U.S. civil rights veteran Jesse Jackson visited Ireland this week and called on all sides to oppose the growth of racism.
Calling for greater tolerance, the American rights campaigner said: “Ireland right now is on the threshold of real economic investment and growth, but racist violence is a deterrent to growth.
“This is a deterrent to investment, and if Ireland wants the benefits of investment, it must accept the opportunity of immigration. It must see immigration as an asset and not a threat.”
The US Democratic Party member was in Belfast for an awards ceremony to recognise the city’s Filipino community following a spate of racial attacks.
Asians, Africans, eastern Europeans and Portuguese families have all come under attack, with most cases linked to unionist paramilitaries.
He called for more education as a way to eradicate the problem. “In our schools and in our churches, we must not only condemn it but teach against it so that people can overcome their fear,” he said.
In connection with the peace process, he urged republicans and unionists to draw inspiration from Yasser Arafat’s struggle in the Middle East.
“If the PLO can be recognised as a state in making, surely Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists can make that same leap?” he said.
“Frankly, they don’t have as far to go as the Palestinians had to go or as South Africa had to go.”
He said peace is a risk, “but war is more of a risk and offers no dividends. Peace is worth the risk.”
Politicians should also look to Nelson Mandela and the defeat of apartheid for inspiration, he added.
“It was not long ago that Mandela was in jail. It seemed ending apartheid was unrealistic. Now Mandela is seen as the ultimate global statesman.”
Mr Jackson was with Martin Luther King when he was murdered in 1968.
“That particular morning he had been killed, there was a lot of despair. Robert Kennedy had been killed too,” he said.
“I was in the back of a truck and it was raining and drizzling. I was asked to say something to the people but I had nothing to give them. I had no money to give them, no material things to give them, I couldn’t give them a bus ticket back to where they had come from.”
He described how words he had read in a book came to his mind and he told the people gathered: “Even when your back is against the wall, where there is life there is hope.”