Carlow county councillor Will Paton (Labour) said he has made a submission to the council “calling for affirmative action for housing locals first before any consideration is given to housing asylum seekers”.
“There are very few houses available for rent and most that are available are refusing to take rent supplement or the new housing assist payment,” Mr Paton wrote on Facebook on Monday. “When all the locals are housed then I will gladly welcome asylum seekers.
(The Irish Examiner, 13.01.16)
Locals first – it sounds so innocent and reasonable doesn’t it?. Sure, shouldn’t “we” all look after our own first? But stop and think for a moment what it really means.
When will all the locals be housed? Actually the answer, unless we change the whole basis on which housing is provided (which would be an excellent thing), is never. This has nothing to do with Carlow or the locals or even Ireland. It’s because if housing provision is organised, as it is, as a capitalist free market i.e. is built and provided for profit, that same free market will ensure that there is always a housing shortage. At least for those who can’t pay enough.
So looking after ‘locals first’ translates into never housing asylum seekers or refugees.
And remember this logic doesn’t just apply to Carlow [where Mr.Paton is no doubt trying to win some easy votes] but to Ireland as a whole and to the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Greece etc. There’s a housing problem in all these countries, because that’s how the capitalist market works.
So what ‘locals first’ actually means is keep the refugees out – let them die in the Mediterranean or freeze to death in camps in the Balkans, or be slaughtered by Assad or Da’esh (ISIS). Just so long as they don’t come here.
Of course that’s not such a nice way of putting it, but that’s what it really means. And if refugees came to Ireland but were homeless, begging on the streets of Dublin, you could be sure the likes of Mr. Paton would be giving out about that. And who would he blame? No prizes for answering that?
And then there’s the question, what makes someone a ‘local’? Is it being an Irish citizen or being born in Ireland? Or is it being from Carlow? The town of Carlow or the county of Carlow? And if we were talking about Dublin would it be Southsiders versus Northsiders or Ballyfermot versus Tallagh? Or is it the colour of your skin or the sound of your name.
In other words this kind of thinking is a recipe for all kinds of discrimination, sectarianism, community conflict and, of course, racism.
“This has got nothing to do with racism”, I hear Mr.Paton protest, “I’m just saying put ‘locals first’.” But everybody knows that, whether it is said or not, it does have something to do with racism. Everybody knows it exists in a certain context and that context – whether we are talking about France and the National Front or Germany with Pegida or Britain with UKIP or here – is full of racism and opportunist politicians playing ‘the race card’ [like British politicians, back in the day, used to play ‘the Orange card’ or ‘the Irish card’].
Certainly the Irish Examiner knows this because in the same article as it reports Mr.Paton they also report “a general election candidate in Cork South Central”.
“Meanwhile, a general election candidate in Cork South Central has said Ireland does not have the resources needed to accept refugees.
Independent candidate Elizabeth Hourihane insists she is not anti-immigration, but added that she believes the mass sexual assaults that took place in Germany could happen here if the country takes in more migrants and refugees.”
Here Ms Hourihane runs her own version of ‘I’m not racist but…’ ‘I’m not anti-immigration but…’.
Let’s be clear this has nothing to do with lack of resources. Ireland has loads of resources and loads of houses if the resources and the houses were shared out fairly or allocated according to need not wealth.
And if Ireland doesn’t have the resources, who does? Ms Hourihane doesn’t bother to answer that because she’s straight onto stirring up fear and prejudice.
Notice how this works. The Irish tabloids this morning were full of a story about ‘a man has been jailed for three years for having sex with a 15-year-old girl he met after grooming her using a fake social media profile’. This is a ‘local’ Irish man , but no one thinks this reflects on ALL Irish people. [Though if you were in Britain in the 70s and the IRA let off a bomb the British likes of Mr.Paton and Ms Hourihane DID think it reflected on all the Irish].
But ‘“they” are going to rape our women’ is one of the oldest and most permanent themes in racism. It was the cry that so often accompanied Ku Klux Klan lynch mobs in the Deep South – remember ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
One of the most unsavoury features of this report was the official response of the Labour Party. “A party spokesperson said Mr Paton’s view does not reflect that of the Labour Party.” And that was all – no criticism, no alternative, just a minimal dissociation. This from a party that claims to be committed to equality and wants to be considered left-wing and progressive. Don’t say much and hope it goes away because standing up to this stuff might lose us votes. Shameful.
Everyone should understand what is going on here, Attacking immigrants, ‘foreigners’, refugees, asylum seekers, people of colour, Jews, Irish, Muslims, Catholics, LGBT people, single parents or whatever has always been the tactic of reactionaries. Saying ‘Locals first’ doesn’t change this.
Its just a way of playing on people’s fears, grubbing for votes and deflecting anger away from the people really responsible for the housing crisis, poverty and unemployment, namely the government, the developers and bankers, and from a system that puts profit before people whether they are Irish or Syrian, white or black, Christian, Muslim or atheist.