Until recently Ireland was somewhat of an outlier compared to some of Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom. One could confidently assert that unlike many nations where the far right regularly vocalised anti progressive views, Ireland continued to be a modernising country with overarching liberal perspectives. This may still be accurate with respect to Irish governmental policy. However, anti-immigrant rhetoric is on the rise. Examples include demonstrations in rural Ireland, arson attacks on designated migrant buildings and, of course, the recent Dublin riots.
What these examples highlight is a faction of society that is deeply unhappy with Ireland’s current immigration policies. With tensions increasing the door is potentially open for a candidate like Trump or Marine Le Pen to take office in Ireland at any level from presidential to local. A segment of society could even start lobbying for an Irish Brexit. Remember Trump’s rise was in part due to promises of a ‘great wall’ to tighten immigration and Brexit was largely won on anti-migrant misinformation. Something similar occurring in Ireland would be disastrous to our country’s international reputation as a welcoming nation for people and business.
Facts are facts and Ireland is economically dependent on European membership and the presence of US based firms,whether people like to admit that or not. Allowing recent anti-immigrant rhetoric to spill over into policy or the election of far-right officials will be much more damaging for our country in the long term than providing a safe haven for those fleeing war.
Let us not forget that Ireland is a country with a deep history of emigration dating back to famine times when millions fled on coffin ships to the United States. Yes, restrictions were in place, but for the most part Irish people arrived and made a life for themselves Stateside. Today, 31.5m people claim Irish ancestry in the United States, more than 6.3 times the current population of Ireland. We cannot forget our past and it is our duty as a nation to help those presently in need.
Current emigration from Ireland also poses a great concern. Over 20,000 Australian working holiday visas were issued to Irish citizens in 2023. Not only is this worrying from a brain drain perspective, but it means that young traditionally more liberal voters are leaving Ireland’s shores. While many travelled home to Repeal the Eight Amendment in 2018, the same incentive may not be present to prevent a conservative anti-immigrant candidate being elected in a local election. In any event we should not have to rely on the young Irish diaspora to save us from ourselves.
As a people we cannot have our cake and eat it. Yes, it is wrong that so many young Irish people need to emigrate to Australia and Canada each year. Yes, it is wrong that the social contract in Ireland is broken. Yes, it is wrong that more young adults are living with their parents now more than ever. However, what if Australia and Canada started to say no to Irish citizens on the basis that we take their citizens’ jobs and houses? This is something we need to think about. Irish people are leaving in search of better job prospects, not from persecution. Returning home does not mean potential death. However, if a ban on immigration to Australia and Canada was implemented young Irish people would have something to say.
The difference is that Irish people have the means to have our voices heard. Those fleeing from war to Ireland do not. There was a time when Irish people weren’t welcome to apply for work in the UK with signage exclaiming ‘No Dogs, No Irish’. This is something still frequently spoken about in Ireland. Do we really want other nations feeling similar resentment to our country? Are we at a stage that we feel no remorse for allowing people to suffer rather than welcoming them to our peaceful country? Is Céad Míle Fáilte dying?
If war broke out in Ireland and our country became unliveable forcing us to flee to other nations, of course we would think it was disproportionate and unreasonable to be left fighting for our lives due to the administrative challenges of full vetting. These are the circumstances many who arrive in Ireland are escaping from. It is an emergency situation and closing the door on our fellow humanity is not an option. People are people no matter where they come from.
In recent times more conservative parties have failed to garner support in Ireland such as Renua in 2015. However, the momentum that local anti-migrant protests are generating signals the potential for a new movement. A Trump effect is bubbling on our shores and we would be wise to get ready for the wave. The rise of ultra conservative politics was fuelled by a war on immigration in The United States and United Kingdom. Both nations received little warning of what was to come under Trump and Brexit and the majority thought neither would ever happen. This war is emerging in Irelandand we have the chance to prevent our nation from following in the steps of the United States and United Kingdom. The time to act is now. Our country is better than this. Our people are better than this.