In recent years there has been a vast increase in the number of people seeking asylum in or immigrating to Ireland for a better life. Indeed, the Economic and Social Research Institute, a Dublin-based Think Tank, has found a number of different components that are behind an increase in international protection applications. These included the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Post-COVID catch up migration.
Between January and June 2022, Ireland saw 6,494 applications for international protection lodged. This increased from 2,235 in the first half of 2019, the last year not impacted by the pandemic.
There was an increase in various EU countries, though Ireland was a part of a small number of EU countries that saw application numbers continuously rise during the first half of 2022. This can be attributed to the war in Ukraine that caused millions to flee. According to the Central Statistics Office, there were 33,151 arrivals in Ireland from Ukraine by the week ending on May 22, 2022. Out of this, 29 per cent were age 14 or under.
The mid 19th century saw a large amount of Irish emigration, a major reason for this was the Irish Potato Famine. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs reports that an estimated one million deaths were caused by the famine between 1845 and 1851, while another million emigrated with Ireland losing a quarter of its population.
Hidden on the docks near Connolly station lies EPIC, a museum dedicated to the Irish diaspora and their exploits across the world in industries ranging from general employment and history to arts and culture. It tells an important story of those who went before and hides lessons that contemporary Irish society could use in speaking about both their own diaspora and those who seek a new life in the country.
When you look at the rhetoric in the media it’s about what we’re losing by having immigrants, but actually when you look at the influence that Ireland has had around the world, you can see that there is a huge positive influence
Since 2016, the EPIC Museum has been tucked away on the banks of Liffey with one goal: to convey the trials and tribulations of the Irish Diaspora. The Museum provides audio tours across different periods of Irish history starting in the 17th century, all the way to the present day.
In more recent news, to honour the 14 nominations awarded to various Irish actors, directors and films despite them being snubbed on the night, a giant golden Oscar statue has been put on display. Additionally the museum has added a series of hollywood themed tours for the month of March, displaying that the story of the Irish diaspora is ever evolving.
At the head of the operation is Aileesh Carew, the CEO of EPIC museum. According to Carew, the museum has gone from success to success since it opened. “We opened in 2016 so we were at a growth phase, this year we are expecting 330,000 and we expect that to grow to half a million by 2026”, she explained.
Speaking to The University Times about how EPIC’s missions ties into current immigration to Ireland from outside countries she added, “EPIC is a cultural institution and we’re dedicated to preserving and interpreting and sharing the story of Irish mobility”.
“With those 1500 years of stories, I think we can really help our visitors to connect with their own histories and perhaps develop a sense of solidarity with those arriving in Ireland today.”
The museum deserves public recognition for its role in highlighting Ireland’s emigrant experience, causes and consequences, and its relevance to the stories of those who are today escaping marginalisation, poverty and conflict
“When you look at the rhetoric in the media it’s about what we’re losing by having immigrants, but actually when you look at the influence that Ireland has had around the world and the culture the Irish took with them when they emigrated, you can see that there is a huge positive influence, and we hope that our visitors get that sort of experience.”
When enquired on how EPIC will move forward with its mission Carew stated, “At the moment, over 70 of the entries in the museum are living people, we continue to update and improve and alter the galleries to reflect recent historic events.”
“We add between 5 and 10 new stories every year so that we make it a contemporary oral history and we do a lot of public collecting and day programs to record new stories of migration”, she added. “One that we are considering adding with the success of Irish actors, we are looking at the story of Cedric Gibbons, the Irish man who designed the Oscars Statue.”
The museum also plans to run an exhibition on the causes of human displacement, she added. “We have an upcoming exhibition called borders which explores the causes of human displacement across the continents. We feel EPIC has a lot to contribute to public discussions and migration and origin or the systems built.”
Carew also revealed an excerpt from a letter sent to the EPIC team by Irish president Michael D. Higgins in which he said that “the museum deserves public recognition for its role in highlighting Ireland’s emigrant experience, causes and consequences, and its relevance to the stories of those who are today escaping marginalisation, poverty and conflict”.
Between January and June 2022, Ireland saw 6,494 applications for international protection lodged
Looking at the broader issue of current immigrants and asylum seekers coming from across the world, Barrister of Law David Leonard described a more contemporary context to the issues presented by EPIC. Leonard is in charge of the Advanced Diploma program in Immigration and Asylum law offered by the Honourable Society of King’s Inns, one of Ireland’s Barrister qualification institutions.
“The purpose of Immigration and Asylum Law at the King’s Inns”, Leonard stated, “is to enable course participants to deepen their understanding of Immigration and Asylum law so they can better use it in their professional lives.”
He added: “We get a lot of people who are officials who are involved in making decisions in the area of immigration and international protection law on behalf of state bodies and for those people the advanced diploma will better equip them to make more robust decisions that properly apply the law”.
“We get others from an NGO background, so the advanced diploma will better enable them to be able to advise immigrants on their rights and assist them with any immigration applications they have to make.”
The course also covers the Irish state’s approach to immigration policies as outlined by the Department of Justice, among other elements. “If you do the course, you will be able to understand the conflicting things that have to be taken into account by anybody deciding what immigration policy should be.”
At the moment, over 70 of the entries in the museum are living people, we continue to update and improve and alter the galleries to reflect recent historic events
The story of emigration and leaving home clearly remains an important part of Ireland’s history. The past often holds lessons for the future, especially in relation to modern-day immigration into Ireland.
The increased level of immigration into Ireland has been met with harsh responses and poor conditions, with many immigrants stuck in Direct Provision and alt-right anti-immigration protests having taken place over the course of 2022 and 2023. Despite these hardships, the incredible turnout at the recent #IrelandForAll rally in support of minorities shows that the nation holds its past experiences close, and that the touching story of the Irish diaspora and the Irish spirit prevails.