Baz Ashmawy says Irish people should not have an ‘us and them’ attitude to refugees

“Some people would argue the point of, ‘Oh well, y’know, we should be helping the Irish,”

Baz Ashmawy

Deirdre ReynoldsSunday World

DIY SOS presenter Baz Ashmawy has spoken out against ‘#IrelandisFull’ backlash online.

Big-hearted Baz is set to front the show’s biggest project to date overhauling six houses for Ukrainian families in Cork.

But he told how he won’t be surprised if the two-part special attracts some negative attention when it airs on RTÉ One next Friday and Saturday.

“There’s a certain climate out there at the moment, and we’ve got a housing crisis, some people would argue the point of, ‘Oh well, y’know, we should be helping the Irish’, and this and that,” he admits.

“It’s women and children. And that’s the thing I’ve always said to everybody: it’s women and children. You don’t want to help a baby?

“This kind of attitude of ‘us and them’, that’s a very narrow way to look at the world.

“The world is much bigger than that; it’s not really ‘us and them’, it’s just helping other people. You gotta take maps off things.”

Part of the Kingston College community in Mitchelstown, Cork, an army of volunteers pulled together to transform the six vacant properties belonging to a Church of Ireland housing charity in just 12 days for the TV epic.

And Baz - best known for Sky series 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy featuring his mum Nancy - praised the builders and decorators who rolled up their sleeves as he got the easy job.

“You know me, I’m just going round chatting with people and meeting the families,” he jokes. “Usually, we do one house in nine or ten days. [With this] there was six of them - and they’re listed buildings. It was just so much work for the volunteers.

Baz with his fiancée Tanja Evans and their six children

“When you see four men crying you know you’ve probably pushed them a little bit too far, but they did it - and what they did is amazing.

“One of the women I was chatting to, Tatiana, is 81. She’d never left Ukraine in her life. Her son was sitting in a building and a rocket went into the building and just killed everyone.

“She’s left with his wife, two of his children, her nieces, and they’ve just upped and left. I thought of her very much as an equivalent of a Ukrainian Nancy,” continues the dad-of-six.

“This is a woman who never had any interest in leaving Ukraine, loves Ukraine, all of a sudden, she’s in a new country with no home, no belongings. They’re incredible women.”

Celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin was among those who rowed in to create a communal garden for the families who’ve escaped to Ireland from the war-torn country.

And Baz explained how the generous act will also benefit struggling Irish families for years to come.

“My mum uses a great expression, I always love it: ‘Some people believe if they blow out your candle, theirs will burn brighter’,” continues the 47-year-old, who is part Egyptian.

“There’s people who thrive on the weak and the vulnerable, and what everybody did in Mitchelstown is the opposite of that. They were in such shock, these families, that Irish people would come out and do that for them.

“And what’s great is all the properties that we renovated are all for families in need, so when these families get back up on their feet, those [houses] will be there for the next 300 years for the next families.

“I’m very lucky I work on a show like DIY, where all we do is help Irish people all year,” adds Baz, who became a grandad last year. “Like, we finished doing the Ukraine show and then we were straight down to another part of Cork helping a different Irish family.

“For me, I’m mixed race, so I’d have a lot of empathy towards Syrians and other refugees as well, because I think a lot of people make the mistake of stereotyping; they believe that people are living in caves or they’re here to hack the system or do whatever.

“That’s not how the majority of people navigate the world, but when you’re hurting and you’re desperate, I understand why people maybe fall into a certain way of thinking. But you’ve got to be positive; you’ve got to try and help as many people as you can to make it all work.”

DIY SOS: The Bigger Build Ireland airs on RTÉ One at 6.30pm on Friday 30 and 8.30pm on Saturday 31 December

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