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'An absence of moral leadership' - Taoiseach's veiled swipe at Trump

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has criticised Donald Trump, saying there has been an "absence of moral leadership" in the response to protests across US cities in recent days.

Mr Varadkar said the world had watched in horror the events in the US, where there have been large-scale protests over the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.

The Taoiseach did not reference the US president directly, but told the Dail: "We've witnessed the absence of moral leadership, or words of understanding, comfort or healing from whence they should have come."

Mr Varadkar said this was "absolutely wrong".

Speaking to TDs, he said there had been "a palpable outpouring of emotion, spontaneous expressions of solidarity against the poison of racism".

He described racism as "a virus transmitted at an early age, perpetuated by prejudice, sustained by systems often unrecognised by those whom it infects, possible to counteract and correct for but never easy to cure".

Mr Varadkar said Ireland had been enriched by racial diversity in recent decades, and the country was fortunate to have a policing model based on consent and "an unarmed and highly-professional police service".

However, he said there were many examples of racism here.

Hate

"Discrimination on the basis of skin colour is pernicious. 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," he said.

"Sometimes it manifests itself in the form of hate speech online, bullying in school, name calling in the streets or even acts of violence. Sometimes it's almost innocent, and unknowing, and all the more insidious."

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump

REUTERS

Donald Trump

The Taoiseach cited examples of people being asked where they come from originally because their skin colour or surname "looks out of place", being spoken to more slowly or "being made to feel just that little bit less Irish than everyone else".

He said this was the "lived experience for many young people of colour growing up in Ireland today".

Mr Varadkar said the country had come together to fight Covid-19 and should use the sense of solidarity and community in response to the pandemic to take on racism.

"We can learn from the mistakes of other countries and make sure we do not follow their path," he said.

A number of party leaders used the killing of Mr Floyd to raise the issue of the direct provision system.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said "rhetoric in the Irish system decries racism while holding up direct provision and the segregation of our Traveller population".

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly called on the Taoiseach to commit to ending the controversial system of housing asylum-seekers.

Detention

Mr Varadkar admitted that "a lot of direct provision accommodation is sub-standard and that needs to change".

He added: "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, they are provided with free accommodation."