Centre must hold as the surface breaks

CÉAD míle fáilte. Ireland, the land of a thousand welcomes — my backside.

You are welcome here if you’re white, rich, or American, but if you’re not, there is no room at the inn.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny (left) awoke at 2.15am on Monday last to find his car ablaze outside his house, days after his comments in the Dáil criticising the recent anti-migrant uprising. TD Noel Grealish (centre) reportedly referred to African economic migrants as ‘spongers’, while TD Michael Collins (right) suggested that Ireland’s culture is under threat from migrants.
Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny (left) awoke at 2.15am on Monday last to find his car ablaze outside his house, days after his comments in the Dáil criticising the recent anti-migrant uprising. TD Noel Grealish (centre) reportedly referred to African economic migrants as ‘spongers’, while TD Michael Collins (right) suggested that Ireland’s culture is under threat from migrants.

The clear message is “No dogs, no blacks, no Africans”, to amend an anti-Irish slogan of the past. For all our airs and graces, what a rotten, backward, racist little people we can be at times.

The latest decision of the Department of Justice to postpone plans to house asylum seekers at a hotel on Achill Island due to ongoing protests is a shameful victory for mob justice.

Some 13 female asylum seekers were due to arrive at the Achill Head Hotel yesterday, but the Department of Justice has now confirmed it had postponed their arrival once more because of local concerns.

This is an increasing trend.

Similar delays were confirmed following protests and some violence in Oughterard, Ballinamore, Rooskey, and Moville.

Waking up yesterday morning, listening to Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman commenting, one could not help but be filled with a sense of anger and outrage that the department is caving in to these localised uprisings, which have a good healthy dollop of old-fashioned Irish racism in the mix.

O’Callaghan rightly expressed “extreme concern” at the decision by the department to give in and delay delivering on our international obligations to help some of the world’s most vulnerable and destitute people.

It is not that long ago that the Irish were those very same destitute people arriving in foreign hostile lands, and I’m quite sure a good deal of them came from places like Achill, Rooskey, Moville, and Ballinamore.

O’Callaghan said he was further concerned that “outside forces” were “piggybacking” local protests, saying: “People are trying to stir this pot.

“The public needed to recognise that Ireland is now a wealthy country, so it is going to attract economic migrants. They can’t have it both ways — have the country wealthy and successful, but say that they don’t want people coming here.”

O’Callaghan said he would encourage people to approach the issue with an open mind. He also called on the State to provide purpose-built accommodation for direct provision.

“The Government needs to recognise that this is going to be a long-term problem,” he said.

Let us remember that recently a TG4 cameraman was asked to leave a public meeting about the issue in Achill, reportedly in a fairly robust manner.

“People are fearful of change. People shouldn’t be fearful, especially in parts of Ireland suffering depopulation,” said O’Callaghan.

Now, it is easy for many to say that O’Callaghan has the luxury of saying such things from the comfort of his South Dublin City vantage and he has no insight or appreciation of what life is like in such small towns.

The news of the Achill delay comes days after the car and home of Leitrim-based Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny were attacked over comments he made in the Dáil last week criticising the recent anti-migrant uprising.

His account of what happened was chilling.

Awakened by “flashing lights” and “a hissing sound” at 2.15am last Monday, Kenny looked outside to see flames “licking up as high as the roof”.

Immediately he called 999, as his wife, Helen, roused their three youngest children, Eabha, 18, Claire, 17, and Pearse, 15, afraid that the house might also succumb to fire.

Initially dazed as to what was going on, Kenny soon realised what was unfolding was no accident. It was a sinister, deliberate act.

While his car was ablaze, Kenny was thankful that earlier that day his son had parked outside the front door so Mr Kenny’s car was fuarther away from the house than usual.

“If it had been closer, the house could have gone on fire,” he said.

The family live on a quiet country road in Aughavas, Co Leitrim, 11km from Ballinamore. So quiet is the road that just one car passed for the 90 minutes it took firefighters to put the blaze out.

While they waited for the fire services to arrive, Kenny and his son Pearse used their garden hose to douse the walls of the house to protect it.

The attack on Kenny, a public representative, was roundly condemned across the political divide, but it has echoes of the targeting of the homes and offices of Government TDs during the 2014 anti-water charges protests.

Radical forces are seeking to exploit and capitalise on the genuine fears of normally tolerant and generous people, and that is a dangerous combination.

Let’s go back a number of weeks to a meeting in Oughterard when Independent TD Noel Grealish described African migrants as “spongers off the State”.

He was speaking in relation to possible plans for a direct provision centre on the site of a former hotel in the area.

Mr Grealish reportedly said the people who might possibly be housed in the former Gateway Hotel would be African economic migrants, whom he described as “spongers”.

He went on to say they would not be Syrians from what he called “good Christian families”.

Reports of the meeting relayed on the Today with Sean O’Rourke show by a local reporter, and confirmed by Independent Galway TD Catherine Connolly, revealed a nasty, ugly undertone of blatant racism throughout the crowd.

Connolly said various stages of the meeting were very troubling in relation to “some of the comments made”. She said the anger was “palpable”, but that some of the comments did not reflect the people that were there.

Connolly said she understood “the genuine anger of the people”, but said she had to correct a number of figures that were quoted in relation to direct provision as facts.

And let me move to Cork’s own Michael Collins — who not only backed Grealish in his stance, but went further to suggest Ireland’s culture is under threat because of the number of migrants coming in here.

Collins, an Independent TD for Cork South West and formerly a councillor for the area, has said Irish people are “hungry in the street” and should be prioritised over immigrants, arguing Ireland is losing its culture.

I’m just there saying how are we talking about bringing so many thousand people maybe into this country and providing hotel rooms and everything, when we haven’t looked after our own people. Why are our own people hungry in the street?

Unfortunately, for Grealish, Collins, and their comrades in arms, the facts simply do not back up their conspiracy theories.

The proportion of migrants coming to Ireland is tiny compared to other European countries. Net migration of non-nationals here actually fell last year.

In April 2019, there were 622,700 non-Irish nationals resident in Ireland, accounting for just 12.7% of the total population. Hardly evidence of our culture being overrun.

In recent times, a new wave of right-wing commentators has made some ground in whipping up an irrational fear among the population, bemoaning the loss of our pure, homogenous Catholic Ireland.

These same scumbag charlatans conveniently forget the misery, abuse, and pain inflicted upon many in those same glory days of the Church’s supremacy.

Ireland is a better country without it.

Ireland is a prosperous country, and Ireland must play its part in coming to the rescue of those who are most in need, the same way we were rescued in times gone by.

As Gerard Howlin excellently pointed out on these pages this week, something fundamentally nasty is afoot in this country.

The next election will be the first where outright racism and xenophobia will play a part. It has always been there, just beneath the surface — but something has changed.

TDs and political leaders have said the same to me in recent days.

We have often heard “the centre must hold”, but if this poison is to be combated, then mainstream Irish politics must face it down, or we will all pay the price.

More on this topic

Leo Varadkar says Georgia and Albania driving rise in asylum-seeker numbersLeo Varadkar says Georgia and Albania driving rise in asylum-seeker numbers

Plans to accommodate asylum seekers in Achill postponed due to protestsPlans to accommodate asylum seekers in Achill postponed due to protests

NUJ 'deeply disturbed' by cameraman's treatment at meeting on asylum seekersNUJ 'deeply disturbed' by cameraman's treatment at meeting on asylum seekers

Don't succumb to the narrative of fear: Priest hits out at growing opposition to asylum seekersDon't succumb to the narrative of fear: Priest hits out at growing opposition to asylum seekers

More in this Section

Mick Clifford Podcast: London Irish voices - Ray O'Rourke and Rory GodsonMick Clifford Podcast: London Irish voices - Ray O'Rourke and Rory Godson

Cyberspace is for everyone and so it must be safe to useCyberspace is for everyone and so it must be safe to use

Dr Ciarán Ó Riain: Cancer screening is not perfect, but we need itDr Ciarán Ó Riain: Cancer screening is not perfect, but we need it

Slawomir Sierakowski: France’s Emmanuel Macron risks political future if he becomes too ambitiousSlawomir Sierakowski: France’s Emmanuel Macron risks political future if he becomes too ambitious

More by this author

Daniel McConnell: Nothing will change if nobody is held responsibleDaniel McConnell: Nothing will change if nobody is held responsible

State is despicably cruel to the families it hurts mostState is despicably cruel to the families it hurts most

Why voters are looking askance at Sinn Féin’s leadershipWhy voters are looking askance at Sinn Féin’s leadership

PAC rightly refuses to swallow ‘blame it on GDPR’ excusePAC rightly refuses to swallow ‘blame it on GDPR’ excuse


Lifestyle

It’s not what you have that makes you happy, it’s what you do. And what better time to be proactive than during the season of goodwill, says Margaret Jennings.Joy to the world: Strategies to increase your happiness during the season of goodwill

For a magical mantelpiece makeover the natural way, foliage and garlands add showstopping sparkle to the scene, says Hannah Stephenson.Bring Christmas cheer indoors: Foliage and garlands add showstopping sparkle

More From The Irish Examiner