Open the gates. Just open the fucking gates.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015 16:12

In just two days last week more people died fleeing our western-created chaos in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq than Ireland took in as refugees last year. Just to set up the base figure: Last year, Ireland granted refugee status to 130 people (see chart from Eurostat):

By contrast with that stellar record of humanitarian welcoming, last week 71 people died of suffocation in a truck in Austria, approximately 200 bodies of refugees washed up ashore in Libya and a further 37 died when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast. That’s a grand total of 308 men, women and children who died in two days trying to get to Europe.

Here is another interesting set of numbers (from the same chart):

Ireland:       Population 4.6 million     Number of refugees last year: 130

Norway:      Population 5.1 million     Number of refugees last year: 3,500

So now that we have this nice piece of accountancy in place we can make a just assessment of Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s declaration that ‘Ireland is taking its fair share of migrants (sic)’. The reality is that Ireland is opposed, for racist reasons, to accepting refugees. The parties that have governed this state, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil have more in common with a racist group like Identity Ireland than they care to admit in public. In the face of terrible drownings and the growth of fascism all across Europe, the discourse of ‘mass migration’, ‘swarms’, ‘hordes’ and ‘floods of migrants’  has taken hold here because our government has seen fit to nurture it,  and because of the hegemony of right wing ideas in the media. No newspaper, TV station or radio station is prepared to go against the consensus that Ireland is a paragon among welcoming nations and that these terrified men, women and children are here to steal our social welfare.

Despite all, we still call ourselves ‘Ireland of the welcomes’, and not so long ago we organised a nation-wide event, sponsored by government and business, called The Gathering, which focused on persuading those Irish economic migrants who had been allowed to stay in other countries to come home and spend as much money as possible here.

I don’t suppose the countries who sent their 130 refugees to Ireland will ever see much economic advantage in persuading them to go home. But it must be remembered, that in the most recent wave of emigration alone, about 80,000 economic migrants left Ireland every year since 2008. I suppose we could put it in accountancy terms and say our outflows dwarf our inflows. We are, as the figures indicate, morally bankrupt.

I live near Cobh, where the heritage centre proudly informs the visitor that ‘From 1848 to 1950, over 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland – over 2.5 million departed from Cobh, making it the single most important port of emigration. This exodus from Ireland was largely as a result of poverty, crop failures, the land system and a lack of opportunity.’

These refugees from a starving colony would be turned away by Frances Fitzgerald and her government. ‘Not everybody who arrives qualifies as asylum seekers. Some are economic migrants and the European Union is stressing return policy as well,’ she says. The few who could claim political or religious persecution and who had all the right documents would be put in detention centres for several years while their case is ‘processed’. The vast majority would have been shipped back to Ireland as fast as a ship could be found. No sympathy for the starving Irish even though so many of them drown en route in what are still thought of with in horror as ‘coffin ships’.

There is a cognitive dissonance that quickly strikes a visitor to Ireland. On the one hand we have the praise for and justifiable pride in the performance of our tiny navy in rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean; on the other, this violent, abusive rejectionist stance against people out of whom we have profited in the past and whose countries we have conspired in destroying. I’m talking about Iraq, for example, where we shipped cattle (Larry Goodman is reported to have lost IR£70 million when Saddam Hussein defaulted on his beef payments at the beginning of the first Iraq War) and where PARC (Ireland) ran the Ibn al-bitar hospital on behalf of the Iraqi government, to name but two ‘investments’ in the country. And when war came to Iraq, Ireland was well-positioned to profit from the USA logistical operation through  Shannon Airport, which became an R&R stopover for USA forces en route to the conflict. Objections to the Shannon stopover and re-fuelling for USA aircraft were almost exclusively based on the potential business losses to the Shannon area, supported by the usual craven cap-tipping and knee-bowing to our corporate masters in the USA.

I could go on. But whatever else we can say about Ireland’s direct involvement in these conflicts, through its membership of the EU it is complicit in the destabilisation and destruction of the Middle East.

Further south and west on the continent of Africa, through our support for and ready participation in the despoiling of that continent by corporations (worth 24 billion a year to Ireland at present) and political entities such as the World Bank we have contributed to famine and poverty and even our famous charitable giving does not come close to redressing the balance.

So, in the meantime, while children drown in sight of their parents, and bodies wash up on the shores of Libya, Kos and Lampedusa, we here in Ireland proudly declare that we are doing our part.

Perhaps if the catastrophe that is driving so many people from their homes had happened six months later we might have been slightly more welcoming. But we have an election coming up in the Spring, or maybe before, and everybody knows that getting re-elected is more important that a few thousand drownings. Such is the despicable nature of our political class.

Let us consider a recent proposal by a Labour politician in the UK. Yvette Cooper suggested that if each town in Britain accepted 10 refugee families, Britain would be catering for 10,000 refugees. Now to put our ‘refugee policy’ in perspective: if every county accepted just 10 refugees, that is to say, if every county of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland of The Welcomes accepted  only 10 people it would DOUBLE (yes double) last year’s number. How pitiful is that?

And here’s one last comparison: if Ireland accepted as many refugees per capita as Germany, we would be welcoming 40,000 people to our shores. Forty thousand grateful people who would join the local football team, learn Irish, work hard, fill gaps in the labour force, start businesses, pay into pension funds and, studies have shown, make a positive difference to employment for native-born people while simultaneously increasing the wealth of the citizens by contributing to infrastructural spending etc. There is no evidence that refugees have any desire to live in social welfare.

We need to make a stand for humanity here by actually accepting ‘our fair share’ as opposed to brutalising people in direct provision (where they cannot work, cannot cook for themselves and must spend all day in idleness imposed by us) for up to seven years and then rejecting the vast majority.

At the very minimum we we should support Germany’s call for a reasoned approach to the crisis, which must include the fact that even those refugees who do reach us must perforce pass through the hands of criminals and risk their lives to enter our countries illegally. Better again we should advocate an open door policy; this would eliminate the criminal underworld at one stroke. We should allow refugees seeking asylum here to seek work. We should abolish the direct provision system and instead, provide refugees with appropriate family accommodation and sufficient income to buy food until such a time as they find work. We should provide appropriate education including English language classes for those who need them.

More importantly for the future, we need to stop the horrific xenophobia and racism that pervades every aspect of our ‘refugee policy’ and start seeing these people as new friends, new neighbours, new workers, new sportswomen and men, potential friends, students, lovers, husbands and wives, cousins and an enrichment of our society in 4.6 million ways. In other words we need to start talking about people who come here from outside of this country as human beings.

When Ireland refused to accept all but a few jews fleeing persecution at the hands of Hitler we justly incurred the contempt of history. In the meantime we have not distinguished ourselves as a home for the homeless and persecuted. We are now faced with the largest refugee crisis since that terrible war, and this time the crisis is largely of our own or our allies making.

So to the Irish government, to the EU  let us say: Open the gates, just open the fucking gates.