NIMBYISM is a sad affliction, and one that is more common than most of us would like to admit. The letters are, of course, an acronym for Not In My Back Yard, and usually refers to something like the building of an incinerator which is resisted by the local people.
We had a quite good example of it in the Ballymun area of Dublin last week.
There are several hundred immigrants living in an hotel in Ballymun, and a number of local people mounted a protest outside the hotel, waving placards and chanting for the immigrants to go home, or at least clear away from Ballymun.
It’s an old pattern: Ireland in general is keen to extend céad míle fáilte to refugees, but that’s on the assumption that they’ll settle somewhere far from us.
NIMBYISM is a many-headed monster. Michael D Higgins is a popular president who has spoken in protest against the Iraq war, and in support of victims of harsh regimes in Chile and Cambodia. He has been rather quieter about the partition of his country and the 50 years of misrule in the North.
Michael D is far from alone in suffering from NIMBYITIS. Politicians – American, British, Irish – have for many years urged Irish republicans to leave the path of violence and look to attain their goals using exclusively peaceful means.
And yet these same politicians are loud in their support of armed Ukrainian resistance to Russian invaders, and vie with each other in sending weaponry to support the gallant fighting men of Ukraine.
Joint Statement by organisations and public representatives in Ballymun.— Cllr. Caroline Conroy (@caroline1conroy) January 12, 2023
We stand in solidarity with the vast majority of the people of Ballymun in opposing the abuse and hatred directed at refugees and asylum seekers in Ballymun over the last few days.
The NIMBYISM contradiction operates too in the cause of our time, the climate crisis. We are all in favour of taking steps to save the planet; but tell people in Donegal that burning turf is bad for the atmosphere and you’ll hear an indignant defence of a fuel that’s been part of Irish rural life for centuries.
Then there’s public health. All of us are in favour of a rational health system, but that rational support collapses if someone starts talking about closing our local hospital. As I indicated in my recent memoir, my father was a loud advocate of people learning to swim, thus cutting the number of drowning fatalities in Ireland each year. He saw no contradiction between this and the fact that he himself couldn’t swim and never sought to remedy that deficiency.
And for decades, maybe centuries, we have urged the case against discrimination on the basis of class, religion or sexual orientation. Yet if there are plans to build a halting site for Travellers anywhere near to us, we find an arsenal of reasons why that would not be a good idea.
Equality for all citizens? Oh yes. But we accept the swollen salaries of big bankers. And while we lament the housing crisis in the south, we have no problem with ensconcing the president of Ireland and his wife – two people – in a house with 90 rooms, or in providing him with not one but two specially-built, custom-made, chauffeur-driven BMWs. The protective garda unit which accompanies him everywhere also drive BMWs, although a slightly smaller model.
A basic rule of logic is that you cannot hold two contradictory opinions at the same time. But somehow we often manage to do just that. Countries declare their commitment to peace, while stocking costly nuclear weapons which, if used, would probably spell the end of human life on this planet.
But let’s end with a more laughable instance of NIMBYISM. British PM Rishi Sunak declares that the NHS is a national jewel. So does Rishi use private health? Is the Pope an Argentinian?