Friday, December 14, 2018

Burning questions

The images of the rioting taking place in France over the past few weeks were shocking. Hundreds were injured, and several were killed. This was accompanied by massive destruction of property, both public and private. I found the scenes of burning cars somewhat ironic. The major complaint of the protesters is the escalating cost of living; and yet every time a car is burned, some poor unfortunate, a blameless fellow citizen, finds themselves without transport in the morning, unable to go to work. And if they don't have the wherewithal to replace the vehicle quickly, perhaps they will soon find themselves out of a job altogether.

The protesters claim to be acting this way because the government is out of touch and doesn't listen to the ordinary people, particularly those living away from the big urban centres such as Paris. The violence, it should go without saying, is deplorable; but it isn't something we can afford to be too self-righteous about right now. We've had some public burning of our own recently, the hotel in Moville, Co Donegal, that is slated to become a direct provision centre in the near future and become home to about a hundred or so asylum seekers.

No one knows who did the arson or what their motives were; but, of course, words like 'bigotry' and 'racism' were quickly thrown about in the media. And for all I know that's exactly what lies behind it. But there's no harm in mentioning that there's more going on here than simple prejudice against outsiders. For example, a lot of locals were very annoyed at the way they found out about the plan – on social media, of all places, and after contracts had been signed between the Department of Justice and the hotel. They were presented with a done-deal, with no opportunity to air their concerns in advance.

And the concerns they raise are not unreasonable. Is a small coastal town really the place to put a hundred asylum seekers? Given its remote location, with fairly poor public transport links, what are these new residents supposed to do all day? Stay in their rooms? Walk the streets? Local schools are already at full capacity – where are any children who come supposed to be educated?

The concerns being raised by locals are not of 'not in my backyard' kind. They echo those raised by the Irish Refugee Council that the town is too remote to be suitable.

But there is a major difference about what happened in Donegal and France. The French protesters stated their cause and went out on the streets openly. The arson in Moville was done at night, anonymously, with no reason given. But in both places people feel they're not being listened to. And that can be dangerous. The fires in Donegal and France show that.

At least in Donegal nobody was killed or injured. Some better listening from now on is needed so that there isn't a next time when someone is.

this article appears in this week's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

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