In light of recent racist attacks on a UCD student, Bridget Fitzsimons asks why Ireland’s attitude to non-nationals has not changed
It is a sad fact that Ireland has not been known for its tolerant attitude in recent times. While we claim to be open to new peoples and ideas, especially in the academic world, the marked increase in the number of racially motivated attacks completely nullifies this claim.
The fact that an international PhD student currently studying at UCD – and their family – have been subject to this sort of attack should be enough to wake us up to the problems in society, but it does not seem to be doing anything of the sort. We seem content to look the other way, when in all honesty such casual disregard is far from good enough.
The most distressing part about our attitude to attacks on our neighbours is that we have all become immune to its tragedy. Racially motivated violence has become everyday in our society. We hear news reports, see devastating images in the media, but we never feel motivated to speak out against such prejudice.
Attacks focused on members of the academic community are not exclusive to UCD. A maths lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, Dr Calin Lazaroiu, who is originally from Romania, was attacked twice in less than 48 hours in Dublin. The first attack on Dr Lazaroiu left the lecturer with a fractured skull and a broken nose. Sickeningly, the second attack occurred as he was leaving a doctor’s surgery where he was treated in the aftermath of his first beating.
Dr Lazaroiu has stated that “my only crime was to come to Ireland to educate people,” and has admitted that further violence will drive him to leave the country. No one can blame someone like him for wanting to leave Ireland: why should well-educated people come to a country where they will be physically attacked and verbally ridiculed?
Respect seems to be lacking in Ireland at the moment – and coupled with our society’s obvious apathy to their welfare, the probability is that racially motivated attacks like this will continue as long as we choose not to stand up and do something about it.
To its undoubted credit, UCD’s Graduate School of the College of Human Sciences has elected to be proactive. The school’s director, Professor Ben Tonra, took the attacks on his PhD student as an incentive to take positive action. A response group has been set up within the school, and members of staff – as well as graduate students – are pooling ideas and resources in an effort to ensure that incidents like this are kept to a minimum.
Such efforts are wholly necessary if Ireland’s reputation as a land of céad míle fáilte is not to be forever tarnished to the eyes of the rest of the world. What educated person, in their right mind, would come to a country that they know will only greet them with violence and abuse? We need to change both our attitudes and our actions in this regard – we must use our voices to show that we are opposed to these kinds of attacks, and will stand up for those who are victimised by them.
Universities, in particular, have their part to play in this. One of the biggest things a university like ours can benefit from is diversity. This diversity stems from having a student and staff populace who have been educated in a variety of different institutions, and who can bring a variety of different ideas to the proverbial table.
We cannot allow ourselves to become educationally stultified. In allowing a culture of fear to exist around non-nationals living in Ireland, we deny ourselves the chance to benefit from the wealth of knowledge that people have to offer.
We are lucky that the student in question has refused to allow this cowardly intimidation to stop them from completing their studies in UCD, but not all would be so brave. It is up to us, as an academic institution, to ensure that students and staff who come from abroad feel secure and safe in working and studying here. All we can do is make our voices heard and stand up for decency, morality and respect. There is no point in welcoming people who will not feel safe here.
We must also remember that Ireland is a nation of emigrants. We have a long history of leaving this island to set up roots somewhere new. Countries like the United States and Australia are home to millions who claim Irish ancestry. With such a history and international diaspora, it is hypocritical for us to treat non-nationals so terribly here at home. Perhaps we should look at all the people across the ocean who proudly call themselves Irish-American, and realise that there really is nothing but good to be gained from a tolerant, multicultural society.