A minor symptom does not take long to transform into a severe illness. For this to happen, only one little ingredient is needed: looking the other way instead of facing a difficult conversation. This is what is happening today in East Wall, Dublin. East Wall is a neighbourhood where there have been protests for several days against a reception centre for international protection applicants.
The entire international protection system is in crisis, with a chronic shortage of accommodation and an increase in demand due to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine and non-European countries. As a result, the Government has had to seek emergency solutions to accommodate refugees in towns and cities (e.g. hotels, sports clubs, army tents), which has given new air to the emergence of anti-immigration and anti-refugee discourses.
Concerned residents have spoken of a lack of consultation on the venue’s location, lack of Government presence, lack of transparency with the information and, particularly, the arrival of single men as the main occupants of the new centres. These reasons seem fair and have given rise to a series of measures to facilitate dialogue between communities, their local political representatives and the Government and implementers.
But it’s a trap. It is the symptom that lessens as the disease progresses. So this is where you have to pay attention.
Because to justify their rejection, the neighbours avoid making their racism public at all costs, putting forward reasons that make their demands justifiable. Who is going to oppose the welfare and safety of children? No one. Who is not going to criticise the lack of consultation? No one. And it is one thing to have an opinion as a cultured, moderate and multicultural person, but another thing is when we are asked to put those values into practice.
Among the East Wall protest crowd the other night, someone shouted at the top of their voice: “Where are you from? You won’t belong here for long because we are going to get you out! Out, out, out. Go and fight for your country, wherever you’re from, while another shouted: scum of the earth and so on” (quoted from Irish Times Saturday 26 Nov, pag 8).
These reactions are worth noting because this community somehow gives voice to something shared by the silent majority, none of whom opposed these cries.
Why do we fail to see that this attitude of concerned residents is that of many people in Ireland? Why do local politicians take this reaction as an isolated event and try to attribute it to the influence of far-right groups? Or to a lack of information, as we see the proposed solution of distributing leaflets around the concerned areas.
Nobody wants to assume that they are racist and that they don’t care about the poverty of others as long as they and their families are well. Aren’t these two assumptions the ones that endanger the myth of being hospitable and community? So why does nobody want to see that this myth is loaded with self-complacency and incapacity for self-criticism?
Why is it so hard to assume that racism is a problem in this country? When do politicians try to cover the sun with one finger and pretend that these are isolated events?
The situation of East Wall, seen from a more complex view, is a thread of gunpowder that the existing inequality has ignited, expressed in the differential impacts of the cost of living and housing crises affecting a population tired of promises, an international migration and refugee crisis and racism. Where will this burning thread lead? Where is the bomb to which this thread of gunpowder leads? That is what I would like to know.