Via @therealbanksy

Via @therealbanksy

A couple of days ago, a local politician noted with interest the number of “non-indigenous” people, in one instance, who have been given houses off the housing list. While the comment itself seemed innocuous, the reaction was predictable, with many commenters on social media vehemently agreeing with her. A Twitter friend, who is in the public eye, sees this attitude every day. When politicians make such announcements, widespread agreement is almost guaranteed from a large section of the community.

Facebook comments

But no. None of these people are racist. It’s something else, apparently.

The thing is, if that “something else” is not racism, it’s still very ugly.

And in some ways they are right, it’s not just about race. It goes way beyond that. Travellers, obese people, single mothers, feminists, homosexuals, people of other religions, the non-religious – all targets of the same anger and prejudice. Easy scapegoats for those with an axe to grind.

Left to fester, this can boil over into something like what happened in Waterford this weekend, a semi-pogrom in the 21st Century. Idiots taking the law into their own hand.

This is why politicians need to be so careful with their public utterances. The anger, the scapegoating and the hatred is all out there, a background noise in our society. We need community leaders to do their bit to address this – to direct the anger to where it needs to go – not stoking the flames of prejudice. When councillors rush towards populism to appease latent bigotry, they have to share some of the blame when things get out of control.