Listening to the coverage of the attacks against the Romanians over the past few days, there seems to have been 2 points of view. On the one hand, blame is being apportioned to the ‘extremists’, to the small handful, to the very few intolerant people who live in every society. However, there has been a very steady stream of callers to radio shows on both sides of the border who make their very rational arguments that while they may not agree with violent methods, they certainly agree that ‘they’ don’t belong here.
The Equality Commission published a survey today confirming that our attitudes are hardening, and it’s not just Travellers, Roma or those from outside our spectrum of acceptable white people. ‘More than one in five people (23%) say they would mind a gay, lesbian or bisexual person living next door, compared to 14% three years ago. The same number (23%) say they would have the same problem with a migrant worker. Almost one-in-six of those surveyed (16%) said they would not want a person with mental ill-health as a neighbour. In comparison, 6% felt the same about those with a physical disability. Having a neighbour of a different religion was a difficulty for only 6% of respondents.Bob Collins said ‘The findings suggest a hardening of views towards some people and also the complexities around those views. For example, in a similar survey in 2005, we asked about attitudes towards disabled people generally and received fairly positive responses. In this survey we have probed more deeply and found that those with mental ill-health were viewed more negatively than other groups of disabled people. Attitudes became more intense as the respondents considered closer social contact with the groups in question. So, in attitudes towards many groups, more people would mind having them as an in-law, than would mind having them as a neighbour or a work colleague. The most negative attitudes were expressed towards Travellers. A substantial minority also responded negatively towards gay, lesbian or bisexual people and towards migrant workers.
Perhaps it is a sign of our economic times that we become more protective of our borders and there is a herd instinct to be mindful of ourselves first. Irish people are renowned for helping others across the globe in times of hardship, but it certainly seem that we prefer if they stay where they are to get that bit of help.
More worrying of course are the views against other sections of society who don’t fit our idea of the norm. It must be at times like this that we turn to our leadership for example on tolerance and acceptance. That includes tolerance of the Gay, Lesbian and Bi-sexuals and an acceptance of their sexuality. I was a little surprised at the attitude towards those with disability or mental health problems. That more than anything else would appear to signal a loss of tolerance that is very worrying indeed.
Religious tolerance is improving, but what have we lost along the way?