28th April 2000
I must say that I’ve got some sympathy for the various villagers around the country that are opposed to an influx of asylum seekers in their areas.
I was taken by the case of Clogheen in Tipperary, a town of 400 people where the Department of Justice intend locating 40 refugees. The local people are not best pleased and you can see why.
Firstly, they weren’t asked for their opinion. This is very strange seeing that nowadays you have to get permission for the most trivial of building projects or for change of use of a building.
Secondly, they have no idea of the kind of people coming to stay. Finally, they don’t know how long the people will stay and what turnover of asylum-seekers there will be.
Of course, many of the people are motivated by prejudice. But most, I think, are motivated by the idea that they like things the way they are and they don’t want to change. This is a very powerful force in modern Ireland and it has brought many projects, from mobile phone masts to casinos, to an ignominious end.
I believe the people of Clogheen would react much the same if they were faced with 40 German fishermen, 40 members of a christian sect or 40 inner-city Dubliners. Perhaps it’s part of our innate “fight or flight” nature that we first consider the downside of everything. All the bad possibilities spring to mind before the positive ones do.
What possible harm could 40 asylum seekers do to Clogheen?
Well there’s all the old hoary ones about begging, stealing and getting your daughter pregnant but they’ve all been applied to the lads from the next town, so there’s nothing inherently racist there.
The fact is that these people are going to be different and this is something that close knit communities find hard to deal with. The people who make decisions on these matters are going to have to take this into account.
It seems to me that 40 is too many in a town of 400. But all communities in Ireland will have to play their part and zero also seems too few.
It annoys me intensely how quick commentators are to label people as racist without trying to meet their concerns half way or to understand that change is always difficult.
I live in Palmerstown. Thirty years ago Palmerstown was a village out in the country with a population only a fraction of what it is now. Then along came thousands of newcomers like myself with no knowledge of the history of the place; no feeling for the characters that gave the town its life; and with no interest in the people who were there before me.
Could I not forgive some of the old-timers passing a jaundiced eye upon me for turning their world inside out?
So we have a genuine problem here. For as long as I remember, our people left Ireland in droves. The few immigrants that came settled in West Cork or Dublin.
Now things have changed utterly. Now our problem is that we have a population that is overwhelmingly Irish and it’s going to be tough mixing it with others.
From my time living abroad I believe that there is a very important lesson to be learned. All newcomers should be integrated with Irish society and vice-versa. The creation of ghettos or sub-cultures only prolongs the agony.
But Ireland could really do with a good dollop of racial and cultural diversity. There’s too many Irish here for life to be really interesting.