Failed by both the PC brigade and the law
Eamon Delaney recounts the siege of a once-proud neighbourhood, and the censorship against naming the problem as the anti-social disorder it is
SOMETIMES you feel that there are two parallel worlds, one where there is a specific approved discourse on a subject, and then there is the real world where people actually say and think something completely different.
One of these subjects is the controversial issue of the Roma, prevalent throughout Europe and, as we know here, in Ireland, where the Roma gypsies operate with gangs of beggars, working the streets, shoplifting and using their children as props for both activities, not to mention blighting an area with debris and run-down housing.
However, to whole swathes of opinion, to say this is to be guilty of 'racism' and 'stereotyping' -- even if what you're saying is invariably completely true. Or else it is 'the fault of society' that these people wantonly behave as they do. Roma children do not go to school, but somehow this is our fault, or the fault of 'society at large'.
When President Sarkozy dealt robustly with the issue in Paris, deporting thousands of Roma back to Bulgaria and Romania, he was demonised by the liberal media, who said it was just a political 'stunt' and not connected to what the Roma were actually doing.
But this is not the experience of ordinary people who encounter the Roma every day. But their experience does not count: they are blithely scolded for 'stereotyping'.
Recently, on Joe Duffy's Liveline, people rang in with genuine tales of harassment by the Roma in Irish country towns, only to be hectored by a well-spoken Irish liberal living in London, who said their views were wrong and discriminatory. Later, an Irish Times writer tut-tutted about the 'nature of some of the opinions' expressed. This is censorship of the Left. It is denying ordinary people the validity of their own experiences, which is made even worse when they have been attacked or harassed. Once again, ironically, so-called liberals are actually being most illiberal.
But it is not just about the Roma. It goes for many issues. In a recent excellent article in the Guardian, Suzanne Moore challenged this censorship among her own right-on Guardian types. She was writing about the English Defence League (EDL) rally in Luton, and the way it was utterly dismissed and demon-ised by the likes of the BBC.
Moore's point was that the EDL may be odious, but why can't we talk about the reasons for its emergence -- which was a homecoming rally in Luton, where British soldiers returning from Iraq were greeted by Muslim extremists holding up placards describing them as 'baby killers' and the 'butchers of Basra'?
Moore goes on to describe the treatment of women in Muslim communities, and in English gypsy culture, and wonders why we can't talk openly about such matters without giving offence.
It is this refusal to allow discussion which creates the frustrated silence among ordinary people -- and which, with no outlet, then migrates to radicals. It is PC culture gone mad.
People who think the Roma issue is exaggerated should come to Phibsborough, where I live. It's is a great old north inner city neighbourhood, busy and colourful with lots of Irish country people and immigrants, and families, and fit-looking East Europeans, both female and male (so there, I'm not being sexist). It is the area of Joyce and Dalymount Park, and has a clearly defined crossroads, which makes it more like a country town. Except now this crossroads is plagued by Roma -- although apparently you are not allowed to use the word 'plagued', according to the man on Liveline. (It is interesting how, for many of these people, what exercises them is not the substantive issue, but the matter of language).
But, in this case, 'plagued' is the most descriptive word, with the Roma camped out outside shops, harassing old people for money, or, worst of all, walking up and down the aisles of St Peter's Church, doing the same.
Not only do the Roma operate a shift system, organised by burly male Roma, but they occupy all the main vantage points of the neighbourhood so they are impossible to avoid. In one shop, a young lad with Down Syndrome had to quit his job -- his one life-affirming job -- after he was apparently followed home by them.
The Roma do things Irish beggars would never do. Compared with their sullen, aggressive pestering, your old standard Dublin panhandlers with their 'howya, bud' are almost a refreshing throwback. The worst is when they beg with children, holding babies out in the winter cold. This is actually illegal, but it doesn't stop them. As the father of two young children, I found this particularly annoying and upsetting. I probably wouldn't have before, but I do now, so I went to the garda station and asked them what they would do.
The gardai said they would approach the Roma but admitted that it would be to no avail. "We'd have her in the station all day, along with her child," said the garda. If the Roma are brought to court, they just collect a ticket and smile. Meanwhile, all this police time and money is being wasted.
No wonder President Sarkozy just went for a deportation. The Bulgarian and Romanian governments accepted this, as did, eventually, the French public, who were very happy to have their streets back after the hysterical liberals, with their fatuous and predictable comparisons to 'Nazi round-ups', had quieted down and moved on to another PC hobby horse.
The reality is that ordinary remonstrations just roll off the Roma, because they know they'll always have the protection of civil liberties quangos and middle-class liberals, usually living in areas which don't have to deal with them.
However, even such types have their complacent views tested, like a local artist here who had his house robbed, and lost valuable computer equipment. When the gardai found the culprits, he discovered they were his Roma 'friendly neighbours', directly across the street. One of them was armed with a diver's knife.
However, working-class people have no such illusions. They work hard, they abide by the rules, and yet they then see people flagrantly breaking the law and getting away with it. And not just Roma, but criminals, and landlords and white-collar criminals. And then they see the same offenders defended, by social workers, or expensive lawyers or human-rights activists.
This disparity is why the broad Left, hijacked by these sorts, went into the political wilderness in the UK and elsewhere: it lost touch with the real concerns of working people. In the UK, the electorate flocked to the law-and-order instincts of the Conservative Party, and the same appears to be happening here, with Fine Gael resurgent.
However, the activity of the Roma is only part of why an area like Phibsborough feels besieged. Next to Mountjoy Jail, the Mater Hospital and the city centre itself, the area now perceives itself to be overrun with junkies, winos, methadone clinics and homeless shelters.
Of course, the area is willing to take its share of such social elements, like anywhere else, and there is a genuine Irish sense of charity and support for such lost souls, many of whom come from here, but there is also a feeling of why one district has to take on so much.
Would Ranelagh or Dalkey be subject to the same?
Along Whitworth Road, and North Circular Road, for example, people have been laudably rehoused by Fr Peter McVerry's charity, but now the talk locally is that there are almost a dozen homeless shelters in the area, which is an awful lot.
Meanwhile, we have the likes of ex-garda Kevin Galvin, a slum landlord, whose buildings on the main Phibsborough Road, and in Cabra, were used to house immigrants, despite being filthy and previously condemned by the courts.
The question is not just what kind of society has to tolerate this, but what kind of society should witness its once-proud neighbourhood being degraded like this, but cannot do anything about it because of weak laws and fear of offending the PC lobby?