Troubling online attacks on family highlight need for tougher laws
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.