Can’t have grey areas in response to violence

Leah Doherty, one of the organisers, speaks to the media as more than 100 people attended an anti-racist rally at the former Key West Hotel, Rooskey which was damaged in an arson attack. Picture: Brian Farrell

The ugliness was writ large in news bulletins last Friday morning. 

A fire had occurred — another one — at the proposed location of a direct provision centre.

The incident happened the previous night at the Shannon Key West hotel in Rooskey on the Leitrim-Roscommon border.

Garda forensics specialists examine the scene at the fire-damaged former Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey on the Leitrim/Roscommon border. Picture: Brian Farrell

The presence of a security guard who alerted gardaí and the fire authorities ensured that the damage was relatively minor. 

In different circumstances, the building might have been destroyed, and quite possibly the security guard’s life endangered.

Eighty refugees had been scheduled to take up residence at the hotel within the next month. 

The news that the hotel was to accommodate a direct provision centre was the subject of major controversy locally when it was announced last December.

There has been a legal dispute between various parties over the property, and locals believed that one side was pledging to revitalise the premises as a hotel, providing a boost to the economy.

Then on Thursday two individuals entered the premises and resorted to arson.

A similar scenario pertained in Moville, Co Donegal, where 100 refugees are to be housed in a centre in the town’s Caiseal Mara Hotel. 

On November 30, in the dead of night, the hotel was set alight.

The scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville . Picture: North West Newspix

In both these instances, the reaction locally was emphatic from anybody who engaged with the media. 

Voices condemned the violent intervention and reassured both the outside world and refugees that some of the most vulnerable people in the world would indeed be welcomed to their locale.

The attacks were attributed to a small and entirely unrepresentative group of racists. 

Racism is alive in Ireland as it is elsewhere. 

There is undoubtedly a small section of the population who would find common cause with the virulent racist and anti-refugee strain that is current in parts of the USA and Europe.

But the arson attacks should be seen in a wider context. Across the developed world at the moment, violence is creeping into politics.

In the USA, Donald Trump arguably whips up his supporters to dangerous level of hatred, just short of violence. 

He tells them that they have been left behind, abandoned and discarded by “the elites”. 

They lap it up and roar in anger.

Last week outside Westminster, Conservative MP Anna Soubry was set upon by a snarling mob of Brexit supporters, who called her a Nazi and intimidated her as she went about her business.

In France, the Gilets Jaunes protests have in many cases toppled over into rioting and angry violence.

In these and other cases, there is now a growing atmosphere in which acts of violence are chipping away at what were once accepted norms.

As such, it is a time to recognise that any form of violence or attack must be met with an unequivocal response.

Some responses to recent acts of aggression have sought to put the violence in context, which could be read in some quarters as a form of qualification.

Following the Rooskey fire, local Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy told the Longford Leader that if the fire was started deliberately “I would condemn such action out of hand, it is not representative of the Rooskey area and the people are outraged.” 

He went on to condemn the Government.

“The Government’s approach of pushing refugees and asylum seekers into small towns around rural Ireland is simply not working — many of these small rural towns are already on their knees and the necessary infrastructure from a transport, educational and health aspect are just not in place and the Government needs to take responsibility for the lack of judgment in relation to this whole approach.”

All of which is grounded in fact but was it appropriate to make such points when the overriding immediate issue was a violent attack on a facility earmarked to provide shelter for some of the world’s most vulnerable?

Is it possible that some who are angry about the Government’s approach may interpret from Mr Murphy’s remarks a certain equivocation between the violence and the treatment of rural Ireland from central government?

That is not his intention but at a time when violence is being increasingly deployed on public issues, should he speak with greater care in the aftermath of an attack?

Last month there was another incident of violence in which a group of security men who had evicted a family three days previously were attacked at the site of the eviction in Strokestown, Co Roscommon.

Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy condemned the violence, but he referenced the actions of the security men as “brutality meted out by black clad nameless men” and called it “bullyboy tactics”.

All of which was fine and condemnatory but there was no specific reference to the subsequent attack on them by men who were also masked and in which a dog was killed and three individuals hospitalised.

Mr Carthy’s abhorrence of all violence is not in doubt. 

But we live in a dangerous time when certain individuals take solace from anything that might leave itself open to interpretation that some incidents of violence are not as bad as others.

The Strokestown incident most likely prompted subsequent attacks of KBC bank outlets which again illustrates how some of a thuggish bent believe that certain violence today can be justified.

There are serious problems in rural Ireland, including how the banks conduct themselves and how the Government fails to engage communities about plans to locate refugee centres, particularly in small towns or villages.

But when violence raises its head it dwarfs all else. 

In today’s febrile world that requires a response that simply cannot be left open to be interpreted as equivocation.

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