Speech by Sabina Higgins Launch of “Dialogue with Muslim Communities of Ireland” Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation
Mansion House, Dublin Wednesday, 21 November 2018
It is a great pleasure to be here today at the Glencree Reconciliation Centre to take part in this most important and informative event.
The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation has, for over forty years, provided a space for dialogue between people from across the Island of Ireland and across the religious and political spectrum. It has, and continues to be, a vital space of listening, discussion, and of understanding different experiences and different perspectives as we continue our work on building a better future for all of the people of Ireland.
We know that, at the very heart of any functioning community, there must exist a real will to constantly work together to bring about positive change; to craft an inclusive citizenship that enables every member to participate and be treated with respect.
According to our most recent census at least 63,400 Muslims now call Ireland home. Ireland is the place where they live, work, rear their families and aspire to be truly participative citizens with a voice in society and opportunities to contribute their skills, talents and experience to that society.
It is greatly worrying to know, however, that in an Ireland that claims to be a democracy, members of our Muslim communities continue to face considerable challenges as they seek to access education for themselves and their children, to become fully active members of our labour market, and to provide proper and safe homes for their families.
It is greatly disappointing to know that so many of our citizens and our institutions fail to see beyond the false barriers we so often erect between ourselves and others, fail to envision how enriching different cultures and traditions can be for our society, our communities, our workplaces and our schools.
Today’s launch of “Dialogues with Muslim Communities of Ireland” is a significant occasion and a critical step forward on our journey towards becoming a more inclusive nation. Contained in this report is a distillation of a rich and meaningful dialogue, a dialogue that is long overdue and will I greatly hope be a valuable tool in ensuring that Ireland’s Muslim communities are enabled to integrate fully into what is, for some, a country to which they have travelled in search of a better future, and for many others the country into which they have been born and have always called home.
It is also, and very importantly, a dialogue that has underlined, not only the importance of respecting the many thousands of Muslims who are part of a modern and multi-cultural Ireland, but the necessity of respecting the diversity of Ireland’s Muslim communities.
All vibrant communities are a rich kaleidoscope of individuals who comprise a wide range of cultural experience, social backgrounds, degrees of religious observance, gifts, talents, beliefs and abilities. It is greatly belittling to our Muslim communities, whose members include people from over fifty national backgrounds, to imply they are a monolithic group whose members do not have their own individual views, their own relationship with their religion, their own aspirations, and their own hopes for the future.
It is also, of course, an attitude and implication that enables the negative stereotyping, the deliberate and casual xenophobia, the promotion of negative perceptions, the hostility and the discrimination that shadows the lives of so many members of our Muslim communities; and that can lead to the deliberate segregation of, and the building of unnecessary walls between, different communities within Irish society.
Let us be in no doubt that a democracy in its truest sense cannot exist where its residents occupy parallel societies - separate cultures, languages and traditions creating separate spaces of ‘them’ and ‘us’. For a community to thrive and flourish its members must be made welcome in each other’s homes, sit alongside each other in the classroom, play together on the sports field and work in solidarity as they embrace the pluralism of a modern and dynamic Ireland.
Key to this is the achievement of a real participation, built on equality and empowerment. That requires a rigorous commitment to removing the many barriers to participation; recognising, strengthening and supporting the momentum and demand for equality, positive transformation and sustainability
Today marks another milestone on our journey towards becoming such a truly democratic society. I would like to conclude by commending all of those who have been involved in the publication of “Dialogues with Muslim Communities of Ireland”, those who have shared their experiences, those who have listened so generously and all those who have come together in the hope of creating a more inclusive Ireland – one built on tolerance and empathy, and rooted in a real understanding of the heritage and traditions that have shaped both ourselves and those with whom we share our community.
I thank you for inviting me to join you here today to take part in this most valuable event, and I wish you all every success as you continue to work to build an Ireland which respects and values all of its members, in their similarities and in their differences.