15 April 2010 Edition
Death of teenager renews anti-racist efforts in Ireland
By Ella O’Dwyer
Sadness, mixed with a sense of shock, marked last Saturday’s rally in Dublin as over 1,500 people marched through the city to demonstrate their revulsion at the killing of 15 year old Toyosi Shittabey in Tyrellstown on Good Friday. The suspicion that racism factored in the brutal stabbing has appalled people of every race in Ireland. “I’m a teacher”, said Anthony Wilkie of the Teacher’s Union of Ireland, who was standing with a placard at the Garden of Remembrance where the rally began before finally moving onto the Dáil. “I’ve been involved in teaching kids of every race, Arabs, people from the Philippines and black and white children. If you heard of this happening to an Irish child abroad how would you feel? Teachers are shocked. Toyosi was doing his Junior Cert”
One of the speakers, Toyosi’s cousin Abisoye Shittabey, described the kind boy with a passion for football. “I remember Toyosi as a person who always helped his mother and father, and I remember his passion for football”, she said, “It was his dream one day to play for Ireland.” Abisoye recited a poem in his memory. The poem depicted Toyosi now playing football with the angels, with God as referee – ‘You are safe where you are in God’s hands and care’, the poem went.
Bola Shittabey, the boy’s mother, attended the rally and while she didn’t speak, she extended her appreciation for the public support.
A member of African Union Ireland standing beside a banner that read – Unity, Peace and Progress, said “We’re all humans and should be treated equally. This should never have happened. Toyosi wasn’t an animal.” I asked him if he was angry with the Irish people. “No”, he said. “Why should I be? It’s not the fault of all the Irish people.”
That comment summed up the overall mood of the day. There were Gospel songs like O Happy Day and Amazing Grace. There was a definite dignity and grace about how the rally was conducted. A number of pastors said prayers for the dead boy and a minute’s silence was held in his honour and again to pay respects to the casualties of the airplane crash in Poland over the weekend.
A neighbour of the Shittabey family thanked people for coming, saying he was honoured to see such a large turn-out. He praised the Tyrellstown community. “Tyrellstown is a multicultural community and a very good one.” He said the rally was not just for Toyosi “It’s about a community called Ireland and we all belong to this country and we must defend this country and move forward. We must say no to racism and no to this kind of thing happening again.” He called on the government to address the issue of racism. “We must say to our government that they must go back to the drawing board and make sure they have the policies that eradicate racism.”
This was a theme taken up by Eric Yao of the Africa Centre who said: “There are good relations between the Irish and the Africans living in this country. But we want the government to listen to the cries of our fellow Africans and to the cries of ethnic organisations, because if they had listened things like this would not be happening. We want to assure everyone that this is a peaceful rally. We are going to continue to honour the name of Toyosi and make sure that his death is not in vain.”
Rosanna Flynn of Residents against Racism said: “The most awful thing anyone can imagine is what happened to this young man. It would be our very worst nightmare that our nearest and dearest would die, in the first place, at such a young age and in the second place die in such an horrific way.” She said that, talking with people from the African community, “there is a mixture of grief and anger amongst them”.
Secretary of the United Chinese Association of Ireland Summy Wong pointed to the fact that racism has always existed in Ireland with the discrimination against the Travelling community. “Racism was here before immigrants arrived.” She called on the government to bring in strong legislation to eliminate racism and promote cultural inclusion and cultural integration. “We are all of a kind; we are all members of the human race’”
SIPTU president Jack O’Connor said he felt privileged to be at the rally “to mourn the memory of our fellow citizen Toyosi Shittabey who died so tragically last Friday.” He said Toyosi is a loss to us all. He reminded the crowd that, though many races that came to this country in the past came to rob and oppress, there were those who came here “to improve their lives and to participate with us all in developing a better society.” He went on to say that the way ahead was to recognise the potential of every human being. “No one of us shapes what is. What shapes what is, is the combined collective activity of us all.”
Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Michael Farrell was in the crowd and I asked him for a comment. He said that, regardless of what the outcome of the police investigations and trials will finally be, “it’s important that the Irish people are here today to show other races that they are welcome here.” And indeed last Saturday Irish people, from various organisations and left wing political affiliations came with their banners and placards calling to racism to be addressed. Sinn Féin was very well represented at the rally and march and Aengus Ó Snodaigh was one of the speakers at the Dáil.
As I walked home with my Sinn Féin poster reading ‘Ireland says no to racism’, a woman with a definite Irish accent shouted across the street at me. “Let them foreigners look after themselves, they cause enough trouble.” I didn’t wait around to hear the rest. So whatever the outcome of the investigations into the killing of Toyosi Shittabey, there is no doubt that there is racism in this country and Saturday was a step in the direction of the Irish people acknowledging that fact.
• A Trust Fund has been set up and anyone wishing to contribute should contact Coordiator of the TOYOSI SHITTABEY MEMORIAL TRUST FUND, Jeanne Donoghue on 0861990341.
Over 1,500 people march in protest at the killing of Toyosi Shittabey