Most of us who went to primary school in Ireland will have memories of the Trócaire box being passed around at school so we could raise money for the “poor black babies in Africa.” The front of the box would display emotive pictures of emaciated Ethiopian children that would tug at your heartstrings. We were more than happy to forego a bar of chocolate during Lent and instead donate our pocket money to the needy in Africa.

Then there was the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985, organized by Irishman Bob Geldof to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. The concert was a massive success pulling in an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion people across 150 different countries. Around £50 million had been raised with Geldof mentioning that Ireland had given the most donations per capita despite the dire economic conditions in the country at the time.

Some Irishmen have made the greatest sacrifice of all for the benefit of others. The lives of 86 courageous Irish soldiers have been lost while serving as part of UN peacekeeping missions since 1960, including 26 in the Congo and 46 in Lebanon. While the bravery of these soldiers cannot be denied, many will question why it was Irishmen who were being sent into harm’s way by faceless UN bureaucrats as part of their global chess game. Too often throughout history Irish blood has been needlessly spilled in foreign conflicts.

The latest incarnation of the limitless generosity of the Irish manifests itself in our government’s pledge to accept 4,000 refugees from camps in Italy and Greece. Most of these refugees are supposedly Syrian but often there is no way to verify this. The nationality of the illegal Arab immigrant who murdered a Japanese national in Dundalk earlier this year and stabbed two others is still unknown.

In March, the locals of Lisdoonvarna in Co. Clare overwhelmingly voted no to government plans to relocate 115 asylum seekers to the King Thomond hotel in the tiny village of just 300. While the owner of the hotel originally agreed to abide by the local community’s wishes, he quickly backpedalled and bowed to government pressure. I can only imagine that the hefty government cheques were too tempting to pass up. The uniquely Irish phrase sleveen immediately springs to mind.

To be generous is a noble trait that works best amongst an extended family. A nation, if you will. In the olden days, it was in your best interest to lend your neighbor a helping hand or a cup of sugar because you could be certain the day would come when the favour would be reciprocated. In modern multicultural Ireland however, we are living in a fractured society where we don’t know our own neighbors. Often we may not even speak the same language.

It’s sad to say but our new, modern reality demands that we harden up our natural, soft, sympathetic shells to prevent being taken advantage of. Ireland has naively given so much to African and Arab nations and has received little in return. It’s time to wise up and follow the old adage – charity begins at home.

Posted by Alan McEneaney