Trou­bling on­line at­tacks on fam­ily high­light need for tougher laws

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION - David looby [email protected]­ple­

OUT of the blue the Mor­ris­sey lyric came to me as I read an ar­ti­cle about the Ryan fam­ily who fea­tured in a Lidl ad and ended up be­ing sub­jected to abuse and even a death threat on­line.

‘It’s so easy to laugh/It’s so easy to hate/It takes guts to be gen­tle and kind.’ is a lyric in I Know It’s Over. Racism sadly is not over and in the past in our coun­try.

The Ryans are a multi-cul­tural Ir­ish fam­ily who giv­ing se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to leav­ing the coun­try be­cause of the on­line abuse they got hav­ing ap­peared in a tele­vi­sion and bill­board cam­paign. Actor Fiona Ryan, her fi­ancé Jon­athan Mathis who hap­pens to come from England hav­ing been born in Brazil, and their 22-month-old son Jonah ap­peared in the ad.

The story brought me back to my child­hood when a lit­tle boy – who hap­pened to be African Amer­i­can and new to the com­mu­nity – was as­saulted for no other rea­son than the colour of his skin. Hav­ing trav­elled to Amer­ica sev­eral times and been aware that peo­ple come in all shapes, sizes and colours, I was shocked to see the boy as­saulted af­ter Mass one Sun­day morn­ing. Imag­ine how he felt!

Ire­land has wit­nessed a huge influx of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries – East­ern Euro­pean, African, South Amer­i­can – the vast ma­jor­ity of whom have en­riched our na­tion and broad­ened our minds.

As a peo­ple we have a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing cur­tain twitch­ers. Our vil­lages and towns have been de­scribed as val­leys of the squint­ing win­dows. Many of us grew up in an op­pres­sive Ire­land, one ruled by the Catholic Church and by fear.

To­day much of our in­ter­ac­tion takes place on so­cial me­dia and un­for­tu­nately it is not a safe space ei­ther. More­over it is not po­liced in any way.

Hate speech leg­is­la­tion is now 30 years old and needs to be re­placed with more puni­tive, re­spon­sive leg­is­la­tion. Ms Ryan says peo­ple have abused them be­cause of Jon­athan’s Brazil­ian back­ground.

She re­ported the abuse to the guards. How­ever, she was told it was a ‘civil mat­ter’ and that ‘they couldn’t do any­thing about it’.

Lidl said some of the abuse fol­lowed a tweet by for­mer jour­nal­ist Gemma O’Do­herty who tweeted: ‘Ger­man dump @lidl_ire­land gaslight­ing the Ir­ish peo­ple with their mul­ti­cul­tural ver­sion of ‘The Ryans’. Kid­ding no-one! Re­sist the Great Re­place­ment wher­ever you can by giv­ing this kip a wide berth. #ShopIr­ish #BuyIr­ish.’.

The com­pany re­sponded, say­ing: ‘We are very proud of our mul­ti­cul­tural and di­verse team and our cus­tomers across Ire­land.’

But Ms Ryan said she was left ‘phys­i­cally shak­ing’ when she first saw the of­fen­sive mes­sages from peo­ple who com­mented on the tweet. The on­line re­ac­tion of the peo­ple com­ment­ing, whose in­ten­tions are to rant at the chang­ing face of Ir­ish so­ci­ety in some vague wish ful­fill­ing at­tempt to magic an Ire­land of old back into cre­ation – need to be con­fined to the si­lence of their own minds.

Caus­ing a mother and fa­ther to fear for their safety and the safety of their child re­flects poorly on a coun­try which is sup­posed to be wel­com­ing.

Fiona Ryan, her hus­band Jon­athan Mathis and their son Jonah in the Lidl ad.

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