IRELAND OF THE WELCOMES
“It’s Not Cricket!” proclaimed the headline reporting on a recent Dublin
Court Case. The case caused some amusement here but had a serious dimension to
it. It concerned a Pakistani national who had come to Ireland as a member of a
cricket team in 2008 and stayed on. He was scheduled to marry a Latvian teenager
here when the Gardai stepped in as part of an investigation into the large
number of marriages taking place in Ireland between men from outside the EU and
young women from EU member states in Eastern Europe. The increasing numbers of
such unions ( 544 in 2008, 1100 in 2009) suggest a racket with the prize for the
male a ticket to residence in Ireland (and the EU) and for the female a sizeable
cash sum. The investigation continues.
This saga is but the latest semi-humorous incident involving immigrants. Several years ago a band from
Eastern Europe with 50 members was admitted to take part in a fictitious music
festival; the members promptly disappeared. A moment of black humor occurred at
a Dublin port before 2004 when a heavily pregnant Nigerian woman was refused
admission after an on-the-spot examination revealed that birth was not imminent.
A young Nigerian, deported back, was readmitted to complete his school
graduation; he later became father of an Irish citizen.
Recent months have also featured media stories about third country nationals seeking either to
remain in or to gain entry to Ireland. Several court cases are in train
involving African women and girls seeking to stay in Ireland following rejection
of their applications for political asylum. Some of the cases made have cited
the threat of female circumcision if they are returned whence they came
(Nigeria). Other cases have involved men in relationships/marriages here with
other non-EU nationals who have pleaded that deportation would impact
unfavourably by splitting families up. Media attention in January focussed on a
young Eritrean girl whose DNA test proved that she was an Irish citizen, giving
her, inter alia, the right to enter and live in Ireland.
The message is clear. It is not about whether or not a person meets the criteria as a political
refugee or whether or not someone has discovered true love far away from home.
What unite these stories and others like them are the lengths to which desperate
people from the developing world (or poorer countries on the fringe of Europe)
will go to stay in a first world country. Ireland has now graduated to becoming
a fully paid-up member of the top table, the small number of affluent states
which have become magnets for the less well off. The parallels with 19th century
Irish emigration to the USA are clear, even if the world has moved on since.
Ireland now has its own domestic undocumented issue. We are not unique; the
pattern is replicated across the EU. What is new is that it is the first time
Ireland, for so long a country marked by emigration, has experienced significant
immigration, with all that it entails.
Ireland has experienced two waves of immigration since the mid 90’s, essentially different in nature and scale though
there was some overlapping. The influx which has attracted most attention came
post 2004, following the entry into the EU of the countries of Central Europe.
Ireland, hungry for jobs to fuel the booming economy, welcomed entrants from the
Ten without restriction. The result has been an influx of around 500,000 in five
years (most from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia) and even if some have
drifted on as the economic bubble has burst, enough have stayed to register
significantly in the ethnic make- up of the country. As EU citizens they are, of
course, entitled to enter live and work in Ireland, as Irish citizens can
throughout the EU.
The other, smaller, inflow began earlier, around 1996, and continues. It represents immigration from poorer countries, some
initially from Central and Eastern Europe, but considerable numbers from
countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The story of this immigration is
not easy to piece together. Irish author Roddy Doyle remarked, whimsically, that
he went to bed in one country and woke up in a different one. It took a bit
longer than that. Many presented as asylum seekers. Ireland has no land border
with a poorer neighbour, and indeed, until very recently, no direct air links
with countries outside Western Europe and North America. Despite this, and
despite also a 1996 EU agreement (ironically, the “Dublin Convention”) under
which persons seeking political asylum in an EU country must do so in the EU
state in which they first arrive, the number of applications for asylum in
Ireland took off sharply from 1996 onwards. 424 in 1995 grew to 1179 in 1996 and
to almost 11,000 by 2000. People arrived on planes, walked into police stations,
got off ferries from Britain or France, or were found smuggled in containers
arriving at Irish ports (some, tragically, discovered dead on arrival). To these
should be added thousands who arrived for short visits or to take up work or to
study and who stayed.
Once on the map as a possible destination,
Ireland’s attractions were fairly obvious. An EU member state (with promise of
unrestricted travel), relatively prosperous and with an expanding economy as
well as a fairly relaxed and liberal attitude towards new arrivals at a time
when other European countries were tightening entry requirements. A major extra
attraction was that until 2004 Irish citizenship applied to everyone born in
Ireland (with some inconsequential exceptions) – not the norm in Europe.
Predictably there was a surge in the numbers of births to non-nationals as the
century turned. A logjam of applications for asylum meant long delays in
processing, with consequent family and humanitarian considerations coming into
play as months became years. Most non-Irish parents of Irish born children were
permitted to remain. By the time of the 2006 census quarter of a million Irish
residents had been born outside Ireland, Britain or the USA, a far cry from
1991, when the figure was 40,341. Though this figure included 120,000 from the
new EU countries, 35,000 gave their nationality as African, 47,000 as Asian. The
100,000 or so non-EU/non-US present in 2006 (and their families) represented
roughly 2% of the population.
Though the annual asylum applications have
dropped to below 4000 in recent years, the welcome has been wearing thin here. A
gradual tightening and harmonisation of entry controls throughout the EU has
been reflected in Irish immigration procedures. New arrivals claiming asylum are
now housed in hostels and not permitted to work. A referendum in 2004 ended
automatic citizenship for those born in Ireland, while citizenship through
marriage has also been restricted. Freedom of access for the new EU nationals
has mopped up job opportunities, particularly as the recession bites. Impending
legislation threatens to speed up the processing of new arrivals and increase
the pace of deportations. Yet given where they come from, is it any wonder that
they still try to come?