Mullingar man Rashid Butt has just become the town’s newest, and youngest, peace commissioner. He received his appointment by post last week, and is probably the first person from an ethnic minority, and definitely the first Muslim in the country, to receive this honour.
“I am delighted with this honour,” Butt said, “which is an opportunity to make more of a contribution to the community. I was away on holidays and when I returned, I was greeted with this pleasant surprise,” he added.
It all started when Mr Butt hosted a voter registration drive at his business, the IT Zone on Patrick Street, Mullingar, aimed at encouraging newer arrivals in Ireland to participate in the electoral process. In researching how to organise the voter registration drive properly, he learned that citizens of other European Union countries need a peace commissioner to witness their paperwork to transfer their European Parliament vote. This sparked a conversation with Deputy James Bannon, who then championed the cause and supported Mr Butt’s appointment.
“I’m grateful to all those who have supported me,” Mr Butt commented, “particularly Deputy Bannon, who has been extremely helpful and recommended me for this appointment.
“My appointment shows how far Ireland has come with integration of people who were not born on this island. I believe I am the first ever Muslim to be appointed to this esteemed office and probably the youngest person appointed as well.
“In a generation, people will marvel that my appointment was news because it will be commonplace for foreign-born people (as well as people born in Ireland and who happen to be of a different ethnicity ) to be active in all aspects of civil/ public life. I would like to see more ethnic minorities involved in public services especially at planning and design stage. This will ensure more inclusive society and more understanding of cultures.”
Peace commissioners are appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Their duties include taking statutory declarations, witnessing signatures on court documents, and signing certificates and orders under various acts of law. The role of peace commissioner is entirely voluntary and no payment for services is allowed.
Mr Butt is well known in Mullingar for his volunteer activities in the local community, including serving on the Board of Management of St Colman’s School and as vice-chairman of Project Integrate (Mullingar Intercultural Group ). He is also the proprietor of the IT Zone internet café on Patrick Street in Mullingar.
“I am first and foremost a human rights campaigner and a community development worker more than anything else, and would always remain one,” Mr Butt concluded.
It may be noted that Rashid Butt is the first Muslim to sit on the board of management of a Catholic school in the State. He also made history when this year, Mullingar’s St Patrick’s Day parade committee invited him to bless the shamrock and represent the Muslim community in Mullingar. This ceremony took place in Market House before the parade commenced. Present at the ceremony among other dignitaries, were local politicians and also representatives of other major faiths in the town.