Without a doubt, today is a historic day for Ireland. We wrapped up last week with a visit from The Queen and we start this week with a visit from arguably the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama. Over the last few days, we’ve seen people throughout Ireland coming out of the woodwork asserting themselves as “relatives” of Barack. Everyone wants a piece of Mr. Obama and who can blame them. Likewise, Mr. Obama seems distinctly proud of his Irish ancestry.
Travel anywhere in the world and you will find people claiming Irish ancestry. An estimated 50 to 80 million people make up what’s known as the Irish diaspora with by far the largest “Irish” population being resident in the US. In good times and bad, as a people, we’ve travelled everywhere. And to be fair, by and large we are welcomed throughout the world. But do we extend a céad míle fáilte to everyone who graces our own shores? Of course we extend a welcome to tourists, be they Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama or even less glamorous visitors. Tourists bring money and offer hope to an economy in trouble. But what kind of welcome do we offer those less fortunate than Barack?
Several recent human rights reports raise concerns about Ireland’s human rights records and in particular the detrimental impact the recession is having on the rights of the vulnerable. Every year the US Department of State issues a Human Rights Report for every country throughout the world. The 2011 report highlights that discrimination and violence against immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities continues to be a problem, noting there are issues with landlords refusing to rent to non-Irish immigrants and noting that Africans in particular suffered disproportionate unemployment in the last few years.
In addition, various United Nations committees have also recently raised concerns over human rights protections with one committee commenting that “the economic recession should not lead to a situation that would potentially give rise to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances against foreigners, immigrants and persons belonging to minorities.” The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Ireland has raised the issue of racial profiling by law enforcement, noting that many non-Irish are subjected to police stops and asked to produce identity cards – having the potential to perpetuate racist incidents on the basis of race and color. Indeed at Taylor Solicitors Cork, we can attest to the rise in incidents of discrimination on various grounds including ethnicity.
We are a nation of people that have travelled the globe and left our mark throughout. If a US president, born in a Hawaii with a father from Kenya can trace his roots to the small village of Moneygall, we should be acutely aware that the world is getting smaller by the day and (not for the first time!) an essentially Irish man has been welcomed as president of the US. We have been accepted throughout the world. And when Obama has left his new found home we should take care to make sure we treat all others gracing our shores with the same level of respect.
After all, that is exactly what our great nation is known for.