A sustainable immigration policy
The Movement of People
The movement of people is a natural part of the human experience. Indeed, we the Irish people are a mix of different people who have come to our nation over the centuries.
There is pivotal differentiation to make at the outset of any policy dealing with immigration and that is the two types of immigration; people who are refugees and people who are economic migrants. If a person is fleeing war, violence or hunger we have an ethical responsibility to afford that person shelter in line with international law and moral obligation. Anything less would reduce who we are as a people.
Many of the drivers of the large increase in refugees in recent years are global problems. Climate degradation is resulting in many people not being able to grow their own food due to drought, loss of soil fertility, polluted drinking water and dead zones in the sea.
Shortages in food due to climate change have fuelled war and regime changes throughout the developing world. Many Western countries contribute to the refugee crisis by supplying weapons to both sides of these conflicts.
Many of the resources that we depend on are also the drivers of war in these regions. Oil has been the source of war and instability in the Middle East for decades. Many other resources are mined in an unregulated fashion resulting in people who live in resource rich countries living in abject poverty.
Trade injustice and tax evasion by multinational companies denies developing countries hundreds of billions of euro on an annual basis.
Less than 20,000 houses were built last year and it’s clear that amongst many people there is concern over the capacity of the country to provide for this growing population. Many people, especially in working class areas feel that they are competing for very scarce resources with people who have just moved into their neighbourhood.
One of the major reasons for the scarcity of resources is the abject failure of this government to invest in the provision of adequate housing, healthcare, education and transport in response to an increasing need that could be seen well in advance. Throughout the whole world we see wealthy people tell poor people that the reason that they are poor is because of other poor people. Some people blame immigrants for the scarcity of resources when in truth it is the inept and wasteful policies of this government.
It’s clear that in order for immigration to be sustainable we need to ensure that we have the capacity to deal with it. A sustainable immigration policy demands that there is a balance maintained between the population growth and the necessary infrastructural development.
Managing Economic Migration
Most economic migration comes through the European Union. The Single Market allows for the Free Movement of people. It’s clear from Brexit that prevention of controls on the Free Movement of People is sacrosanct for the EU. There are however mechanisms such as the ‘European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38/EC’ that allows our government to manage inward EU migration.
Economic migration is a fact of life. It can be a driver of economic development and it can enrich a society when managed as it should be. Massive mismatches in the provision of infrastructure such as housing and the numbers migrating to Ireland will cause difficulties for both Irish people and migrants. That mismatch can be controlled by a balance in the provision of infrastructure and the reasonable and fair management of numbers entering our country. The difficulty in getting mortgages and rising prices of housing is also feeding into the problem, putting housing out of reach of many people both Irish and immigrant alike.
It is important to realise too that much of our economy and the provision of public services are dependent on migration to function. Indeed our broken health service would seize up completely only for migration. We must recognise the positive contribution migrants have made to our economy and country over many years, something that can continue if we are not pitted against each other by the ineptitudes of our government and the aims of those who feed off division.
Managing the Provision of Refuge
Direct Provision is a source of national shame. Given that refugees are people who have had to flee their own countries, to arrive here and be left in camps for years instead of their cases being dealt with efficiently is abhorrent, and utterly disregards their humanity and circumstances. Often these are families who cannot live a normal family life while held in a Direct Provision centre. The Irish establishment is great at looking to the past to find sources of shame, however our generation has many sources of shame now that are simply ignored. Processing time for refugees needs to be reduced significantly in order to allow people to live in dignity while they await decisions.
Mismanaged policy in this area can needlessly develop opposition, especially given that the government is both failing to deliver on its immigration objectives and is also failing to work in partnership with local communities. This includes the even distribution of migrants and refugees across the country. Locating a large number of immigrants in small rural towns and villages with few if any services without any consultation with local communities is a recipe for opposition.
The state should also seek to integrate migrants fully into society in a manner that celebrates the cultural and linguistic diversity they bring but also ensures that migrants are not ghettoised and can have a mutually beneficial cultural relationship within our society. Diversity is equally dependent on the vibrancy, promotion and protection of Irish culture, which is famed for opening its arms to new influences and arrivals. Imeasc, the network of Irish speaking migrants, offers an example of how good integration can reenergise our own culture and heritage.
The Irish Experience
It must be remembered that Irish people have in their millions been both refugees and economic migrants to other countries for hundreds of years. Indeed within the last 10 years alone 1/3 of a million Irish people left Ireland as economic migrants. Irish people, through our history of missionaries and humanitarian aid have had positive relationships with many countries from which we now see immigration. Due to our own economic experience we also come late to high levels of inward migration. It goes without saying that Irish people seek that everyone in Ireland is treated equally given that we all, native or not, deserve the respect due to us as individual human beings, and would expect that respect given to our Irish people elsewhere.
Ireland should have a debate around the issue of immigration. It must be an honest, respectful and responsible discussion. Suppression of the debate will not make its necessity less but will push the natural anxiety of some underground to be harvested by less responsible people. Honest concern with regards migration can quickly be transformed into anti migrant sentiment by unscrupulous politicians and activists. Grave wrongs have been committed and lives have been lost when some politicians seek to manipulate anxiety to make political capital from this issue.
Suppressing an honest debate cedes the issue to these people. Our current government have held no useful dialogue on this issue and drawn on little of the expertise that is available in assessing and planning for immigration. It is a dereliction of duty to all our people that we muddle through blindly.
When people come to Ireland they must be treated with equality, respect and dignity. Discrimination of any sort is not acceptable and must be rooted out.
A sustainable migration plan should have broad democratic support after being discussed honestly and informed by the opinion of genuine experts. It must also fulfil our international and ethical responsibilities. Aontú seeks a migration plan that meets our obligations as a people, is economically and culturally enriching, humanitarian, and is sustainable in terms of capacity. The answer does not lie in extremes, its a nuanced debate that lies neither in walls nor in open borders.