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Ireland cannot be complacent about populism

Political system poorly prepared to deal with emergence of anti–immigrant politics

Fri, Aug 17, 2018

Bryan Fanning, David Farrell

A large percentage of immigrants have become Irish citizens. However, these Irish citizens are in many ways invisible or marginal. We should establish a new Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland as a Diverse Republic to address this.

Extreme right–wing populism has reared its ugly head across Europe. Whether it’s Orbán’s Hungary the UK’s shenanigans over Brexit, the coalition governments in Austria and Italy, or the vote gains (in some cases quite dramatic) across a spate of Europe’s established democracies, there is no doubting that right–wing populism is on the rise.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union was driven, to a considerable extent, by opposition to the free movement of migrants from the post–2004 enlarged European Union.

Ireland attracted similar levels of migration but has for the most part remained politically indifferent to the great transformation to Irish society this has wrought. Ireland so far appears immune to anti–immigrant populism, but for how long can we count on this?

Even when austerity bit, the banks collapsed and the country experienced an almost existential crisis no major political figure followed the anti–immigrant playbook. During the austerity period there was little or no hostility to immigrants within Irish politics.

The reasons for this perhaps included a keen sense of the dangers across Ireland’s political spectrum, based on long experiences of sectarian conflict, of whipping up nationalist fervour.

In Ireland as elsewhere, exclusionary conceptions of national identity can exert a powerful force. The 2004 Citizenship Referendum seemed to defensively define Irishness; almost 80 per cent of voters supported removing citizenship at birth to the Irish–born children of immigrants. The outcome of the Referendum indicated that nationalism still mattered hugely.

Yet also in 2004, in what turned out to be a radical act of social engineering, Ireland became one of just three countries that did not impose any restrictions upon the free movement of migrants from the new east European EU member states. According to the 2016 census some 17 per cent of the population of the Republic of Ireland were born abroad.

Post–2004 political rhetoric and policy debates mostly talked up the economic benefits of immigration: the national interest and economic growth were portrayed as one and the same. At a time when some other European countries were having tortured deliberations about migrant integration and national identity, integration in the Irish case was pretty much defined as participation in the labour market. For example, Managing Migration, a 2006 report by the National Economic and Social Council, credited the persistence of economic growth to ongoing immigration.

Large–scale immigration

The social partnership consensus was that large–scale immigration was in the national interest and this in turn was to be exclusively defined in terms of economic growth.

However, this positive narrative may well come to be challenged as it has in other European countries. Ireland’s current approach to the integration of immigrants is one of benign neglect.

The political system and Irish institutions seem poorly prepared to deal with the emergence of the kinds of anti–immigrant populist politics that has caused huge damage to social cohesion in several other European countries.

A large percentage of immigrants from non–EU countries have become Irish citizens. However, these Irish citizens are in many ways invisible or marginal within politics, the Civil Service, the educational system, the media and other Irish institutions.

As in the UK before the Brexit referendum, only a tiny proportion of migrants from EU countries have sought naturalisation. As such they are excluded from meaningful participation in politics and decision making in the communities in which they have settled. There has been some ongoing debate about the need for political representation for Ireland’s emigrants. How immigrants living in Ireland might be represented in Irish politics warrants consideration within the same conversation.

Study after study identifies racism as a problem for black and minority ethnic communities in Ireland. Yet, the Irish state shut down its infrastructure for dealing with racism (the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism) in 2008 and since then has offered zero leadership on what for many immigrants is a pressing issue in their lives.

Rising tide of populism

The benign neglect of official Ireland of issues that have come to dominate politics in other societies is not sustainable. We should not assume that Ireland will escape the rising tide of populism without pre–emptive action.

As our recent national debate on abortion has shown, the Irish political system can work through difficult and divisive issues. Rather than allowing the far–right and its media mouthpieces to set the agenda on immigration and integration we should be pre–emptive; we should start a constructive national dialogue on our own terms about the opportunities (and challenges) facing our diverse republic.

The recent Citizens’ Assembly proved its worth as a venue for calm, reflective deliberation that fed back into our representative system of politics. Ireland is now seen (deservedly) as a world leader in the use of deliberative democracy to support the political system.

We should make use of our expertise in this area and establish a new Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland as a Diverse Republic.

Bryan Fanning is Professor of Migration of Social Policy at UCD. David Farrell is Professor of Politics at UCD

Saturday 18th August 2018


All faiths, Integration, Mutuality, Pluralism, Respect, United

Urgent call for overhaul of State’s hate crime legislation

Nationwide campaign calls for end to racism on public transport

Fri, Aug 10, 2018

Sorcha Pollak

Shahbaz Rana of Dublin Bus, Martin Acheanpong of Luas, Tomasz Kawako of Irish Rail, and Richard Adewuyi of Bus Éireann, with the anti–racism campaign at Hueston Train Station, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Shahbaz Rana of Dublin Bus, Martin Acheanpong of Luas, Tomasz Kawako of Irish Rail, and Richard Adewuyi of Bus Éireann, with the anti–racism campaign at Hueston Train Station, Dublin.

An overhaul of the State’s hate crime legislation is urgently needed to ensure people feel comfortable reporting racial abuse to the authorities, the head of the Immigrant Council of Ireland has said.

Speaking at the launch of the national transport anti–racism campaign, Brian Killoran warned that people often choose not to report racist attacks to the Garda because of the belief that “nothing will happen”. He added that the 1989 Incitement of Hatred Act was not providing an adequate framework to respond to racism in an increasingly diverse Ireland.

“We see incidences of racism in social housing, in private rental accommodation, online, on the street, you name it. What we really need is a comprehensive national action plan against racism and appropriate legislation to back it up so that people know if they make a report, something will actually happen.”

Despite the introduction of a Garda pulse system in 2015 to record instances of racism, Mr Killoran said members of the force continued to underestimate the long–term impact of a racist attack due to a lack of training.

Lack of specific law

Last month the Irish Council for Civil Liberties released a report into hate crime which found the lack of specific law in Ireland had caused a “policy vacuum” and that the “hate” aspect of crimes is gradually filtered out as an investigation and complaint make their way through the criminal justice system.

Richard Adewuyi, a driver with Bus Éireann who attended the launch of the public transport anti–racism campaign, said many people might not realise their words and comments were racist in nature. “It’s what happens when people are upset,” said Mr Adewuyi who has worked with Bus Éireann for seven years. “They go for what hurts the most. It’s about educating people so they know that racism cannot be allowed. Our children need to know certain words are loaded and can cause serious harm.

“I think the Government has a big role to play. In the past 10–15 years there’s more people now who are of different backgrounds who call themselves Irish and call this island their home. The Government has to step in and make sure people can feel at home here.”

Martin Acheanpong, who has lived in Ireland for 22 years and is a Luas driver, underlined the flip side to the debate around racism, noting that it can exist in both directions. He recalled an incident when his white colleague pulled aside a group of black teenagers and asked to see their tickets. “I could hear one of them saying, ‘You’re picking on me because I’m black.’ I stepped in and said, ‘It’s because you don’t have a ticket, that’s the reason he was questioning you.’ Racism is not always simple.”

Mr Acheanpong said he had seen significant improvements around racism in Ireland during his more than two decades living in the country. However, he added that people often did not know where to turn if they do experience hate crime. The campaign, which will be on more than 1,600 posters over the coming fortnight, features nearly 800 selfies from commuters who support an end to racism on public transport.

Monday 13th August 2018


All faiths, Integration, Mutuality, Pluralism, Respect, United

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