Photo credit: President Of Ukraine

Ukraine’s far-right stance on Irish immigration

Yesterday, in a piece about western support for Ukraine, I alluded to one of the problems with current political discourse being how difficult it is for any side in the modern political battlefield to make concessions to the other lest they be accused of some form of betrayal. This is particularly true of establishment paranoia about the “far right”.

“The rise of the far right” has become such a pernicious – and almost religious – narrative in Irish politics that the worst crime an establishment politician can commit, in the eyes of many commentators, is to give the “far right” some form of aid and comfort. Thus, on the most signature issue for the supposed “far right” – immigration – there can be no nuance or common sense because to deviate even a little bit from the “we have obligations” line would be to be seen to be giving aid and comfort to the anti-immigration people. Admitting that they might have a point.

And, so, we are treated to spectacles like this:

The National Ploughing Association has been approached by the Government to accommodate Ukrainian refugees once this year’s three-day National Ploughing Championships is complete.

NPA Assistant Managing Director Anna Marie McHugh said they were contacted around the same time as Electric Picnic and they discussed the idea in detail.

Ultimately, the NPA said it would not be possible to take refugees, as unlike Electric Picnic it does not have campsite facilities on the Ratheniska site, in Co Laois.

Turning the site of the national ploughing championships into a semi-permanent refugee tent city is now a preferable policy, for the Irish Government, than making the obvious-to-everyone-with-eyes admission that the country’s reserves of accommodation for refugees have been expended. This is a statement so obvious that even the Ukrainian Embassy has taken to doing what the Irish Government won’t – asking people not to come here because the country is full. That such a statement can be made by the Ukrainian Government (through their embassy) but not the Irish Government is both astonishing and revealing.

In fact, what we have is effectively a conflict: “We can take as many refugees as wish to come”, says the Irish Government to its people. “No, you cannot – don’t listen to them, citizens”, says Kiev, to its people.

The problem here, as ever, is that the moderate position has been entirely lost because somewhere along the line, the moderate position was allowed to be redefined as “far right” by people with no sense.

By any standard, Ireland has fulfilled its obligation to take refugees, and more: At a time of a domestic housing crisis that predated the refugee crisis, Ireland has nevertheless accommodated almost 130,000 additional people from Ukraine and elsewhere over the past 18 months. It has repurposed student accommodation. It has block booked out private hotels. It has provided meal tickets for clever local businessmen around the country who have managed to convert dilapidated buildings into “temporary emergency accommodation” with the generous thanks of a grateful state.

But now, even a blind man can see that the limits of our national capacity have been reached, and so, too, can the Ukrainians, at least at official level.

In a sane world, the Irish Government would be able to admit this, and say something like “we have done all we can, and we are proud of what we have done, but we simply cannot do more, as much as we want to”.

The problem is that faced with the horrendous choice between acknowledging reality and risking being accused of pandering to the “far right” on the one hand, or persisting with a plan to accommodate people in tents on recently ploughed fields on the other, the Irish Government has no choice at all. Those exercised about immigration are already voting against it. It must dance with the one that brung ‘em, so to speak, and keep ploughing on whatever the cost.

In all of this, you might note, the refugees themselves are an afterthought: There’s not a lot of discussion about where and how the children living in tents in fields might be educated, or about the human rights impact of permanent portaloos on people forced to queue for them, or the need for on-site launderettes and hairdressers. The refugees are simply a maguffin – the thing in the movie that the hero and the villain fight over that has no real intrinsic value. “We can take them” plays “no we can’t”, and whoever wins, the refugees themselves sort of lose.

That this is no way to run a country should be obvious to anyone with eyes. But more than that, what does it say about the state of our politics that the Ukrainian Government feels able to say, effectively, “Ireland is full”, while at the same time any Irish politician saying that would be taking their own political life in their hands?

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