Right of reply: Leah Doherty responds to People Editor’s views on ‘Headache Hotel’
Leah Doherty (Leitrim & Roscommon United Against Racism)
Editor Paul Healy’s ‘Headache Hotel’ article (Roscommon People 18/1/19) regarding the arson attack on the hotel in Rooskey, stated that ‘nobody has a monopoly on what is right or wrong here’ – this statement constructs a false equivalence between anti-racism campaigners and those who express racism and act on racist sentiment. The article casts suspicion on the ‘agenda’ of those who organised and participated in the anti-racism rally that took place in Rooskey after the arson attack on the hotel there and insinuates that at least some of us are ‘extremists’.
Mr. Healy states: “If you aren’t in favour of 80 asylum seekers being effectively abandoned in a hotel in a small village, you’re at risk of being branded with the ‘R’ word”. Every person who was in attendance at the anti-racism rally in Rooskey is against 80 asylum seekers being ‘abandoned’ in Rooskey. In fact the only people who appear to be in favour of it are the government and the people who are set to earn a lot of money managing the centre. The only time I have witnessed anyone being labelled racist online or elsewhere is when they have made racist comments or slurs.
But let’s get something straight once and for all: we have a growing problem with racism in Ireland. This has been acknowledged by recent research conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on behalf of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and it has been on the rise since the recession. The attack on the proposed provision centre in Rooskey was fueled by this growing racism. Now we can bury our heads and pretend that racism does not exist in Ireland today or we can stand up to it and build communities that look after all within them.
Who exactly are the extremists in this story, that Mr.Healy talks about? Is it those who campaign against racism and for decent treatment and the right to work for asylum seekers? Or is it those who ferment racist sentiment online and in public life and those who act in a vigilante manner on that sentiment? Is it those who brought people with direct knowledge and experience of the direct provision system to Rooskey to speak to locals? Or is it those who set fire to the hotel, sending a hate message of…you are not welcome here? Or perhaps those who celebrated the arson attack online in openly racist terms in the aftermath?
Mr. Healy also references ‘vicious’ online exchanges and again appears to want to paint anti-racism campaigners as morally equivalent to those who they took part in ‘exchanges online’ with. Let it be noted that many many disgusting and racist comments appeared in online fora, which host people from this part of the world, in the aftermath of the blaze – including expressions of regret that there were not asylum seekers present in the hotel at the time. Are we to consider those who made such racist comments as equivalent to those who berated them for making them?
A number of those present at the rally were subjected to intimidation and received anonymous threats in the aftermath of the rally. Are the ordinary people who organised and attended the rally in an open and accountable manner to be thought of as having extremists among them in a similar manner to the far-right, racist activist who travelled to Rooskey, just weeks before the fire, to highlight the fact that the hotel may become a direct provision centre and openly encouraged their audience to do something to stop it?
Mr. Healy thinks the hotel should be opened as a hotel rather than a direct provision centre. He criticises the political establishment for dumping the asylum seeker ‘problem’ on rural Ireland. The very same points were made, in detail, by those who organised the rally in Rooskey and by the invited speakers. The rally heard call after call for an end to the unjust, inhumane direct provision system and heard speaker after speaker express their view that dumping eighty asylum seekers in a rural village, that is short on services, is a crazy scenario. However they were also at pains to NOT paint the potential arrival of asylum seekers to the village as a crisis and disaster for those concerned with the future of the village.
‘Maybe the village’s economic future is linked to the fate of this building’…‘It may never again function as a tourism amenity’/‘A potentially disastrous error’/ ’Setting the development of the village back many years’/‘If the hotel becomes an asylum accommodation centre there may be no turning back’. These statements were perhaps the most ill thought out part of Mr. Healy’s article…the repeated suggestion that such an eventuality may constitute a killer blow to the village’s future. This is how sets of disadvantaged people are set at each other’s throats and that is something the powers that be and those stirring up xenophobia, nationalism and racism are only too happy to see happening. Most importantly, it distracts attention from the government’s myriad of failings. Rooskey needs investment in a whole host of areas, including state services, as do many other rural towns and villages across this region.
It is, as Mr. Healy makes clear, a difficult situation. That said, it is extremely important that we do not allow vigilante activity to set the agenda where difficult situations manifest themselves in our communities. The person or people who set fire to the hotel did so with the clear intent of sending a message to the Department of Justice. The message was – we would rather burn the hotel than see asylum seekers in it. The deliberate targeting of a building intended for use by the direct provision system, to house asylum seekers, who in the majority hail from Africa and the Middle-East, took place in a social context where anti-immigration sentiment and forms of far-right, white nationalism are being actively promoted by growing networks of ‘alt-right’ activists in Ireland, Europe and the US. This is Trumpism happening in rural Ireland. The arson attack in Rooskey also took place in the aftermath of a similar series of attacks on a hotel in Donegal intended to host asylum seekers.
A combination of a ‘them or us’ zero sum game logic, business interest-led closed door meetings and racist vigilantism have not served the village of Rooskey well as it now appears that the hotel will indeed open as a direct provision centre. Perhaps those in Rooskey concerned about the fate of the village should in the future take a leaf out of the book of the anti-racism campaigners who have openly and democratically campaigned for an end to the direct provision system and for asylum seekers to be allowed to live and work here, not segregated in poverty and isolation, but with dignity as part of our communities. There IS a ‘monopoly on what is right or wrong here’. The racism we have seen around this issue is so very, very wrong to say the very least. It is a sad day when that must be said and it is up to each and every one of us to put that right.
Paul Healy replies: I am happy to afford this ‘right of reply’ to Ms. Doherty. I stand over every word of my article, published on pages 22-23 in our edition dated 18/1/19. The article, headlined ‘Headache Hotel’, can be viewed online on www.roscommonpeople.ie (go to ‘Read The Archives’ under ‘Digital Edition’).
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