If you were to make an effort at summing up official Irish immigration policy in a single sentence, you could do worse than the words “The state has a duty to care for every refugee”.
What’s missing from that sentence is more important than what is in it: there is no limiting principle of any kind. Refugees, to the Irish establishment, are much like the weather – a thing that just happens, and with which we must cope, because we are unable to change it (at least, in the near term). If 5,000 come, we must care for them. If 500,000 come, we must care for them. There is nothing else we can do. In its own way, it’s an admirable instinct, and a christian one. But in practice, it’s a catastrophe for all involved.
A piece published by RTE over the weekend summed up the problem. That RTE, of all broadcasters, is now publishing pieces questioning whether the Irish state has the capacity to host the number of people it is welcoming should tell you the scale of the crisis. You should read it all, but here are some key extracts:
There is also a huge surge in numbers arriving under the normal international protection system. Figures show that 9,953 people sought international protection in Ireland between January and September.
Up to 15,000 are expected this year, compared to 3,500 last year. This would surpass the previous record of just below 13,000 in 2001…..
….This view was echoed by groups working most closely with those who fled the conflict. The Ukraine Civil Society Forum said what happened in Killarney was “a symptom of an approach focused on bed management” and a policy “that neglects long-term planning.”
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has called for a system “which is not on a permanent emergency footing” while the Irish Refugee Council said a “whole of Government approach” is needed.
Nowhere, in RTE’s piece, is the idea of a cap on the number of migrants the state accommodates floated. The simple reason for this is that such an idea simply cannot be countenanced, culturally, or politically. Ireland’s establishment, and it’s media (but I repeat myself) has spent so many years, and invested so much political capital, into the idea that “anti-migrant sentiment” is the most dangerous kind of idea imaginable, that they will convert every GAA ground in the country into a welcoming centre before they concede that they got this one wrong.
The delusion is entire and complete: Look at the quote in bold, above, from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. One wonders where to start.
A system that is “not on a permanent crisis footing” would, of course, be a system that knew with certainty how many people it would have to deal with. Without a cap on the number of people that the state will, in theory, accept, this is impossible. If we have a migrant system capable of handing 50,000 migrants, well, what happens if the number who come is 65,000? The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, of course, opposes any cap on numbers. Therefore, by definition, they can never have the very thing that they are calling for – a system not on permanent crisis footing.
The other problem is that immigration is an area where demand will always expand to fit supply. For as long as there is free movement inside the EU, and for as long as there are free beds and lodgings for refugees in Ireland, refugees will move towards Ireland from other countries within the EU. This is not something they should be blamed for – it’s perfectly rational. Without a cap on the number of people you will take, that number will simply keep expanding to meet every new piece of supply you bring into the system.
Irish forbearance for this crisis has actually been, by EU standards, remarkable. There is no organised anti-immigration movement. The political rumblings have thus far been confined to the independent benches. The media remains entirely and completely compliant, and terrified of anyone, anywhere, who might call them racist if they publish a mild criticism.
This is where our political system is a failure. More than health, or housing, or anything else. Because all of those issues, by contrast, are complicated. This one is simple: The state only has the capacity to provide services to a certain number of people. If you don’t believe me, look at what it tried to do in Killarney last week. In its desperation to be seen as treat people with dignity, the Irish establishment is now treating them like cattle, and calling it a virtue.
And yet, it can’t be debated. We have a political system where everyone is so utterly terrified and frightened of being called far right or racist that there isn’t a soul of even mild prominence in Ireland, with something to lose, who’s willing to say “we can’t take any more people”. We would literally rather collapse our own hotel and tourist industry rather than have students in Trinity call the Government racist and fascist. And nobody’s noticed that students in Trinity will do that anyway.
In the spirit of being a heretic, let me be a little bit more of one: Free movement itself, within the EU, is a major problem, and policymakers do not wish to admit it.
Ireland has a census every decade. The reason that we have that census is not simply so that in a hundred years, our descendants can read our little notes. It is, instead, because the state needs to know how many schools to build. How many hospitals. How many houses.
When you open the doors, as we have done, to free movement of people, those calculations become much harder to make. If you don’t believe me, look at the current mess.
Sure, you can make projections about migration – as the CSO does. But projections are not always right. Why have hospital waiting lists soared over the past twenty years? Why are class sizes bigger, rather than smaller? Why is housing harder to come by? It’s not all immigration, but immigration is a big part of it. And yet, it cannot be discussed. Because we are terrified.
As I’ve written before, this is a question of basic mathematics. But unfortunately, in Ireland in 2022, doing basic mathematics is less important than sounding like a caring person. That’s where we are, and that’s why we’re in this crisis.