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New report should prompt debate on immigration into Ireland

The latest report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on Growing Up in Ireland was published this morning. Like the other reports we have looked at it, it is based on a cohort of children born in 2008. This one, entitled Children of Migrants in Ireland, looks at the experience of children who were nine years of age in 2017.

Some of the statistical references are an indication of the scale of inward migration since the beginning of the century. The extent to which that has been accurately captured in official statistics must be open to question – not only in relation to the unknown number of people who are here illegally, but also when the 2016 Census return is compared to other statistics regarding the issuing of work permits, PPS number and even the registration of births.

We have looked at this before, and noted that while the 2016 Census headline statistic was that just over 11% of the population of the Republic were “non-Irish nationals,” that a more detailed analysis of the returns showed that 16.7% had been born outside of Ireland. The difference is partly explained by the granting of citizenship to migrants.

The ESRI report states that one third of the children in its 2008 cohort had at least one non Irish parent, and that 19% had parents both of whom were born outside of Ireland. Over 10% of children in the study had two parents neither of whose first language was English. It also noted that migrant children are disproportionately found in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) schools based in disadvantaged areas.

Of course, that is the case in all countries that have high levels of immigration, and migrants – especially those from very different cultures and in low wage employment or dependent on social welfare – tend to be concentrated in parts of cities which already experience high levels of social dysfunction.

The problems associated with this trend: from poverty to higher than average crime rates, over-crowded and scarce public and private rental accommodation, as well as poorly performing schools, affects everyone. That includes the “White Irish”,  as they are described in the Census, but the focus of new study (as it is across all of the official and academic and political concern) is with the experience of the migrant population, not that of the families and children already here, and already in great part experiencing all of the difficulties referred to.

The only recognition of the possible negative impact on already struggling areas in the report is where it notes in relation to vocabulary skills in schools with a high proportion of migrant children the impact “is present for children with Irish born parents as well as those with migrant parents” p(60.)

Echoing the experience of the UK where “White British” children perform even less well than migrant children in such circumstances, 20% of the children of two Irish parents in these schools are in the lowest quintile that measures English reading ability (p53.) The lowest scores on vocabulary tests are little different for all children in schools with the highest proportion of the children of migrants.

It is clear that not only are social and economic factors paramount in DEIS schools but that there is also a strong correlation between one parent families and levels of material deprivation and poorer educational and other outcomes. The extent to which large scale immigration exacerbates all of this, especially where migrants replicate dysfunctional family patterns and state dependency, is never explored.

The fact that the ESRI note that up to 50% of children living in DEIS school catchment areas are sent by their parents to non DEIS schools (p.13) is proof that working-class parents with a strong family ethos and ambition for their own children will take steps to ensure that their children are not dragged down by poorly-staffed and poorly-motivated schools that are landed with the task of social engineering on top of everything else.

Irish working class families have always done that and evidence from this country, as well as from Britain and the United States, would indicate that certain immigrant communities with a stronger family culture do likewise when it comes to deciding where to send their children to school.

These successful working class and migrant families tend to do so with little or no assistance from the state. Indeed there is sometimes  an ideological bias against the putative clients of the state overcoming, or “fleeing,” their material circumstances as though they were some sort of class or ethnic traitors.

Being social scientists, of course, the authors of the report rely on theoretical models from that branch of the “sciences” as well as on terms and approaches borrowed from development psychology theories around Self Concept.

The latter has been critiqued by some sports psychologists as placing the onus on sports for creating a culture inimical to a child’s self-esteem. The authors do not go there although they do imply that GAA may be somewhat at fault as being “unfamiliar” to migrants. Well, so is the Irish language, and lots of other things about Ireland. Just as there would be lots of unfamiliar things to any Irish child who goes to live in another country. Is the expectation that these be radically re-constructed in order to accommodate other people? Try that in Warsaw or Lagos or Mumbai.

One of the theoretical references in the report is to the French structuralist Pierre Bourdieu whose concept of cultural capital has been adapted on the academic left – in common with many late Marxist or post Marxist theories – to replace class with ethnicity and gender and sexuality. Thus, the authors refer to how “the inheritance of cultural capital, along with economic and social capital, enables members of the dominant classes to reproduce their socio-economic positions.” (p.17.)

So is it to be understood that among those who possess some sort of power relative to migrants –  and especially Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) migrants or children of migrants – are the “White Irish” natives even though the ones most in contact with migrants in schools, housing, employment and so on are likely to be among the least socially and economically powerful?

Indeed, the authors’ lamentation that among migrant groups “many fail to attain middle class status, despite parental skill levels and are, thus incorporated into the ‘working class’ stratum” (p16) may say more than they intended.

The thing is of course, that while they refer constantly to the negative impact of immigration on schools, and refer to the low integration levels in France and Belgium as a bad example, they seem little interested in how all of this affects the children of the native population, even though they actually constitute still the majority of the age cohort on which the research is based.

The policy implications which they draw from all of this are likewise solely to do with the needs of the migrant population including the provision of “individualised and culturally tailored programmes” (p86.) There is no interrogation at all as to whether mass immigration, driven by either the demand for labour or ideological commitments – with political and electoral spin offs – by the liberal left to “diversity” and “multiculturalism,” might itself not be an unmitigated good. Either for the natives or the migrants.

That is a discussion that few are anxious to facilitate.


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