Sunday 17 December 2017

There's a pair of us in it when it comes to being good neighbours

Calling people racist won't solve the problems between the bereaved Travellers and their worried neighbours, says Carol Hunt

Divided: Protesters (not residents) Stephen, Mark, Kim and Susan, who are in favour of the Travellers moving to the new location, demonstrate at the entrance to the proposed site at Rockville Drive in Carrickmines, Dublin.
Divided: Protesters (not residents) Stephen, Mark, Kim and Susan, who are in favour of the Travellers moving to the new location, demonstrate at the entrance to the proposed site at Rockville Drive in Carrickmines, Dublin.
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

Racism. There's been a lot of talk about it this past week. The Oxford dictionary defines a racist as: a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another. This is the term that has been used recently - by certain politicians, members of the media and hordes of social media warriors - to describe members of a small community living in a modest suburb in south county Dublin.

What did they do to deserve that most despicable of monikers; the one, we all, if we were to be honest, do and say just about anything to avoid? On the face of it, their sin was abhorrent. Last week, 10 people from two families - five adults, five children and an unborn baby - lost their lives in the biggest fire tragedy to hit Ireland since the Stardust. Most of us can never even begin to contemplate the pain that the families, friends and members of the Traveller community are experiencing as they mourn the loss of their loved ones in Carrickmines. We should be very grateful for that. Most of us will also never experience, in the aftermath of such a tragedy, our neighbours using diggers and cars to prevent the local council preparing temporary housing for us.

Be honest. If you were a couple with small children, up to your eyeballs in mortgage debt, struggling to make a living and put food on the table in this not-so-post-austerity Ireland, what would your initial reaction be if you woke up one morning and discovered that a totally unsuitable field beside your home was being turned into a "temporary" halting site without your prior knowledge or consultation? In light of the horrors experienced by the families needing emergency housing, you'd hope that you'd get your shovel out and give a hand with the digging yourself, wouldn't you? That, of course, would be moral thing to do, wouldn't it? The right response to a community devastated by tragedy? And yet, if we were to be brutally honest, surely we must admit that many of us would have what we would see as legitimate concerns? It's easy to point and judge from a distance. Much harder to take the high moral ground when it's your family who will be affected.

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