A community mourns, a trial continues
By Fernanda Otero & Niall Coen
On a Wednesday night in January, an essential worker in a national emergency was violently assaulted in central Dublin on her way home from work. The suspect is a juvenile and thought to be from the area. Urantsetseg Tserendorj, a married mother of two, died from her injuries two weeks later.
Last Wednesday morning (3 March 2021), a sitting of the Dublin District Children Court was held behind closed doors. On the far pavement from the Court, on the corner of New Church Street and Smithfield, two men stood in dignified silence, holding a large, home-made placard. Urantsetseg’s husband and son were joined by tens of everyday people from the Mongolian-Irish community, there to show their sympathy and solidarity with the family of the deceased. Passers-by stopped to ask the demonstrators about their cause and many wished them well.
Representing all walks of life, they had come to stand in silent vigil for Urantsetseg, a well-loved and popular figure. Stunned statue-still, holding placards, and mostly silent, their demonstration also distils many of the worries of this small Dublin community into one sorry episode: dangerous working conditions and thankless work during a national emergency; rising knife crime in downtown Dublin; and rising xenophobia. It also brings into question once again those cherished Irish notions that Ireland is a welcoming country and that it gives special care to children.
Masked and socially distanced, the demonstrators represented a cross section of Mongolian-Irish society. During the demonstration, which ran for three hours outside the court building, we spoke with a cleaner and a carpenter, amongst others. Such placards as “Justice for Urantsetseg”, “She loved Irish people and country”, and “Ireland must be safe for all” tell their own story.
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A married woman with three children and living in Ireland for 16 years, Amy explains :
“We really, really want to fight altogether for her and for her family. Yeah, it’s sad. It’s very sad, you know? Nobody expecting kind of this in here. Far away from home… I wish they should change the law like. They have to do something. They need to change their law. I don’t know what I’m expecting now. I don’t have any clue, any idea. What gonna change, what’s gonna happen next. No idea to be honest.”
A teacher in Mongolia now working as a carpenter in the Irish construction industry, an admirer of Irish politics and governance, and a friend of the family, Billy shares his thoughts on the matter:
“The law, it’s protecting the teenagers, youngsters. It’s a good thing. But on the other hand, they are taking advantage of the law protecting them… So, we’re here to demonstrate for the justice system. It’s not about that specific teenager. It’s just the justice system is kind of interrupted. So, it needs to be changed. The Minister of Justice Helen McEntee, she’s doing a great job. She’s changing the law in a better way. The old law cannot work anymore.”
Living in Ireland for 14 years, Mindy expresses the anxiety that many in the Mongolian-Irish community now feel and the message the demonstrators wish to send:
“I would like to say that Irish government and Irish system, they need to think about it. That’s my main point of standing here. Every country has same crimes, same things, but in this time we should just think about sending a message. Most Mongolian people like Irish people, Irish community, Irish culture, Irish country. Of course, this thing is very sad to happen to our community, so that’s why we’re standing here today. Sending the message ‘think about this kind of crime’”
All along the perimeter of Smithfield square are large concrete planters at intervals, which are thought to secure this pedestrian area. On Wednesday morning, they also marked the distance between one demonstrator and the next. As a frontline worker, Urantsetseg put her own life on the line for the benefit of Irish society in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, those gathering to remember her were mindful of the national situation and assembled responsibly, with composure and dignity.
Gardaí are understood to be implementing a special policing plan on foot of this tragedy, and Dublin City Councillors are calling for a taskforce on knife crime to be established. In the Oireachtas, Jim O’Callaghan (FF) recently called for the doubling of sentencing for knife crimes; and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (FG) met Garda Commissioner Drew Harris for discussions on the issue. Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (FG) recently commented on the debt owed to frontline workers:
“The term ‘frontline worker’ or ‘essential worker’ has taken on a new meaning and I don’t think we can thank them enough for what they have done, their dedication and selflessness.”
Whether Urantsetseg Tserendorj has been thanked enough for her dedication and selflessness remains an open question, but Irish society must now support a minority community feeling isolated and vulnerable.
The trial and the vigil continue.
Photos courtesy of Niall Coen