Former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr, Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan and members of Dublin City Interfaith Forum at launch of Dublin City Interfaith Charter, December 2016. Photo courtesy of the Irish Times.
A decade of building bridges between communities, people and agencies was celebrated on Monday January 31 as Dublin City Interfaith Forum marked its 10th anniversary. Members, associates and friends of DCIF gathered online to celebrate the milestone.
The theme was ‘Building Bridges, Sharing Common Ground, Promoting Integration’, and contributors from various areas of civic life highlighted the importance of the Forum to life in Dublin. Speakers included the Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland, Garda Assistant Commissioner Paula Hilman, Sinead Gibney Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Philip McDonagh of the DCU Centre for Religion, Human Values and International Relations, and Mary Lynch Head of Integration of Dublin City Council. The session was chaired by the new chairperson of DCIF, Archbishop Michael Jackson.
DCIF’s Executive Officer Adrian Cristea recalled the first meeting of leaders and representatives of various faith communities when they embarked on a journey of learning and friendship. He said that today they honoured all their members, past and present, and thanked them for their contribution to making a better Dublin. He said they had worked together to promote integration, nurture harmony and encourage respect.
Mr Cristea noted speakers at the 2022 Holocaust commemoration told of the rise of far right extremism, racism and hate speech. He said that the more that the language of hate was tolerated, the more it found a place in the national discourse. He encouraged everyone to call it out. Today, Dublin is home to many faiths and he stated that DCIF must continue to work to build bridges and promote dialogue with others to develop a cohesive society that understands each of its diverse parts.
Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland also recalled Holocaust Memorial Day when people were reminded of their collective responsibility to reject hate speech and to understand and uphold the rights of others to dignity, to be valued for their own sake, to be accepted and respected and to be treated fairly.
Recalling her childhood, she said she grew up in a Protestant family south of the Border during the Troubles. She said there were very few opportunities to mix and there was an environment of ‘them and us’. Looking back, she said she could see how an organisation like DCIF could have helped her community to find common ground.
Aside from Border related challenges, Ireland has a relatively short history cultural diversity, dating mostly from the Celtic Tiger era when, the Lord Mayor stated, our communities became “more diverse and varied and more beautiful and colourful in every sense of the word”. However, she noted that there had been and continued to be challenges around integration for migrants and new arrivals to Ireland. There were also challenges within local communities where people were stereotyped because of a global political situation and could be targeted because of that.
“Lack of understanding of faith and culture gives rise to fear and fear can make us insular and defensive often manifesting itself in acts of intolerance, acts of race based harassment, bullying, damage to property and violence, acts of discrimination and acts of exclusion. As we know these biased acts damage communities, damage social and civic cohesion and damage our prosperity,” the Lord Mayor commented. “DCIF in partnership with Dublin City Council can play a key role in preventing this social damage. We both share a strong vision of a fully integrated city that promotes respect for, acceptance of and inclusion of diversity of faith, belief, nationality and culture of all those who choose to live, work and recreate in our city.”
She concluded: “I believe in working together we can all reach out the hand of friendship to communities and across communities to break down stereotypes, to deepen understanding, to build bridges, to share common ground and to promote integration and social harmony.”
Assistant Commissioner Paula Hilman was the first speaker in the panel discussion. From a policing perspective, she said that a great deal of social capital was unlocked through starting conversations with faith groups adding that by working together they could overcome problems. “Faith and policing working together galvanises people and makes a real difference in local communities just as you do in Dublin City Interfaith Forum,” she told members of DCIF. “Your assistance and advice to me and the team in the Garda National Diversity Unit is very welcomed. No one organisation has all the answers and by working together, sharing experiences, we can work to make our communities safer.”
She said that An Garda Síochána would start a recruitment campaign soon and encouraged representatives of faith communities to highlight this amongst their members. She pointed to recent changes to their uniform policy which showed their commitment to diversity.
Sinead Gibney highlighted the links between DCIF and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission adding that they had supported each other’s work. She said it was really important for the IHREC to engage with DCIF in the area of human rights, equality and faith. The focus on individual dignity is a bedrock of the human rights framework stemming from the International Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and it is the bedrock of DCIF members’ community, she stated. “As we seek to recover and rebuild from the terrible years we have just experienced, we must as the Interfaith Charter says, not just return to business as usual but take this moment of renewal to create the social conditions that will allow all to share peace, joy and hope,” Ms Gibney stated.
Philip McDonagh spoke of the concept of mutual literacy. He said the work of the centre he leads at DCU could be described as an attempt to find a new language for politics or as an attempt to find mutual literacy between public authorities and religious actors. He suggested four ways that people from a religious perspective could contribute to the public debate and literacy: by opposing breakdown in society; looking at how change happens; looking at the area of reconciliation; and looking at the question of truth. On the other side of the coin people from a religious perspective have to be mindful of four things: they need to be aware of the abuses of the past; they need to respect science; they shouldn’t seek the last word and should seek to make a contribution; they should understand the difficult job politicians have.