Immigration still simmers without coming to the boil

Rise of the right....UKIP founder Nigel Farage endorsing Donald Trump before his election.
Rise of the right....UKIP founder Nigel Farage endorsing Donald Trump before his election.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The first time I wrote about immigration in Ireland was in 1998; I was working for the Sunday Tribune at the time and there was a large old house in Dublin 7 with innumerable flats. Its residents were all African, mostly asylum seekers from Africa.

They were improving English by playing Scrabble. In my intro, I used the Scrabble letters to form other English words that they’d already learned to their cost – like the ’N’ word, Foreigner, etc.

Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach of a new Fianna Fáíl government; John O’Donoghue was Minister for Justice. The party promised ‘zero tolerance’ to offenders and a hard line to curb illegal immigration.

An obvious hypocrisy was beginning to rear its head among the political class, who were pleading out of one side of their mouth about the “undocumented Irish” in the US – and at the same time, giving out about the influx of foreign nationals from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, who were claiming refugee status.

Their claim was that unlike the hard-working Irish in the US these guys were loafers looking to extract benefits from the State.

The reality was more prosaic. Yes, they were illegal. These people from poor countries were very likely to be allowed into Ireland on a tourist visa. So the only way they could physically get past passport control was to claim asylum.

Were all of them fleeing from persecution? Certainly not. But they were fleeing from poverty and deprivation.

While not an immediate risk, it could be argued that it almost the same thing ultimately, the reason why so many Irish boarded ships in search of a better life. As experience shows since then, these people want to contribute, play their part, become part and parcel of Irish society.

Anyway, O’Donoghue wasn’t one of those politicians who was out-and-out hostile to immigrants.

But that said, he was very keen on limiting the numbers and often spoke about the “pull factor”. That was if the receiving State was too lax with its system, too many would come.

That approach ultimately led to the creation of the ‘direct provision’ system which was awful. Whole families were condemned to years of sharing one room and being mixed with strangers from other countries.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.