Bahai News - Irish must prepare for ethnic change
Friday, March 30, 2001

Irish must prepare for ethnic change

Dr Wilma Ellis from the US, who will address a Baha'i women's conference in Dublin tomorrow. Photograph: Frank Miller

By Nuala Haughey, Social and Racial Affairs Correspondent

Irish people must get ready for the changes the State's growing ethnic minority communities will bring, a prominent US educator and racial equality campaigner has said.

Dr Wilma Ellis, who will address a conference on the challenge of race unity in Dublin this weekend, said regional informal workshops on race and racial issues could help this process.

Dr Ellis is a former member of the US State Department's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad which reports to the Secretary of State. A member of the Baha'i faith, she is the former administrator general of the Baha'i International Community Offices at the UN.

She said racism was "like dust in a house. If I dusted my furniture last week, there's dust on it again today and it's going to take many generations before I don't have to deal with the problem."

Dr Ellis urged Irish parents to teach their children not to be racist and to lead by example. "You have to get ready for change. The things that you have grown up with that you have always taken for granted will change."

Among the simple changes in customs and culture Irish people will encounter are the fact that immigrant children will play different games and their parents will cook unknown food. Dr Ellis said change was hard and it was a daily struggle to deal with new people coming among us. She praised recent Irish equality laws but said they were a first step. "The second step is to create institutions and organisations that will put the teeth into the laws by using them and testing them," she added.

Civil institutions such as the Garda needed to be trained by people who were not "sob sisters" or "bleeding hearts," she added.

Dr Ellis said the Baha'i assembly in Ireland would be happy to assist informal workshops on race and racial issues in towns and villages throughout the State. "There needs to be a place where people can talk and work out whatever issues they have. This model has worked in cities in the US where there have been human rights commissions and inter-faith councils."

Irish people had a rare spirit and were friendlier than most Europeans, she added. "There is a spirit that newcomers feel and I hope and pray that Ireland does not lose that because it's too important."

Dr Ellis met the President, Mrs McAleese, yesterday and will deliver the keynote address at the Annual Conference of Baha'i Women tomorrow in Dublin.

©Copyright The Irish Times

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