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Immigration: “Free Movement” should not extend to criminals.

We’ll start this article with a controversial, but true, statement: The 91-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted by 37 year old Eugeniu Olan last year – a crime for which he was sentenced, this week, to seven and a half years in prison – was first and foremost a victim of Mr. Olan himself.

But she was also a victim of Ireland’s immigration system.

She was a victim of Ireland’s immigration regime for the simple reason that Mr. Olan had been here for only five months when he committed the crime and was the owner of a considerable criminal record before he arrived. He had, after all, been sentenced to two years in prison in Italy for theft, carrying weapons, and damage to property, though, as the Irish Times noted, “it is unclear whether he served this sentence”. Had he not been in the country, she would not have been attacked. And with a sensible immigration policy, he would not have been in the country at all.

Under Ireland’s immigration laws, as a citizen of the European Union, Mr. Olan has every right, even as a Moldovan national, to be here. Under EU law, Romanian citizens can live anywhere in the EU. Most Moldovans automatically gain an entitlement to a Romanian passport, and can, as such take advantage of the EU’s free movement law even though Moldova itself is not an EU state. It is a simple statement of fact that almost every Moldovan has as much legal right to live in Dundalk as they do to live in Moldova.

Free movement of people has considerable advantages. No honest conversation about immigration can ignore this point – and nor is it likely to. Those who defend the policy will point out that the rights it grants to EU citizens are also granted to Irish people. We can live, if we choose, in the South of France, or in Spain, or in Sweden, with just as much legal entitlement as we can live here. Nor has it been without benefit or many success stories: One of my own friends, a Latvian man, came to Ireland over a decade ago and has worked tirelessly to build a successful business here. His children, like many children of migrants, attend our schools, and speak with burgeoning Limerick accent. We have gained many hard working, law abiding, good citizens. Those who pretend to the contrary will never get very far with the public, who have, after all, eyes to see to match their inherently welcoming spirit. Our record of integrating many EU migrants is a thing to be rightfully proud of. Those who condemn that record, or paint it as some kind of “invasion”, are, and will be, stuck on the fringes of the national conversation for the foreseeable future.

But free movement of people also has considerable disadvantages, and those, too, are plain to see, and should be discussed openly. It means that Ireland extends its hospitality unconditionally.  If we were a sensible country, then our hospitality simply should and would not come without conditions.

A free country should always retain the right to say that those who come here and systematically break our laws and harm our people are not welcome. Ireland has given up that right. There is no balance, at all, in our immigration laws as they relate to other EU states. Prospective migrants have the right to come here, and Ireland has no right to say “no thanks”, or even to deport those who harm our people. That is, objectively, not sensible.

Nor is our softness on immigration confined to simply EU matters. As a country we are presently undertaking the great national project of issuing a permanent amnesty to an unknown number of people who are living here illegally. It is one of the centrepieces of Helen McEntee’s time as Minister for Justice.

The prospective beneficiaries of this amnesty are, it is rarely remembered, people who have broken our laws. They came here perhaps on tourist visas, or student visas, and did not leave when their visas expired. That, again, is a breach of our national hospitality: These people – and again, the Government cannot say how many there are – broke the law. Our policy is to reward them with a permanent right to live here. The Americans, by contrast, have provided no such Amnesty to Irish people who took the same course of action in the USA.

Any sensible immigration policy will always be conditional. When you move to another country – whether it be Ireland, or anywhere else – you are, at least in the beginning, a guest. Hospitality is being extended to you. You have a particular responsibility to repay that hospitality by respecting the place you have moved to. That means obeying the laws, primarily. But it also means other things, like making a positive contribution to your new society: Getting a job, earning your keep, contributing towards the services you use. The vast majority of migrants – legal migrants, at least – do just that. But there is, and will always be, a minority who do not.

And a sensible immigration policy will be to remove them.

For example, while some wish to abolish freedom of movement altogether, another alternative would be to modify it and make it conditional: EU states should be granted (and could be granted) the right to deport EU nationals who break their laws. They could, and should, also be granted the right to refuse entry or residency to those with criminal records.

We should also be actively seeking out, and deporting, those who have overstayed their visas. Those people, after all, have broken the law. They are here without a licence. We stop, detain, and charge people who drive without a licence, or own a television without a licence. So why should somebody who remains in the country without permission be treated differently?

Culturally, of course, immigration remains a taboo subject here, at least amongst the commentating class. Fear of the dreaded “r” word still haunts the great and the good. But it is not racist to say that somebody with a criminal record should not be admitted to the country in the first place, nor is it racist to point out that crimes committed by migrants are in part a result of the immigration system we have in place. These are conversations that ordinary people have, and the conclusions seem relatively obvious.

As time goes on, this will become a bigger, and bigger issue. The Irish State would be doing itself a favour by talking openly about this issue today, rather than waiting until the day – which will come, eventually – where the electorate has the conversation for them.

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