, but in terms of how we all speak in public. There are 158 Deputies from across the country. We are leaders in our communities. People look up to us in our communities. They listen to what we say. We need to be conscious of how we talk about issues in public. When we knock on doors and racism appears to us we need to challenge it and put a check on it. When a new accommodation centre for asylum seekers is to be located in our area we need to be conscious of our language, how we dealt with that and how we deal with constituents who might have an issue with it. Similarly with accommodation for Travellers, we all can say nice things but when push comes to shove, there are Members of this House who also have opposed accommodation for Travellers in their areas. When there have been articles in the newspapers about an individual who committed a crime who is not white and Irish, people have piled on and used racism. We have all used racism and we need to call it out.
I will use the remainder of my time reading into the record statements from people who have experienced racism. The first statement is from Emer O'Neill:
My mum told me when I was about five or six that she watched me try to scrub the brown from my skin and cry because it wouldn't come off.
Years later, I have to endure hearing my five-year-old telling me that he wished that he had skin like his dad and that he wants to be white like everybody else.
That just kills me. As much as I try to lift him up and try to help him feel black and proud, his peers, the media and day-to-day life, they have more influence than anything.
There's no reason why a child should feel badly about their skin colour and that's something that comes from the top down, through parents, family and friends. Racism is a taught thing.
The following statement is from 25 year old Sian English-Adams who is Jamaican-Irish:
As I progressed on to secondary school that's when I found that I really really got the brunt of racial abuse. There were guys on my bus and they used to basically jeer me because my nose was too big, my forehead was too big, that I was too black or I don't belong here in Ireland, to go back to my home country.
And I used to sit there sometimes and think but this is my home country; you guys are my people so where do I actually belong?
The following statement is from 19 year old Wura Elsie who is Nigerian-Irish and studying nursing in UCD:
Growing up in Ireland for me was very difficult and hard to be honest because unlike a lot of people I grew up in direct provision and that is something that I find so hard to talk about.
I remember getting bullied at one point. It was a group of boys that would say, "if you don't do this I'm going to call the police on you and you're going to get deported." Between eight to ten years old in primary school and like your biggest fear is being deported.
I didn't realise how bad racism was until I started working in hospitals. Trying to learn and just being in the learning environment and experiencing racism from patients and some nurses was horrible and very disheartening as a student because this is a career path that you are trying to go through and it is already challenging as it is.
The following statement is from Levine and it is contracted. I cannot get it all in unfortunately today:
In secondary school, that's when verbal and a bit of physical abuse were manifested towards me. Certain parents didn't want their kids to be friends with an "N" word child. I remember being told that I was here stealing your houses, your social welfare money and to go back to my country. In class sometimes they would bully me purely because I am black and exclude me from games in break time. I found myself either alone or with people of my own colour.
This very line of abuse in regard to people coming here and using our resources was used in this House a couple of weeks ago by a Deputy in a parliamentary question.
The following is an extract from a statement from a person who works in Leinster House:
Dealing with the authorities can be daunting the moment your surname is mentioned. Your passport is checked for its authenticity, your application appears to take longer than the normal processing time, the person interviewing you has your surname circled during the interview and it knocks you right off course and when they call your name over the intercom making it sound more alien than it is - you find yourself slightly embarrassed by your name as onlookers watch you take your place in line.
The strong foundations that my parents and grandparents gave me could never have prepared me for the harsh reality of racism in our society, where you experience verbal and behaviourial indignities just because of who you are as a person and what makes you you.
The statement continued:
Living in a world where you are targeted with daily microagressions and derogatory remarks, one can argue that it made me resilient, but it has left scars. Racism affects your mental health. You want to be able to share your life with those around you but you have found that society is not ready for it so you are prepared for the unexpected. It sees you as different, as though it is a bad thing. As I walk the halls of Leinster House, I am conscious of my difference and I know that difference is a strength and not a weakness but I will continue to face the harsh reality of racism in our society but I hope these very halls that hold the power of change will lead to a brighter future for many in Ireland where racism through public policy is addressed.
I will read one last statement:
When I tell people about racism I am being told to relax, to not be so serious, to learn how to take a joke, to stop being so radical, to ignore it, to get over it. It is people who never experienced it who are the first to tell me how to feel about racism. Yet, my feelings about racism is not a matter of choice. Racism is a powerful force that is destroying my dignity, my mental well-being, my sense of belonging and my self worth. I know that it is difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it, that even a seemingly trivial experience can have a long-lasting effect on a person at the receiving end.
Let me tell you two stories that may help you to understand. Some years ago I was robbed on a street at knife point. As you can imagine, this experience left me in a state of shock. For weeks after that experience I was feeling very insecure and I had flashbacks every time someone was walking behind me. After a couple of months though that feeling started to wear off, my sense of security slowly came back, and within less than a year I was again walking on the streets with no fear. Then two and a half years ago I was refused a service in a shop, under a false pretence that there was no change in the till and that the card machine did not work. As I was walking out, I observed the next Irish customer being served, he paid in cash and was given change. The experience lives with me until today. Until today, two and a half years later, I am not able to cross the entrance to that shop. I still feel that humiliation, sense of injustice and hurt. I was reduced to feeling like nobody and less than human. I did not do anything about this. I knew that not much more could be done. I could complain to the shop management but I didn't want to go through the next experience of disempowerment and injustice. I was in this situation so many times before so I knew too well that my experience would not be taken seriously, and the feeling of hurt would only be deepened. On previous occasions I heard some made up excuses, I had my experience diminished and undermined, I was told to ignore and get over it. So this time I decided to do nothing for nothing could be done, so I chose to protect my dignity from further hurt.
I hope that these two stories will help you to understand the difference between a victimhood based on racism and victimhood in general. In the first example, I was targeted randomly for financial gain. Even though I could potentially be physically hurt, I knew that who I was did not play any role, therefore the experience didn't cut deep into my soul and didn't leave scars. In the second story I was physically safe, yet the scars will never heal. I was targeted because of who I am, I was made ashamed of my identity, and I was made unwelcome in a country that is home to me. What made the situation worse was to know that my experience didn't matter, there was nowhere that I could go to complain, to be taken seriously, to at least receive a listening ear and expression of solidarity.
Racism is not a joke, it is not something that can be ignored, and once experienced it can never be forgotten. I am not expecting miracles, I know that we have a long way ahead of us. However, the first step is to acknowledge that racism exists in Ireland, and to acknowledge the destroying powers of racism on individuals and communities. I want my experiences to be taken seriously, and I want to feel that there is a way to see justice for victims of racism.