Dublin’s media and political establishment always has the same explanation, when these things happen.
The Department of Justice, without any consultation, or forewarning, has announced a migrant accommodation centre for a relatively small rural town.
Local people are upset by it. Some politicians have spoken out. It is clear that there will be some opposition. And, thinks Dublin, “here we go again, the racists are coming out to play”.
Local politicians, in this case ex-Renua leader John Leahy, say that in their experience, there is an unfairness in the housing system, and that migrants are receiving priority over local people in the allocation of very scarce social housing units. “No, no, no”, says Dublin, “that’s not happening”. Leahy, or whoever, sticks to his guns and says that he has personally seen it happening. “Racist”, says Dublin.
It’s not only happening in rural Ireland, of course. The protestors in Mulhuddart are so concerned about being called racist that they’ve actually protested for an extraordinarily generous and reasonable proposal: That just 50% of the available housing go to local people, with 50% being kept available for migrants. Half and half. Guess what Dublin says to that?
“Racist”, of course. People who want half of all the housing in their area to go to immigrants and migrants are racists now.
If the Irish establishment wants a properly far-right, anti-immigration, “Ireland for the Irish” party to succeed, they are doing everything right. If they want a country that is comfortable with immigration and integration, they are doing everything wrong.
Many of these people have no conception of what rural Ireland, or poorer, urban Ireland, looks like. They don’t live there. They did not grow up there. They don’t understand the importance of community cohesion or the sense, oftentimes, of being left behind.
There are towns in rural Ireland that cannot field a GAA team because the young people leave at the age of 18 and only about half of them, if that, ever come back. There are countless villages in Ireland that have a single street where each side of the road features boarded-up commercial premises that last opened their doors some time in 1994. There are the shells of old factories, that once produced clothes, or meat, or leather, and last employed people in the 1980s.
There are houses built in the 1960s that a few elderly people still live in, and leave to make the pilgrimage to mass or church, or to the post office, which is under threat of closure. Since the town was bypassed to make it easier to travel between Galway and Dublin, or Limerick and Dublin, or Cork and Dublin, fewer and fewer visitors come into the town. Those that do usually stop at the Petrol station to buy bottled water and a chocolate bar and 30 litres of diesel.
The local farming community is all that keeps these towns going. The lucky ones have a cattle mart once a week, and that brings in business. The less fortunate might hope for an agri goods supplier to draw in farmers looking for sileage wrap or posts for a new fence.
For many of these places, the first investment they have seen from the Irish government in three decades is the announcement that the local hotel, which thrived in the 50s and 60s but has not been opened since about 1991, is to be renovated and turned into an accommodation centre for 40 people who do not speak their language or, they fear, share their values.
It feels to the locals as if these people are being dumped on them, and it must feel to the migrants as if they are being dumped somewhere out of the way, where nobody goes, and about where nobody cares.
None of this matters, of course, to the Dublin based writer with an opinion. It’s a zero sum game, for these people. Either you like and welcome immigration, in which case you are a good, metropolitan modern Irish person, or you “have concerns”, which means that you are an uneducated rustic slob who we are too polite to call “racist”. And the Dublin writer’s audience, of course, knows the code only too well. “People with concerns about immigration” is code for “slavering, blithering racists”.
There’s a different form of immigration in Dublin, of course. It has its downsides – nobody can talk about the fact that house prices are a function of demand, and huge demand for housing is generated by rich immigrants who can afford rents that young Irish people find abominable. But that’s a good kind of immigration, because it “benefits the economy”. Young people in Dublin might resent the lack of housing, but why would they care about the cause? They live in a cosmopolitan city with a range of cultures and all the best international restaurants and shops, and they wonder in amazement at how anybody could be hostile to those less fortunate than themselves. If only the solution countrywide was as simple as it is in Dublin, and we could just “build more houses”.
In rural Ireland, “build more houses” isn’t the problem. The problem isn’t a lack of houses, it’s a lack of anything. A single ageing GP suddenly has 40 more patients. A single garda station, 20 miles away, suddenly has 40 more people to look after. There are no playgrounds for the 15 extra children. The classroom is suddenly full of children who don’t speak the language of their peers. The streets, already barren, are now adorned with people who get €40 a week from the Government begging the residents for a little more.
The problem is not, and never has been, “racism”, the problem is neglect, and the attitude to these towns shown by Dublin.
A week ago, in the “triumph of the backwoodsmen”, many of these towns, notably Oughterard, which experienced this phenomenon last year, threw their votes behind populist independents who have been unafraid to speak up for them. That was a protest, but it will not be their last.
If this nonsense continues, and if Dublin continues to treat backwater rural towns as a dumping ground for direct provision, the public will look for more radical solutions.
It is an abominable policy. And it will reap an abominable result.