“One of the great things about living in Longford is the sense of community. Longfordians protect their own.”
“It was difficult at the beginning, but I love my neighbour, she is like my white sister.”
These are direct quotations from focus group respondents that participated in and contributed to the formulation of the Intercultural Strategic plan for County Longford (2018-2022).
County Longford’s population is rich in cultural diversity which is very positive, but it can also present challenges - challenges Longford people are embracing, and are not frightened by, as was suggested elsewhere this past week.
The intercultural strategy advocates a ‘diversity dividend’ approach and seeks to champion the benefits of a diverse, inclusive, and cohesive Longford, one that can prevent discrimination and promote social integration and cohesion.
Unfortunately, the prevention of discrimination and promotion of social integration weren’t the motives when a photograph featuring 31 pupils from St John’s NS in Longford town was posted on social media, without permission from the school or the parents of the children.
According to Gemma O’Doherty it was to highlight how ‘Irish people are quickly becoming an ethnic minority in many towns’.
The photo was first published, with parental and school consent, in the Longford Leader in May 2018, to promote the achievement of St John’s reaching the final twelve of Bord na Móna's Eco Rangers awards.
The photo went viral last week and upset parents tried, without success, to have the post removed from Facebook and Twitter.
The Leader also formally requested the removal of the posts and following this, Ms O’Doherty, accompanied by James Reynolds of the National Party, arrived in Longford and felt it necessary to broadcast live on YouTube, beginning from outside the Leader offices before moving to various locations around the town.
The two broadcasts sparked further fury, with Ms O’Doherty being confronted by a parent of one of the children in the photo and elsewhere her questioning of a local shopkeeper left a very sour taste. It is entirely unacceptable that a positive photograph has been misused in this manner and there rightly has been widespread condemnation.
Longford is a place that promotes equality and facilitates social inclusion for all and long may that continue.