An estimated 500+ people gathered on the Grand Parade in Cork city centre yesterday to protest the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd, which took place in the American state of Minneapolis on May 25th.
The protest, which is the second to take place in the city in the space of five days, began at 1pm and persisted into the afternoon, continuing to draw crowds until organisers brought the event to a close at around 3:30pm. A general effort to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines was observed, with the majority of protestors wearing protective face coverings. Members of An Garda Síochána were present in small numbers, and the protest remained entirely peaceful throughout.
“Black Lives Matter”; “I Can’t Breathe”; and “Say His Name/George Floyd” were among the phrases chanted by the crowd. Protestors also knelt collectively for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in solidarity with the period of time for which former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
Among the speakers at the demonstration was Alexis Amaye, Manager of the Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurship programme at University College Cork. Amaye addressed the lack of ethnic diversity in Irish educational institutions, before later leading the crowd in a rendition of the gospel song “We Shall Overcome”, which became an anthem of the United States civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Speaking with the University Express, Amaye stated that while the protest was happening in solidarity with recent events in the U.S, there are issues of racism in Ireland and across Europe which also need to be acknowledged: “America is complicit at this moment, but Europe is not exempt. There is institutionalism racism; there is structural racism; there is de facto racism. There’s the stuff that they put on paper, and there’s the stuff that you feel when you’re walking down the street”. Amaye also asserted her belief that “racism will end in this generation”, saying “I believe it, because there is a consciousness that has been awoken”.
Also among the speakers was Cork North Central TD Mick Barry, who stressed the importance of standing against systemic racism and injustice as it manifests itself on our own island, citing Direct Provision and the current housing crisis as two issues that require a collective effort in order to be resolved.
The system of Direct Provision, which has been formally criticised by The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, along with other Human Rights watchdogs, was a central topic of discussion at yesterday’s protest. One speaker chose to dedicate their entire speech to spreading awareness around Direct Provision, urging protestors to educate themselves on the issue and noting how the COVID-19 virus has “ripped through Direct Provision centres across the country” due to their substandard organisation.
The system of Direct Provision has been criticised heavily by TDs across party lines in recent weeks. Labour leader Alan Kelly called for the abolishment of the system in Dáil Éireann last Thursday, while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald – in a recent article for joe.ie – referred to the system of Direct Provision as “this generation’s Magdalene Laundries”. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the system against recent condemnations of racism and human rights violations, stating that “It is not the same thing as a man being killed by the police. There is substandard accommodation in some cases and that needs to change”.