Prejudice and tolerance in Ireland today?

Published in Editorial, Issue 2 (March/April 2023), Volume 31


It is 46 years since the publication of Prejudice and tolerance in Ireland: based on a survey of intergroup attitudes of Dublin adults and other sources by Fr Mícheál Mac Gréil SJ, who passed away recently. This was followed up in 1996 by Prejudice in Ireland revisited, based on a national survey of attitudes and opinions in 1988–9, and in 2011 by Pluralism and diversity in Ireland, based on a similar survey in 2007–8. In general, over the 35-year period surveyed, Mac Gréil paints a positive picture of a reduction of various prejudices, pointing to the viability of a pluralist Ireland that ensures equality for culturally, politically and religiously diverse groupings and categories.

Is Fr Mac Gréil turning in his grave in the light of the current bush fire of protests throughout the country against direct provision centres? Perhaps, but it is doubtful whether Irish society has changed as radically over the last decade as these headline-grabbing protests suggest. These protests have been incited by a lunatic fringe of racists, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. Time and time again, when tested at the ballot box, support for them has been negligible.

Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. Their lies and distortions must be countered—and not merely dismissed as ‘far-right’—including their distortions of history. We are not witnessing a ‘great replacement’ of the Irish people—except insofar as Ireland’s population has been replacing itself for the past 10,000 years, with intermittent waves of inward (and outward) migration. Nor is a ‘plantation’ taking place similar to the conquest and colonisation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Nor are we being threatened by an invasion of ‘males of military age’ or paedophiles who are a threat to ‘our women and children’, a sexualised racist trope that conjures up images of the lynch mob.

Yes, there is a crisis in Ireland today—but it is a crisis of accommodation not immigration, the fruits of successive governments entrusting the provision of housing to the private sector. This is in sharp contrast to the early decades of independence, when a cash-strapped Irish state was directly involved in the provision of housing—slums were cleared and houses were built, ironically in many of the neighbourhoods now witnessing these anti-immigrant protests. Surely in the better-resourced Ireland of today such a crisis is not beyond resolution?

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