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The problems that exist in the world can't be solved by the same type of thinking that caused them.
- Albert Einstein



Making St. Patrick’s Day inclusive

Glen Phillips
Sunday Mirror 17/03/2002


Many readers will be taking part in some sort of activity today to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people throughout the world will be celebrating their heritage and parading in big cities such as New York, Sydney and London. They will be joined by their friends, many of whom will not be Irish at all, but who will just be going along to experience the craic. It is a chance for exiles and their descendents to remember and be proud of “the old land” and tell stories of Ireland to their neighbours in their new country.

In this country thousands will take part in parades in Dublin and Belfast and many others will visit dances and clubs or just go out to have a good time. The question we should be asking is whether people here who are not Irish and those who are newly arrived are made to feel welcome in our celebrations. Hopefully the answer is a resounding yes, but if this is not the case, it is a situation that needs addressing urgently.

In Belfast today’s St. Patrick’s Day Carnival has made great efforts to be inclusive. People from all communities are welcome and there will be feeder parades from the north, south, east and west of the city. The theme is “Children of the World” and as well as Catholics and Protestants there will be children of local Palestinians parading in their traditional costume with their national flag. Live on stage in the city centre afterwards Indian dancers will perform alongside traditional Irish dancers and African musicians will perform alongside their Celtic counterparts. Surely this is the future we all want to see - celebrating where we come from as well as where we are today. After all isn’t that what Irish emigrants have been doing for centuries?

Unfortunately the whole concept of national days can be used to divide as well as unify. We have all seen photographs of the National Front marching in England on St. George’s Day and it’s not something people want to see happening here. We need to ensure St. Patrick’s Day is inclusive and not an “Ireland for the Irish” occasion. This is down to every single one of us; black, white or mixed race, Catholic, Protestant or Muslim. Any events promoting diversity within Ireland are to be welcomed. It is important for people to be aware of, and experience, other cultures. So hopefully the dancers and musicians in Belfast today will be learning from, as well as teaching, each other.

Most immigrants in Ireland have nothing but good things to say about this country and talk of a warm welcome from friendly people. This is especially appreciated by those fleeing tyranny and persecution who seek asylum here. However for a minority of newcomers the phrase céad mile fáilte rings hollow. They are the ones who have experienced a welcome which is anything but warm. The victims of racist attacks in Cork, Dublin and Belfast deserve better. St. Patrick’s Day is a good time for us to show the world what is best about Ireland. It is also a good time to reflect on how we welcome people when they first come to this country.

As the twenty first century begins, Ireland is barely recognisable form the 1980s let alone the 1880s. The growth in the southern economy, the northern peace process and the reality of immigration as well as emigration have meant many of the old certainties have gone, never to return. We need to move beyond the perception of there only being two communities here and recognise that Ireland has many peoples, many cultures and many faiths. Ethnic minorities need to feel comfortable in the new Ireland and Irish people need to feel comfortable with ethnic minorities being in the new Ireland. This is the responsibility of everyone from the politicians down to ordinary people on the street. The slogan on the posters advertising today’s Carnival in Belfast proclaims “Fáilte roimh chách” meaning “Everyone is welcome”. Wouldn’t that be a good slogan for the new Ireland?



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