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'And that hurts': Varadkar says people of colour who grew up in Ireland can be made to feel they're not 'fully Irish'

The Taoiseach said he is considering an anti-racism public awareness campaign.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that every country has a problem with racism to some degree, and it worries him that people of colour who grow up in Ireland may be sometimes treated like they’re not “fully Irish”. 

Touching on his own experiences on 2FM Breakfast with Doireann & Eoghan this morning, the Taoiseach said that like other people of mixed race growing up in Ireland he was aware that some people treated him differently. 

Varadkar said he had role models like Paul McGrath and Phil Lynott growing up and it was important that young people of colour growing up today have similar role models. 

He also said the government would consider new laws around hate speech and an anti-racism public awareness campaign in future. 

Last week in the Dáil, the Taoiseach spoke about the killing of George Floyd in America and said that “we don’t need to look across the Atlantic to find racism”. 

The footage of a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lay on the ground have sparked protests in the US and further afield, including a number of demonstrations in Ireland

Speaking on 2FM this morning, Varadkar reiterated that forms of racism exist in Ireland too.

“Thankfully we don’t have the kind of problems with police brutality they have in the US,” he said. “We’ve a very professional police force in An Garda Síochána.”

He said that everyone was aware of how members of the Travelling community can be treated and spoken about in Ireland, adding “that’s a form of racism”. 

The Taoiseach said that as he grew up as a mixed-race person in Ireland he was aware that “people treat you differently”. 

“It’s not something I talk about too much because it hasn’t held me back,” he said, adding that such treatment may have spurred him on. “I had a lot of other privileges that helped counteract those disadvantages.”

He said it was the case that people of colour who were born in or grew up in Ireland can be made to feel “not fully Irish”.

“And that hurts,” he said. 

He said that the recent Black Lives Matter protests reminded him of the MeToo movement several years ago where people had become emboldened to speak up about their experiences.

To help combat the effects of racism, Varadkar said that new laws around hate speech and hate crime would be welcome. Such legislation “isn’t easy to introduce”, however,” due to the right of freedom of speech. 

He also said some form of public anti-racism campaign may be launched.

He then referenced McGrath and Lynott who were “very definitively mixed race and very definitely Irish”.

“They were icons,” he said, adding that the likes of Wexford hurler Lee Chin were important role models for people of colour growing up in Ireland. 

The Taoiseach was also asked about the pulling of statues in the UK and said that “we’ve a few of our own statues we might need to think about”. He singled out the statue of Sean Russell in Dublin’s Fairview Park in this regard.

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