When Waterford’s Kirsten Mate Maher won the Rose of Tralee in 2018, she challenged Ireland to embrace its diversity.
A hugely popular choice, she was the first African-Irish winner and the third multiracial woman to win the title, after Luzveminda O’Sullivan in 1998 and Clare Kambamettu in 2010.
Kirsten’s father Kwalo, then a cadet in the Zambian Army, met her Irish mother Jacinta while training at the Curragh and left his post to move here. In conversation with Tomorrow Irelandthe Kilkenny woman spoke about how Ireland has “changed so much” as a country.
“We’re all mixed and we’re all from different parts of the world,” she said. “I know it’s a bit more obvious about myself – I have curly hair and darker skin. But at the end of the day we have to look past that and realize that there is no such thing as a ‘typical Irish woman’.
“We’re all different and we all come in all shapes and sizes and skin tones and hair and freckles/no freckles.”
Four years later, and after a two-year hiatus, organizers of the annual event unveiled their 33 roses at a photocall on Dublin’s Sandymount Strand to no small fanfare.
But despite several rule changes, including asking trans women to apply to become “more inclusive and diverse,” every participant is white.
In a year where the organizers had a real chance to showcase a modern Ireland and rename the festival to make it feel relevant, they seem to have scored an own goal with this glaring oversight.
During the final selection process, there were major differences among the 33 women in terms of occupations, backgrounds and personal stories.
All roses have been carefully selected to ensure a broad cross section, so they are uniquely curated in that sense. But why didn’t anyone question the all-white line-up until the media launch? It seems unusual that a festival celebrating what it means to be uniquely Irish didn’t select a woman of color in 2022.
RTÉ presenter and activist Emer O’Neill said the “lack of ethnic diversity is striking”. She was delighted with the return of the Rose of Tralee but admitted “it hurt to see a sea of faces all white”.
“I have difficulty understanding statements that suggest this year’s Roses are diverse when there is a clear absence from our minority ethnic community,” she said.
She added that if diversity “does not happen naturally then conscious efforts need to be made to ensure it does” and that minority quotas and other measures may be needed until the entire Irish population is “in some form.” represented”.
And elsewhere we see diversity. Most recently, Nigerian-Irish microbiologist Dami Hope represented Ireland island of love.
Last year we saw Galway’s Pamela Uba make history as the first black Miss Ireland. Her family moved here from South Africa and she spent 10 years in direct care before receiving a master’s degree in clinical chemistry from Trinity.
She follows in the footsteps of NASA datanaut Fionnghuala O’Reilly, who became the first black woman to be crowned Miss Universe Ireland.
Journalist Brianna Parkins, the Sydney Rose 2016, said that while organizers appear to welcome diversity, they need to be proactive.
“To encourage different participants to participate in this heat phase, these people need to know that they are wanted, that the Rose experience will be good for them and how the whole process works,” she said. It’s not enough to just sit back and hope these people show up.
Rose of Tralee Festival chairman Anthony O’Gara has insisted the event is diverse.
“For example, when we launched the rose, we made it clear that we wanted diversity and we wanted everyone to feel welcome,” he said.
“People are different – no matter what, we are all different.
“But I would hope that we would all respect each other and be comfortable in each other’s company.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/rose-of-tralee-organisers-score-own-goal-with-all-white-line-up-for-2022-41919447.html Rose of Tralee organizers score own goal in 2022 with all-white lineup