‘I have already lost a child to racism. It has to stop’

Aisling O’Neill, attending the Black Lives Matter rally in Limerick, Saturday, poses for photograph sitting in front of flag engraved with a photograph of her daughter Mia (16) who Aisling said took her own life last year after receiving repeated racist abuse. Photo by David Raleigh

THE mother of a teenage girl who took her life after being subjected to repeated racist slurs, has appealed to Irish people to support the Black Lives Matter protest and call out racism whenever they see it.

Aisling O’Neill attended a protest rally in Limerick on Saturday in response to the killing of black man and father of three, George Floyd, in Minneapolis on May 25.

Ms O’Neill’s 16 year-old daughter Mia took her own life last September, following a campaign of racist abuse.

“It was years of racial abuse at the hands of adults that started when she was four years of age and I’ve been campaigning tirelessly since then against racism in Ireland,” Ms O’Neill told the Limerick Post.

“I have two other children, an eleven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, and both have also experienced racist abuse.”

“It has to end. I have lost a child already to this racism, and I can’t stand back.”

“I have a fear and anxiety that it will happen to my other two children, and I also stand in solidarity with the black community. I have friends and relatives who are black, and there has to be change.”

“I welcome this protest and I welcome the black community being able to show their voices and be heard, because they have been unheard for so long.”

“You have to call it when you see it, and we have to make the racists the minority now. The only minority in this world should be the racists because it’s one life and one race,” Ms O’Neill declared

Catherine Osikoya speaks to hundreds at the Black Lives Matter protest in Limerick. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

Among the hundreds who attended the rally in  Arthur’s Quay Park was Nigerian born Catherine Osikoya (23) who addressed the crowd about her family’s experiences of racism.

She described how her father Paul Osikoya, an accountant and university lecturer in Galway, who had campaigned as a Green Party candidate in local elections, saw his election posters daubed with the word ‘N***r’.

“It was absolutely terrible. As we were driving home one day, we just saw black marks on his poster, which were racist,” said Ms Osikoya, who has spent most of her life in Ireland.

“They called him the ‘N word’ on his poster. We are part of society here, and you’re doing that to us?,” she continued.

“I’m not trying to say this is a white versus black thing; this is everybody versus racism. This is going on for far too long, and we need to step up for change big time,” she said.

“Ireland is everything I’ve ever known.”

Hundreds attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Limerick City on Saturday. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

Osikoya, a student at University of Limerick, said she was inspired to protest, because of her father’s resilience in the face of racism, and because of her deep pride in her Nigerian roots.

“Watching my Dad and all that stuff made me see that I have to fight for this. This is my culture. Racism can’t continue”.

Three other speakers at the rally, Oyinkan Adedeji, Tracey Obiakor, and Jennifer Ikponmwosa, all from Limerick, rallied the crowd by chanting as gaeilge, “Saol dubh tabhactach (“Black Lives Matter”) and “Aon cheartas ná síochain (“No Justice No Peace”).

While demonstrators attempted to abide by social distancing guidelines, some appeared to be closer than the two-metre rule.

Gardaí kept a watching brief, but there were no reports of any incidents during the rally.