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Protestors on horses and cart while on the Ballymun Road in Dublin on 12 January. They were protesting against the housing of refugees in Ballymun. Rolling News
VOICES

Lynn Ruane In all my years of community work I've never met the ones 'fighting for Ireland'

The independent senator takes the narrative of the Far Right to task and asks them just how much they truly care for communities in Ireland.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 19th 2023, 9:40 PM

THE PHILOSOPHER ARTHUR Schopenhauer in his work The Basis of Morality, speaks to the stirring of compassion within him by another’s pain. I know how strong that stirring is in the ordinary people of our communities in this country.

Still, people’s pain exists alongside their compassion. In recent months we’ve seen the Far Right working very hard to trigger that pain and to direct it away from compassion, to transform it into something more fearful and hateful.

But, through understanding, solidarity is found, and our collective struggle can be transformed into positive change. Compassion is powerful.

“Get them out” and “send them home” are easy chants to grab onto, simple terms to understand. For the person repeating them on the doorstep of a direct provision centre, on social media, or at the kitchen table, maybe it feels like they are protecting themselves, their families and their capital, or lack thereof, from a perceived threat. A threat doesn’t have to be real to be felt; it only has to stick in the minds of people who already feel attacked, abandoned, or marginalised. We are now contending with the Far Right in Ireland who are trying to exploit this sense of threat.

Remembering compassion

Being reactive to what we hear and are told can often get in the way of our compassion. If you ask a person if they believe someone should suffer, or if you ask them if they think others’ lives are worth less, they will most likely say no.

The Far Right seeks to bypass this instinct for compassion with disinformation. They seek to plant fears about asylum seekers so that more regressive instincts – fear, tribalism, nationalism – overpower our compassion.

Therefore we end up with these incoherent and incompatible thoughts where people genuinely want others to be free of persecution, but they also say they want them to leave Ireland – which is often the only place where some people can be free of that persecution. The Far Right in Ireland and around the world like people to be afraid and want people to hold hate in their hearts because that’s where their agenda can thrive. If we bring compassion to the fore, their power is immediately removed.

Trading in hate

Hate can take many forms, and if we strip back a person’s visceral reaction to migrants in their community, what are we left with? Is it hate that you find when you dig down? Hate for the other person or the new faces in your corner shop? Or do you hate the failure of housing policy, the lack of service for your kid, or the poor outcomes you and your family have felt from austerity or poor wages?

The Far Right in Ireland may be failing on some fronts, and we can celebrate the lack of bodies that have shown up to their recent demonstrations, but they’re dangerous; they are the orchestrators of hate, and they grow only when they are successful at taking your struggle in life and turning it in a hate campaign against other humans.

Interestingly, these people on the Far Right always claim they are “fighting for Ireland”. It’s funny because, having worked in addiction, poverty and homelessness since I was 18, I have never once come across the people who now claim they are “fighting for Irish people”.

It’s a lie. Ask yourselves why we don’t know these people as community leaders, volunteers, or human rights defenders. These people present themselves as part of the community but only use communities when it suits them. They are opportunistic and dishonest, looking for any opportunity they can use to turn frustration into division.

They may present themselves as having your interest at heart, but they are all interested in power and division. Their hate campaign attempts to convince people that they are an alternative to the government of the day or democracy itself. To take a society’s real concerns, the Far Right uses migrants, women’s bodily autonomy and class struggle to stoke fear and moral panic. Still, they don’t care about you or me, just like they don’t care about migrants. There are alternatives to the current government and its neo-liberal policies, but hate and division, sown by the Far Right, are not it; especially amongst already marginalised groups, are not the answer. We need solidarity to create real, lasting change for all.

Economics at play

I recently visited one of the newer Direct Provision Centres as part of Tallaght for All. Like other community groups, Tallaght for All was set up to create a more positive reception for refugees here in Ireland while also advocating for better outcomes for all. Just like hate can grow where there is a struggle, so can love and compassion, which is evident in the large numbers of communities gathering in solidarity across this country.

It’s important to remember that the vast majority of communities on the news recently have opened their communities and extended their welcome to asylum seekers. These are the same people now working hard to build bridges and repair the damage done by the Far Right.

We should also be conscious of the historical and structural reasons why specific communities are now having to work to defend their reputation in the aftermath of these protests. We have seen many working-class communities highlighted on our screens, with the caveat that they may be being manipulated by the Far Right – and there is a patronising implication here that these communities have fallen for something that others haven’t. But we should think carefully about the myriad reasons why we have not seen more affluent communities highlighted in these same news reports.

Here is just one example of how economic inequality plays a role: Minister Roderic O’Gorman has stated that accommodation centres to house asylum seekers are mainly being sourced through offers from the public, usually of unused buildings. Historic neglect and exploitation of poorer areas of Dublin have directly led to more vacant or unused sites, which has inevitably meant we see more centres in these areas too.

A more honest analysis should recognise that fear and anti-immigrant sentiment can be found in all communities. But at the moment, we have middle-class media commentators having a constant dialogue about urban working-class communities. Of course, those in affluent areas are also drawn in by Far Right actors, especially in online spaces, but because their anger and frustration are being channelled more covertly, we don’t hear about it in the same way. We all have a shared duty to provide welcome, care, and support for those seeking refuge in Ireland, just as we are all responsible collectively for ensuring the Far Right does not cause a divide in our communities.

This positive sense of collective responsibility is what I felt on my first visit to Tallaght for All to meet our new community members. I was joined by a youth worker, a community outreach worker, a resident and two other local representatives. It didn’t feel good to enter the Direct Provision site, not because of its conditions, but because, for the time being, this is someone’s home; it’s many people’s homes. The kitchen space was filled with smells of different cultures’ meals in preparation.

I felt uncomfortable invading their private space and imagined what it would feel like to hear chants outside.

Everyone wants to belong and be safe, and I wondered what it must be like to have your presence somewhere challenged so forcefully and cruelly. I refuse to believe that anyone outside the Far Right genuinely wants to inflict that type of suffering on other human beings. Meeting new people, especially those who have travelled a difficult journey, all I see is my fellow human. In the same way that I want my family and friends to be safe and happy, I want this for the people I meet too. If we want a more altruistic type of politics, if we are to strive for connection and not division, one must engage in principles of compassion.

In Schopenhauer’s book Self, World and Morality, he speaks to this somewhat when he says:

“We are possessed of two different, nay, absolutely contradictory, ways of regarding the world: one according to the principle of individuation, which exhibits all creatures as entire strangers to us, as definitely not ourselves. The other way of regarding the world is in accordance with what I may call the tat-twam-asi-this-is-thyself principle. All creatures are identical with ourselves, and so it is a pity and love that the site of them arouses. The one method separates individuals by impassable barriers: the other removes the barrier and brings the individuals together. The one makes us feel, in regard to every man, that is what I am; the other, that is not what I am”.

We aren’t a people of impassable barriers. We relate deeply to others, and they are what we are, no matter how hard some try to ensure that you and our new community members are strangers.

Lynn Ruane is an independent senator. 

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