Boris Johnson may well end up losing the British General election – but if he does, it won’t be because of his policy on immigration. For the last ten days he has hammered the opposition Labour Party for favouring an open immigration policy, with no restrictions on freedom of movement, while saying that if re-elected, and after Brexit, he will implement an “Australian style points-based immigration system”.
At the same time, Johnson has made it clear that racism has no place in the Conservative Party, or the wider conservative movement. He’s ditched a number of candidates for offensive comments on immigration, and at the same time staked out his position as the candidate for Prime Minister who will limit inward migration. He has pointed out that a political party that says it wants to fund a health service, or housing, or any other public service must know how many people will need to use those services, and that unlimited immigration puts huge strain on public services. It’s a commonsense argument, one that people instinctively understand.
It’s also as true in Ireland as it is in the UK, except that here, our politicians are terrified to talk about immigration because they haven’t got a clue how to do it without openly embracing racism, as we saw this week from Fine Gael candidate, Verona Murphy. Murphy was trying to raise the issue of the vetting, for security purposes, of migrants – a legitimate issue, and one which her own Government has flagged in the past. Instead of saying something like “the security of the country is paramount, and when people are coming here from warzones that are infiltrated by terrorist organisations, we have to vet them thoroughly, and compassionately, for our own security”, she just blurted out that in her opinion the majority of migrants were ISIS members. It was so absurd, and so nonsensical, and so overtly bigoted, that how she remains a Fine Gael candidate is a mystery.
There are a couple of basic facts about immigration in Ireland that are completely obvious to anybody with a brain, and yet no politician seems able to articulate them without managing to say something inartful at best, or outright racist at worst:
- The more people that we have in Ireland, the more homes we need, the more school places we need, the more hospital beds we need, and the greater the demand on our national infrastructure.
- Those immigrants who do come here, if they eventually are to make the kind of lives here that we would hope for them, need to be equipped to thrive in our country, with language skills, an understanding of our laws and customs, and the education levels to get a job and hold it.
- If you are not an Irish, or an EU citizen, there is no absolute right to live in Ireland, and the country is within its rights to deny you entry or remove you from the country.
The other point, of course, and this is where all the rows begin, is that for many on the liberal left of politics, those most fond of denouncing others as racist, the whole point of the immigration system is to benefit, and show compassion and kindness towards, immigrants. But it’s a perfectly legitimate view to hold that the point of an immigration system and immigration laws is actually to benefit the people who already live here.
A sensible immigration policy should benefit both the immigrant, and those already living here. It should attract people with skills and talents that there is a shortfall of in Ireland, and put them to work improving our country, and, in turn, their own lives. People often think of doctors as the perfect example of this, but in Ireland today we could really use an influx of construction workers, because we have a shortage of homes and a lack of capacity in the building trade.
A bad immigration policy, in contrast, would benefit neither the migrant nor the host population. What would a policy like that look like? Well, it might end up with a Government sneaking around the country, trying to find dilapidated and run down hotels to dump unskilled migrants in, without telling the local population, stirring up resentments, and condemning the migrants themselves to several years in a single room in a dying town that doesn’t want them. Sound familiar?
There is, sadly, no Irish politician with the ability, or the willingness, to make a sensible argument on immigration. The country appears doomed, for the foreseeable future, to have to listen to either a tired establishment that regards any criticism of immigration policy as racist, or an insurgent far-right that regards every single immigrant as a threat.
Government policy on immigration as it stands leaves people here for years, in limbo, with no ability to contribute to society or improve their own lives. It doesn’t prioritise those who can help the country. It doesn’t speedily remove those who cannot help the country, or who are a threat to it. And not one single member of the political class has the political skill to talk about it without making an utter balls of it.
It won’t end well.