Saturday, December 2, 2023

‘We barely talk about immigration’

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Sir, – I refer to Fintan O’Toole’s thought-provoking column on discussing immigration (“In Ireland we barely talk about immigration. It’s easy to see why”, Opinion & Analysis, November 14th). I wish I could share his optimism on the country having a reasoned and sensible debate on immigration but the actions of the entire body politic to date are not grounds for optimism.

To recap briefly on some key historical points, low-level immigration into the emerging Celtic Tiger economy of the 1990s was accelerated by the effects of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 which saw people (very understandably) travel to Ireland to avail of their child being an automatic citizen if born on the island on the island of Ireland. This rather unintended consequence of the Belfast Agreement was closed off by the citizenship referendum of 2004 just as a mass inward immigration avenue opened up with EU enlargement in May 2004 where Ireland (as well as Sweden and the UK) agreed to full free movement in the labour market rather than opt out for seven years as they could have.

It should also be borne in mind that before the 2002 general election all political parties here signed up to an agreement not to discuss asylum or immigration for fears of stoking racism. None of them have discussed these issues since. As a result, we have muddled along without any serious political discussion on inward immigration, until the fallout of Russia invading Ukraine and a surge in international protection applicants brought the issue to the fore.

At this stage, and as housing supply problems mount due to ongoing high levels of immigration, high interest rates and a lack of actual builders to build, it is over to political parties to come up with coherent policies rather than the “it will all work itself out” wishful thinking that has characterised immigration policy over the past 30 years. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.

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