It might have been helpful if there was a Town Crier at the bridge in Rooskey on Sunday.
‘Roll up, roll up, folks! Open-air circus in town! Roll up!’
And behind him, a sad-faced clown: ‘Spoiler Alert! It’s not funny….’
Sunday’s anti-racism rally, for one reason or another, descended into farce. Let me say at the outset that I am not actually trivialising the issues – after all, I have written quite extensively about the current controversy in Rooskey, e.g. the proposed opening of the Shannon Key West Hotel as an asylum reception centre, the two arson attacks on the property, and the tension-filled fall-out from the whole saga.
I would also like to make clear that there were many genuine people present beside Rooskey Bridge on Sunday for an event which was billed as a ‘No to Racism: Asylum Seekers Welcome’ Rally.
But what unfolded was, for the most part, an unedifying farce, a shambles.
I’ve had many a happy Sunday afternoon in Rooskey, but the hour and a half I spent on the riverbank last Sunday won’t rank highly in my memory.
The first anti-racism rally back in January – the local community’s snubbing of it notwithstanding – was orderly, peaceful, pleasant, structured. It was different last Sunday. The organisers were certainly not at fault initially; they would argue that their event was disrupted. But the organisers certainly did not cover themselves in glory once they saw even the slightest hint of an alternative view manifest itself.
When a local woman angrily interjected at the beginning of the rally – claiming the organisers were blackening the name of the village and that there was no-one from Rooskey present – she was initially engaged in debate, albeit a quite heated one. Then the organisers decided to ‘drown out’ the woman’s protest by playing loud music. When the woman and a friend were subsequently interviewed by the media, they were subjected to verbal taunting from a couple of individuals. It set the tone for what was to follow.
The remainder of the rally was largely overshadowed by an ongoing stand-off between event organisers and a man identifying himself as a ‘Citizen journalist’. Some of this was unpleasant, some of it downright childish. A small minority of the 40 or so present were involved. Insults, provocation and apparently hypersensitive intimations of ‘assault’ soured proceedings. It all left a bad taste.
MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, the only politician who was present, made a very brief speech and was then gone in a flash (he said he was suffering from a bad cold).
I want to again make clear that there were genuine, heartfelt points made by speakers (including a couple of locals). However, the whole atmosphere was unpleasant and quite chaotic. There was no presence of any note from the local community; in essence, the people of Rooskey stayed away, as did all local politicians, bar ‘Ming’.
As we (mercifully) edged towards the end of proceedings, there was more farce. The local priest (not present) was disrespectfully denounced for his absence. Some members of the media present were given the ‘in your face’ treatment too…organisers of the rally confronting journalists and vehemently taking them to task for supposed unbalanced coverage. When one watching journalist was singled out and invited to come forward and speak, he accepted the invitation, only to be quickly censored.
Two tourists staying in a camper van cycled past, looking suitably bemused. I stood back and viewed the squabbling few, and the majority who had behaved impeccably…the latter powerless to reverse the underlying atmosphere of extremism, anger, acrimony. In the background, the majestic River Shannon, the bridge, the vacant hotel. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but it had been made ugly. In front of me, an unfunny circus. Hardly a single local person present. Once again, I thought to myself, ‘This is not Rooskey’.
Letters to the Editor…