Emigration? No, We Need to Have an Honest Debate on Immigration
Byline: CORMAC LUCEY
IN the last week, two former British home secretaries - David Blunkett and Jack Straw - have admitted that the UK made a big mistake when it opened its borders to eastern European members of the EU back in 2004.
Jack Straw said allowing the migrants in was a 'spectacular mistake', describing it as 'well-intentioned policy we messed up'. His admission came after David Blunkett warned that British cities could face riots as an influx of Roma migrants creates 'frictions' with local people.
The fascinating aspect of these comments is that they come from the political Left. The worrying aspect of these comments is that, as we operate a common travel area with Britain, the same open-door policy has been in place here since 2004. With the UK deciding in 2004 to open its borders to citizens of the EU accession states, Ireland had a simple choice: keep the common travel area and follow the same policy as Britain or follow a different policy but at the expense of the common travel area.
Had Ireland then decided not to allow entry to citizens of the EU accession states, we would have had to install controls at the border to implement that decision. That was a deeply unattractive option for any Irish government. But there was one thing which policy-makers could have done at that time to stem the flow of immigration.
They could have tightened up the laws on citizenship.
For Ireland didn't just face substantial immigration from Eastern Europe, it also faced a substantial flow of asylum seekers, predominantly from Africa. Many heavily pregnant women were then arriving at maternity hospitals, apparently so that their children could be born here and thus qualify for Irish citizenship. That would open the door for the rest of the family.
So, in 2005, then justice minister Michael McDowell (for whom I worked as a special adviser) introduced the Citizenship Referendum. That proposed to change the law so that birth in Ireland would no longer automatically qualify a child for citizenship. The Left was outraged. So too was polite middle-class opinion as represented on the airwaves and newspaper columns.
EVEN someone as traditionalist as Irish Mail On Sunday columnist John Waters predicted that the proposal would be rejected by three to one. In the event, the proposal to restrict the availability of citizenship was carried by a margin of nearly four to one. The evidence is very clear. When Irish citizens were given the chance to express themselves on the matter of citizenship and residence, they opted in overwhelming numbers (and contrary to the middle-class worrywarts) for the more restrictive option. So, as they might ask on the popular BBC quiz show A Question Of Sport, what happened next? Answer: the flow of foreign nationals into Ireland continued. Many - with little obvious connection to Ireland other than seeking it as a refuge from lower living standards elsewhere - have been given citizenship. And, following the finan-cial crash, many Irish citizens have had to go in the opposite direction and emigrate.
Some of these developments should not overly worry us. Young Irish people have often emigrated for a time to build up experience abroad with an eventual plan to return home. And many of those who have immigrated here from Eastern Europe are well-qualified and hard workers who contribute to society here.
But some of these developments should worry us. Between the census in 2002 and that held in 2011, the number of non-national residents in the State has grown from 224,000 to 777,000.
Based on these figures, non-nationals have jumped from 6 per cent to 17 per cent of the population in less than a decade. That is a staggering and unsettling rate of change. …