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A view of the King Thomond Hotel in Lisdoonvarna. Photograph by John Kelly.

Lisdoonvarna asylum seekers plight shows how fortunate we are-Comment

THERE are many things we complain about in Ireland, sometimes with validity.

Our health service is creaking, our property prices are exploding, our weather is appalling, our capital is swallowing the rest of the country, our streets are filled with homeless men and women.

All of these are daily complaints that fill our newspapers and chat shows but, for all Ireland’s failings, when we hear the stories of those housed in Direct Provision in Lisdoonvarna, we see that this is not such a dysfunctional society.

One man who spoke to The Clare Champion fled the Congo because he feared he would be killed by state forces if he didn’t poison others. Who here will ever be put in such a position?

It might seem unbelievable that anyone here over the age of 25 was born into an Ireland where homosexuality was illegal, but things have clearly progressed dramatically. Contrast that with the experience of Sihre Mkandla, who moved in the same circles as gay people in her native Zimbabwe, which resulted in her having to flee her home and leave her children because her life was at risk.

While we have our own political disagreements here, thankfully, the gun has disappeared from Irish politics, and the worst that a person who dissents from the majority is likely to face are insulting comments online.

Tolerance is now a central value in Irish society, and while the holders of dissenting views might feel isolated, there are virtually no circumstances where they will not be safe. Abortion is about as divisive an issue as there is in this country, but there were no lethal attacks on the leaders of the referendum campaign. Indeed, the prospect of violence against them is virtually unimaginable.

The values that now hold sway here have given us a society that is comfortable for minorities, less accepting of bullying and general meanness. We should be aware of how fortunate we are, in many ways.

Before the asylum seekers arrived in Lisdoonvarna, there was plenty of opposition to the opening of a Direct Provision centre. It is to the credit of those who opposed it – due to concerns about the level of facilities in the town – that the new arrivals have said they have been made very welcome.

Not one of those The Clare Champion spoke to mentioned any form of negativity towards them, while several said people have been very friendly.

While some self-styled liberals would like to paint all of those who attended public meetings on the issue as racist Neanderthals, the truth is, inevitably, more complex. It is possible to have concerns about aspects of immigration and disagree with how it is being handled without being racist. That is a truth that deserves to be widely acknowledged.

The warmth of many of the asylum seekers in Lisdoonvarna was very pleasing and one would hope that all those deserving of refugee status are accommodated in a timely manner. Having endured terrible wrongs in their own countries, they deserve respect and support here.

Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

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