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Taoiseach condemns ‘absence of moral leadership’ following George Floyd death

Leo Varadkar said there had been an absence of ‘words of understanding, comfort or healing from whence they should have come’.

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A Black Lives Matter rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd (Niall Carson/PA)

A Black Lives Matter rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd (Niall Carson/PA)

A Black Lives Matter rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd (Niall Carson/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has condemned an “absence of moral leadership” following the killing of George Floyd in the United States.

Speaking in the Dail on Thursday, the premier said there had been an absence of “words of understanding, comfort or healing”.

Mr Floyd was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the city of Minneapolis.

We've witnessed the absence of moral leadership, or words of understanding, comfort or healing from whence they should have comeLeo Varadkar

He died after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck, sparking days of protest.

The Taoiseach said: “We have also seen genuine revulsion at the heavy handed response in some instances, towards peaceful protesters and journalists.

“And we’ve witnessed the absence of moral leadership, or words of understanding, comfort or healing from whence they should have come.”

Mr Varadkar said the Ireland he grew up in was a very different place to the country today and said that it had been “enriched” by diversity in recent decades.

But he said racism remained in Ireland, despite it being less overt.

“We don’t need to look across the Atlantic to find racism. We have many examples in our own country, discrimination on the basis of skin colour is pernicious,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s overt discrimination when it comes to getting a job or promotion or being treated less favourably by public authorities, including sometimes government officials.

“Sometimes it manifests itself in the form of hate speech online, bullying in school, name calling in the streets, or even acts of violence.”

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A Black Lives Matter protest rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd (Niall Carson/PA)

A Black Lives Matter protest rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

A Black Lives Matter protest rally outside the US Embassy in Dublin following the death of George Floyd (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar said some of the racist behaviour in Ireland was “almost innocent and unknowing”.

“It comes in the questions you are asked … like being asked where you come from originally because your skin or surname looks out of place. How often you go back to the country that your mother or father was born in. Being spoken to more slowly … cultural and character assumptions made based on your appearance and being made to feel just a little bit less Irish than everyone else,” he said.

“Sadly, this is lived experience for many young people of colour growing up in Ireland today.”

Mr Varadkar told the Dail that comparisons between the Direct Provision system for asylum seekers and the killing of George Floyd were not accurate.

He said: “A lot of Direct Provision accommodation is substandard and that needs to change. Some of it is a good standard, with people being able to have their own door and catering – some of it is of a bad standard and that needs to change.

“But I think we need to understand the difference between Direct Provision and a man who was killed by the police by having somebody step on his neck.

“Direct Provision ultimately is a service offered by the State – it is not compulsory and it is not a form of detention – it is a service provided for by the State and they are provided with free accommodation, food, heat, light, healthcare and education and also some spending money. It is not the same thing as a man being killed by the police.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said people are disgusted by what happened to Mr Floyd but protests and demonstrations are a health risk.

It comes as a Black Lives Matter demonstration, which saw thousands of people march through Dublin, was held on Tuesday.

Speaking in the Dail on Thursday, he said: “What happened to George Floyd disgusts and repulses everybody in this country and people across the world.

“But at the same time, any gathering, no matter how worthy the cause is a danger to public health at the moment and we do have to be conscious of that.

“There are other ways we can make our voices heard.”

PA