Tuesday 17 January 2017

Irish should understand the need to guard against Syrian refugee backlash

Published 19/11/2015 | 02:30

Syrian refugees walk through rain and fog on their way to the nearest registration camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: Reuters
Syrian refugees walk through rain and fog on their way to the nearest registration camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: Reuters

'Clear off home, Paddy bomber," the manageress of a London jeweller's said to me, when I tried to return a pair of faulty earrings. That was the moment I came face to face with the backlash caused by an Irish accent. To this day, I can taste the shock I felt at being branded the enemy.

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It was the 1990s and the IRA campaign was targeting the financial heart of the city. Bombs were exploding, people were dying or suffering dreadful injuries. Aggression against Irish people might have been unfair but the reason for it wasn't difficult to identify.

What I found most upsetting about the incident, however, was the silence from staff members behind the counter and a corresponding silence from other customers nearby. Everyone shrugged, or dropped their eyes and looked away. Did they all think I was capable of killing indiscriminately because of my Irish accent?

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