July 18, 2006

Let's come to our census on immigration

Posted in Celtic Tiger · 11 comments ·
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Today sees the publication of the most important document the government will publish this year. In fact, it is the most important published in the past five years. The preliminary census results give us an accurate snapshot of the state of the nation.

If you want to know what is going on, where, and who is doing what, this is the place to find out. Nothing captures the underlying changes in society like this publication and no other report gives us a better glimpse of what the future might be like.

As was the case in the last census, the most revealing figure will be the number of immigrants. This is where the changes in our new world are most evident. And this is one of the central factors that will determine our politics in the years ahead.

We already know that Ireland takes in more immigrants per head than any other EU country and this includes the UK and Sweden – the only two other EU countries with an open borders policy to the new eastern states of the Union. We are also absorbing more migrants per head than the US. If the US were to match the per capita Irish figures, it would have taken in close to 15 million people in the past two years – twice the population of New York! Compared with other European countries with more restrictive policies, the Irish numbers are startling.

We are now absorbing seven times per head more than France and the Netherlands. Anecdotal evidence suggests that immigration is increasing not decreasing. The impact of foreign workers is being felt in every county and town around the country.

Large areas of north inner city Dublin will soon have immigrant majorities and the CSO population projection for Ireland in 2020 envisages a country where, particularly in Dublin, immigrants replace locals in the city. It forecasts that white Irish people will forsake our city centres for the suburbs. The reason is simple: people – in the main – like to be amongst their own. Similarly, immigrant clusters are also driven by ethnicity, so Chinese live together, Nigerians likewise, Indians, Poles and so on. Trends which have been seen in other countries with a large influx of immigrants in the past 30 years will be repeated here.

The big question is whether this is desirable. How long can this go on? Is it always positive to have more and more migrants in the country? Does the narrow economic view – basically the more workers the merrier – always supersede ideas of ethnicity and ethnic coherence? Do we have more responsibility to a growing Irish underclass, than we do to immigrants? Or do old ideas like the nation state, national solidarity and ethnic coherence make any sense in a globalised world? I am asking these questions not because there are any immediate answers but because I am not hearing any debate on this crucial challenge. The other week, Peter Sutherland – in his capacity as UN special envoy on migration – voiced his concern that we do not have an immigration policy or an integration policy. We have essentially a laissez-faire approach to the EU.

By international standards we have a pretty tough refugee policy and the rest is made up on the hoof, derived mainly by reciprocal arrangements.

Immigration has a terrible habit – if the political elite of a country choose to ignore it – of prompting wild swings in domestic politics. Recent European history in France, Holland and, to a lesser extent, in Denmark and Italy, reveals a deep underlying unease with too many immigrants coming into the country. In the 1960s and 1970s, Germany – driven by German industries’ need for cheap workers – absorbed over two million Turks. Up until very recently, the status of the Turks has been a thorn in the side for successive German governments. In all countries, the ethnic balance seems to be the problem. Despite the liberal rhetoric of most politicians, ordinary people seem to have a tolerance threshold for foreigners and no amount of political correctness can change that.

Equally in Europe, the welfare state plays a significant role in alienating people from immigrants if there is a perception that the immigrants are “scrounging”. In most cases, the evidence is the opposite – immigrants tend to have more get up and go than locals. However, far from being the unifying force that many of its originators hoped, the European welfare state can act as a wedge between locals and immigrants.

Further, ideas like the minimum wage also constitute a problem. The Irish Ferries dispute evidenced this with immigrants happy to work for less than locals because the wages on offer were either much better than they could get at home and certainly much better than a life on the dole in Vilnius.

This dilemma poses a huge problem for parties of the Left because it raises the very real prospect that the enemy of Irish workers’ living standards in the future will not be unscrupulous employers but unwaged foreign workers who are prepared to undercut, live ten to an apartment and work two badly paid jobs. Ultimately, the market rather than the courts will decide this battle.

In contrast, the US model with its minimum welfare provisions, promise of social mobility and general philosophical acceptance (whether accurate or not) that your place in society is a reflection of your own hard work, seems to work better for immigrants.

America is about immigration, whereas European countries are, without exception, set up on the basis of ethnic exclusivity. So Denmark is the place where Danish people live. That is why historically it exists.

There are myths and language, shared histories and animosities, cultural dividing lines and a variety of other factors which gel European nations together.

These serve – and are supposed to serve – as barriers to foreigners. We ignore these deep sociological/ethnic anchors at our peril as the rise of Jean Marie Le Pen, Pym Fortyn and Georg Haidar attest to.

This is why, when today’s census results reveal the extent of immigration, it would be helpful for our elite to take stock and ask some difficult questions about the shape of a future Ireland. At the moment we have a “sure it’ll be grand” attitude – which has served us well thus far, but history shows that events can move quickly.

When the economy slows down, rest assured the locals will lose their jobs first. The immigrants will be more flexible and in the extreme, some will up and split, leaving the estimated thirty percent of new Irish housing stock rented by foreigners, tenantless.

If we don’t want our political pendulum to swing in an ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant direction when the economy slows down, we would be wise to examine today’s census closely and ask a few fundamental questions about the future of this place and how best to manage it.


  1. JJ

    The answer to Gerry2′s gripes would be answered by a political
    party governing from a ‘predict and provide’ mandate. That would
    require the leadership of a conviction politician with backbone –
    good luck with that. Even if our liver-lipped leaders were to deviate
    from their self-serving path and indulge in a little civic
    responsibility, they still couldn’t have predicted what has come to
    pass in recent years. Immigration will boost the workforce in terms
    of numbers and, subsequently, in terms of clout. Their sheer
    number will force the politicians to improve public services –
    otherwise their inability to afford items such as private healthcare
    will make for an increasingly disgruntled workforce demanding
    more dosh from employers – and unionising in greater numbers.
    No employer wants a militant workforce and will subsequently put
    the squeeze on Bertie’s boys at the Galway Races to pull their
    collective finger out and spend. They’ll put taxes up to fund it and
    they’ll lose the election. So we’ll get improved services, a happier
    workforce and miserable unemployed politicians. Not a bad day’s
    work really. That’s as close as you’ll get to ‘social cohesion’ – all
    courtesy of immigration.

  2. stephen

    very interesting david i must say, but if we are going to
    preach this pro european mantra that our politicians are
    consistently advocating, how do we suddenly say no we
    don’t want any more immigrants and that borders must be
    put in place. it is a very tricky situation especially
    given how the previous generations of irish moved abroad
    for better things, surely it would be hypocriticm of the
    highest order if we came out and said no more immigrants.

  3. David Mc Williams

    Thanks for all the comments. Dee, just to address your
    view, I think that the all comments are valid as they are
    reflective of what people are thinking, good, bad and
    indifferent. I take your point, but I feel that we have to
    consider all angles. Thanks again, David

  4. John bennett

    When Justin Barrett ran on this platform in the european
    elections he got nowhere. The media barely tolerated him.
    He warned that Ireland would receive alot more immigrants
    than any government minister said would arrive. It appears
    that Justin Barrett was right about the numbers that would
    arrive. It will be interesting to see if Justin Barrett
    ran in the general election how he would do. I bet some
    indepependent canditate will run on this issue. Of course
    it will probably be ignored by the main parties. However
    it will be interesting to see where Sinn Fein will go on
    this one. Backbench Fianna Fail TDs must be detecting
    something on the doorsteps. After all why have they
    decided to form a commitee to air their views

  5. Gerry2

    The whole key point in this is what’s being called by some
    “The Great Silence” i.e. the absence of any public debate.

    I’m afraid I’m cynical enough to simply see this as a poly
    by the politico-business class to maximise the flow of wage
    deflating, condition-reducing labour.

    The fact is studies like that of Harvard Professor George
    Borjas have shown quite clearly the negative effects of
    immigration on native wages.

    The pressure on services, infrastructure etc should also be
    a consideration as is ‘living space’ – a quality of life
    issue. More than that The SKILL-LEVEL of immigrants is
    vital. Recent studies like that of Dr Michael Ben-Gad ,
    University of Haifa, have concluded after 10 years study on
    immigration in the U.S. that unskilled immigration brings
    few benefits to the host country.

    The pressure for increased in public services, means more
    competition for finite resources and which in turn drives
    up cost and impacts more on the socially vulnerable.

    The “it’s good for the economy” mantra is the favoured chant
    of the voodoo economist.

    WE don’t, as you have said, need a extreme Nationalist Right
    to hijack this huge issue, but there is already a nasty
    radical ‘left’ at sea who bully anyone who’d stick their
    head above the parapet on this.
    (as with the attack on Justin Barrett by a group calling
    itself AFA. – this happened with impunity?) it is as if
    they want to create a mirror-image opposite of themselves to
    justify their own existence.Such is the symbiosis of the
    nasties.

    The media climate is stiflingly “P.C.” to the point of
    something for Orwell. Debate is important!! The current
    situation is very unhealthy.

  6. SV

    As has been pointed out on numerous occasions the position
    of both the New-Left and the Neo-Liberals makes them
    undistinguishable on this issue. Considering that is the
    only “right” or “Left” on many of the, now unrepresentative,
    parliamentary Parties, it leaves the concerns of the great
    swaths of the native people marginalised – and, as the
    adage goes ‘nature abhors a vacuum’

  7. JJ

    As a young Irish labourer in the London of the mid-80s I was bemused by the
    large numbers of indigenous, feckless, whining pillocks who: a) had somehow
    managed to secure well-paid employment; b) were resentful of my presence
    in the workforce; c) viewed me as a social inferior; d) were of the notion that
    wealth creation was a skill only they possessed. Now, twenty years on as a
    successful businessman, I very occassionally wonder what happened to the
    aforementioned feckless whining pillocks – lo and behold they’re in Ireland!
    The “concerns of the great swathes of the native people marginalised”
    mentioned in SV’s comment is actually the collective flatulence of of the pig-
    back riding eejit element who realise that their number is up. Finally they’ve
    been exposed. If it was down to God I’d thank him for market forces – and
    Poles. Fortunately it isn’t – an act of God is the last thing Ireland needs.

  8. Gerry2

    JJ is a fine example of why business shouldn’t have the
    final say on immigration policy as they prone to see to
    situation only thru their own prism.

    The situation currently witnessing in Ireland is very
    different to that he experienced in 80s Britain beacuse of
    a) the existing under-investment in services (mainly on the
    behest of Business-driven low-tax, low-spend policies) b)
    because of the dramatic relative difference between E.
    Europe and the West and c) because of the consequent sheer
    scale of numbers and the extrordinary rate of entry is
    bound to overwhelm services, infrastrucure etc and militate
    against long-term integration.
    Wealth creation at the expense at all else e.g social
    cohesion, etc is a poor deal/ and it doesn’t matter how loud
    IBEC, ISME etc scream otherwise.

  9. Herald with greetings!

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