Excluding children – who cares?

It made my blood boil for a couple of years, every time I entered or passed the Castlebar branch of Tesco. Why, I wondered, should secondary pupils from the boys school, St Gerald’s, have to queue outside at lunch time in order to buy their school lunch?

food queue for Irish kids

no failte for Irish kids

Is it legal? Is it necessary to bite off the hands that feed you? Don’t the children mind? Surely they have more self-worth than this? Don’t their parents’ mind? Strangely not it seems. Doesn’t the school, the school board or even a single teacher see a need to address this? No.

Aren’t these children citizens? Some are over 18. Some are legally permitted to drink alcohol and become parents, but buy a school lunch..? No!

I contacted every government agency in Ireland and the European government but not one returned my emails. Finally, Equality Ireland and FLAC spoke with me but only after I had followed up on my unanswered emails. FLAC couldn’t do much but offered to provide legal advice some months down the line. Equality Ireland on 2 separate occasions told me they would discuss it with their legal advisors then get back to me. Just as well I didn’t hold my breath while I waited -that was about 4 months ago! Oh how I would love a nice government job! The National Youth Council of Ireland eventually fobbed me off with a standard letter from Equality Ireland.

In desperation I contacted the local papers, the Connaught and the Mayo Advertiser. They weren’t interested. I emailed Joe Duffy but not even an acknowledgment. But Midwest Radio did interview the manager who rescinded their policy. It took them 6 weeks to reply to Midwest. Most unsatisfactory since Irish youth do matter. But the manager was good enough to reconsider and so far the future looks…normal…for these youngsters. Here’s my letter to Tommy Marren at Midwest Radio which got the ball rolling.

Good morning Tommy.

I have a question for you! Any time I am in the vicinity of the Castlebar branch of Tesco I find it repulsive that our young men, students of St. Gerald’s College, when giving their custom and their parents’ hard-earned money to Tesco by buying their school lunch there, are treated like lepers and are discriminated against.

I have provided 2 photographs illustrating what I mean. You can see that these decent young Irishmen are forbidden from entering the shop as normal human beings but instead are made to queue outside. The only customers who have to wait in line. Two members of staff stand at the door and allow them to enter 2 at a time – only as 2 are exiting the shop. (Luckily in these photos it’s a dry day.)

Suppose members of the Travelling community, Muslim community or any other group, women for example, were treated with such contempt. Well, you can imagine the uproar there’d be; we’d have a riot wouldn’t we? No civilized right-thinking country accepts this treatment of its citizens. I have raised this with a Tesco manager over a year ago but this abhorrent practise continues. He told me their behaviour was too disruptive.

Maybe he has a point but this situation needs to be corrected. Either their schooling and parents have not prepared them to function in society and continue to fail in this essential part of education and/or is Tesco at fault by needlessly discriminating against them based on a bad experience many years ago?

Certainly I can’t fault these lads from what I’ve seen and many I’ve known for a long time either as neighbours, classmates of my child while in primary or as clients whose parents have brought them to me for Homeopathic medicine in the past. I can only conclude there is no reason to continue marginalising these students.

But isn’t it shameful that the public, the parents of these boys, their teachers and the staff of Tesco have no issue with this and have not seen a need to address it? Isn’t it shameful the curriculum teaches CSPE but nothing changes. CSPE is something you do, not just read. After some 15,000 hours at school they leave with no sense of their own rights and self-worth. Yesterday a group protested in Castlebar about the poor treatment of refugees. Nobody protests on behalf of our own youngsters. But wouldn’t it be a triumph if the students had learned the self-respect and strength of character to protest themselves by spending their money elsewhere – where they and their custom is valued?  Now, wouldn’t that be a great lesson; better than any schooling!

Because, as they say in Africa, it takes a village to raise a child, I can only say shame on us all for allowing this, Tommy, shame on us all.

One thing of note I’ve discovered on this journey is that children and youth don’t have a clear legal standing, they seem to slip through the 9 categories of rights.

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