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Ask my kids about tolerance, Peter

Published 03/06/2014




My children know that difference is nothing to be afraid of and, although they're all under 11, Peter Robinson could learn a few things from them about respecting our fellow human beings as equals, writes Leona O'Neill

THE events of last week were a horrendous reflection of society here in Northern Ireland and made me very sad indeed.

First a man of God preached a sermon of hate from his altar, then the joint leader of Northern Ireland moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.

The actions and words of the man supposed to be the leader of our little corner of the world - when he disrespected members of the Muslim community and condescendingly suggested that they only fit to shop for him - came out of his mouth and travelled around the world in a matter of hours.

He let himself down with these racist views and in turn let us all down, had a detrimental effect on our economy (again) and damaged the world's opinion of Northern Ireland (again).

He should resign.

Before he goes he should apologise for making the most ridiculous and racist of comments that justify people thinking someone is below you because of the colour of their skin, because of their religion. He should apologise to every child who has been bullied in the playground for having a different accent, a darker skin. He should apologise to every foreign national family intimidated out of their homes by racist Neanderthals who think they are better than them because they were born in this country.

We are unfortunate in Northern Ireland that because we have to try so very hard to hold on to the fragile peace that we have, our politicians are allowed to get away with awful errors of judgment, hate-filled comments and actions that would ordinarily get any politician anywhere else in the world turfed out of office in shame immediately.

My children are very lucky to come from a beautifully colourful family. Their aunt is Chinese American, their cousins a gorgeous mix of Chinese, American and Irish. They have often celebrated their cousin's culture and our home has some amazing Chinese art hanging on the walls, and they have Celtic art all over theirs.

My kids have had authentic Chinese food cooked for them and we have cooked traditional Irish food for our extended Chinese family when they came here. My children's great aunt is from the West Indies and their cousins have darker skin to theirs; they have different views on the world and different ideas. Again they have sampled their wonderful culture, enjoyed their food and music and they ours.

To see them together it is a beautiful thing. It doesn't even enter the equation about what the colour any of our skin is. We are family. There is love and respect. Full stop.

My children go to an integrated primary school, which has children of all colours and creeds. It makes not a jot of difference to them what colour their friends' skin is or where they were born. They are more interested in what level of Minecraft they are in, or if they are any good at football.

It will always be this way because they have not known any challenge to this idea. They have been taught to respect the individual, respect others' beliefs, embrace difference, not fight it. For their lives can only be enriched by a different point of view and another culture. They know that difference is nothing to be afraid of.

The first minister is paid well to represent all the people of Northern Ireland. In my opinion, he does not represent me or many other people who live here.

He could learn a few things from my children about respecting your fellow human being as a true equal, regardless of their religious views or skin colour.

My children are and will continue to be decent, fearless and peaceful advocates for embracing the differences that make life so interesting. They may be all under 11, but they are available, Mr Robinson, should you need reasonable and mature advice on how to deal with this situation.