The Irish ‘Trump walls’ we don’t discuss

Commentators in Ireland love looking down on Americans, even more so since Donald Trump beat establishment insider Hillary Clinton.

They seem unable to stop labelling and name calling ‘the deplorables’, while forgetting that acceptance and tolerance used to be their moral high ground. As an American in Ireland, this makes
me think about the po-faced hypocrisy of it all.

“He said build a wall,” I hear people cry, as if that alone is the acid test of an entire nation’s future. It’s true, he said some mean things; he didn’t use the language we like and accept. So here are a few home truths about our own great Irish walls – the ones that are far more acceptable than Trump’s because they aren’t referred to directly.

Many of them are invisible, which makes them seem okay, but in reality the outcome is the same.
They just don’t sound so Six-Hirb’ish (that’s sexist, ignorant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist and bigoted).

We don’t have Mexicans in Ireland, but we do have other minorities such as Travellers, who we
build walls to stop. These ‘walls’ come about via the planning system and the cruel invisible wall of social exclusion. The latter is sometimes a modern version of ‘boycotting’, a concept that originated right here in Ireland.

So, for example, the invisible planning wall rises whenever a halting site is proposed for any location. It is not a coincidence that anywhere a halting site is proposed, it is objected to, even in areas where the same people are ardently liberal.

How fair is it that we established legislation for this group, (The Traveller Accommodation Act 1998), which has not been delivered upon for almost two decades. In fact, only 10 per cent of the housing has come about.

Some local authorities don’t bother drawing down the funding for it. Democratically elected councillors have tended to avoid facilitating this housing at every step of the way. They don’t use mean words, they don’t say ‘build a wall’, but in practice it’s every bit as exclusionist.

We build 100ft high invisible walls around huge swathes of our capital city, which is called ‘house prices’ and ‘the cost of living’. Nothing keeps the unwanted out as well as a high house price. There are some who rejoice when new housing is stopped.

When you stop new homes construction during a housing crisis, you are serving the people who benefit by scarcity (the incumbents), who don’t want to share their neighbourhood with new ‘outsiders’.

We don’t call it a wall, but it acts like one. It ensures that new people can’t live in the area, they can’t access the same things that the people who live there like about the same place. We build classist and familial walls around our schools, neighbourhoods and halls of power. Again, we don’t call these barriers ‘walls’.

The fact they are invisible makes them tricky to identify and tear down, but they are there. In Ireland, they have always been there. For all our talk of taking in refugees, we haven’t embraced
immigrants the way we have dispensed our emigration on the rest of the world. We do take some
people in, you can see them in long queues on Burgh Quay. Others end up in Mosney or in caravan sites.

They aren’t ‘walled in’ per se, but in some respects, it’s just a glorified internment camp. We promised to take in a lot of Syrians, how many have arrived? Who needs a wall when you have an island and a bureaucracy that would keep out all but the most steadfast and tenacious of applicants?

When we did sense that people may actually want to come here, we built another wall, and this time
the entire nation helped to add their own brick to it. Almost 80 per cent of the country voted in favour of changing the Constitution and rules by ending birth right citizenship in the 2004 Citizenship Referendum.

That’s a permanent wall that even an innocent newborn will never be able to get over.These examples of Irish national hypocrisy are lost on all but the external observer. We are so embedded
in believing our own moral superiority that to even discuss these walls is near blasphemous.

We are so very good at building walls that Donald Trump could learn a lot from Ireland if he was
earnest about keeping anybody out. Irish walls are world class and they last generations. We build walls so hard to see that getting over them is nigh impossible.

It’s just such a pity we can’t get better at building more actual walls in actual houses so that we could put a roof ever everybody’s head at a reasonable price.

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Business Post on the 20th of November 2016

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