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Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: 'It's time Irish people stood up against racism. We were the terrorists at one time'

It is our responsibility to speak truth to power. If it doesn’t happen in the White House, it’ll happen in The Riverside Church NYC tomorrow, writes Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

TOMORROW NIGHT IN the iconic Riverside Church in New York the “Irish Stand” event will provide a platform for activists and artists who refuse to be silenced.

Two days after Trump’s election last November I made a speech in the Seanad that has now been viewed over 40 millions times on platforms worldwide. It is my contention that in this era of fear and uncertainty the Irish have a historic and moral obligation to take a stand for justice and equality.

No other country in the world understands immigration like we do. We understand coffin ships, sectarianism, suppression of rights and overcoming conflict like no other nation.

The negative stereotypes now attached to other identities were once attached to us. We were the terrorists at one time.

It is racism

So now as the most powerful nation on earth turns its hate on its most vulnerable of inhabitants, we have a platform to call it out for what it is. It is racism.

When over 1.5 million of your citizens have been killed by firearms since 1968, but you focus your ire on the ‘threat’ from refugees fleeing the carnage of a civil war, it is racism.

When you lift the restrictions on people with mental illnesses from acquiring shotguns but the very same day announce the establishment of an anti-immigrant crime agency VOICE, it is racism. When you make African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Muslim-American feel lesser, it comes from a pit of racism.

Regardless of the health care changes that will hurt poorer Americans and the appointments in the education sphere who promote divisive and socially corrosive policies. We have to call it out.

The American success story of a white European Christian people

There are quite a number of familiar Irish names surrounding Trump: Bannon, Conway, Ryan and McConnell. Mike Pence and Sean Spicer are also Irish-Americans.

They will undoubtedly use the St Patrick’s Day events in the White House to promote the American success story of a white European Christian people. But they have forgotten themselves and their own history.

They have forgotten the plight their own families went through as immigrants. They bizarrely don’t equate the anguish that modern-day immigrants are going through as they duck their heads to avoid the hate-filled rhetoric from the White House, with the experiences of their own ancestors.

And our plan is to hand them a bowl of shamrock.

Daniel O’Connell once said of the Irish slave owners in America: “How can the generous, the charitable, the humane and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct in you?”

We need to use these words again and refuse to allow our history to be hijacked for a right-wing white nationalist agenda.

It’s time to take a stand for our history

Working with activists on both sides of the Atlantic we have arranged a rally for the Riverside Church in Manhattan for St Patrick’s Night. It is the venue where Martin Luther King made his famous speech opposing the war in Vietnam in April 1967.

We have been supported by members of Waking the Feminists. Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March in formulating “Irish Stand”.

Joining us that night will be commentator Shaun King, actors Gabriel Byrne and Richard Schiff, author Colum McCann, comedian Maeve Higgins, Pastor Amy Butler, poet Itiola Jones and civil liberties champion Terry McGovern. All proceeds on the night go to the American Council for Civil Liberties.

It is time to take a stand for our history. It is time for us to use the respected voice we have internationally and to tell our story. For those who walk in fear now, we once travelled that path.

It is our responsibility to speak truth to power. If it doesn’t happen in the White House, it’ll happen in The Riverside Church. And we hope Irish people everywhere on St Patrick’s Day will support it.

Aodháin Ó Riordáin is a Labour Party Senator. See www.irishstand.org or follow on Twitter @irishstand.

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