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Immigration causes political crisis in Ireland

Photo: Paul Faith Agence France-Presse A person walks past rows of tents outside the Office for International Protection in Dublin on April 30.

“We protect our children. Why do these people burn their passports before entering Ireland ? We don't want them here! » These four angry boys, who obviously do not care about the media, will say no more. For weeks, around twenty of them have been camping day and night in front of a former paint warehouse in Coolock, a northern suburb of Dublin where it was planned to house 500 asylum seekers.

On cabins made of odds and ends float the three colors of Ireland. At the end of this morning, young mothers with their strollers parade impassively in front of posters which proclaim “Coolock says NO!”, “Ireland is full!” and “Irish lives matter ! “. To reach this working-class neighborhood from Connolly station, it takes an hour by bus up the long Malahide Road. There, we discover, wedged between two shopping centers, small plastered workers' houses with concrete entrances lined up one behind the other, often with a “For Sale” sign.

“They’re right. It’s very good what they do…” confides to us with a knowing smile a resident of one of them who does not want to identify himself.

Barely six weeks ago, there were a thousand, including a number of activists from all over Ireland, who demonstrated, shouting the same slogans. Like a majority of Irish people, the residents of Coolock express in not always diplomatic language their fed up with the unprecedented migration crisis which is shaking the country.

An unprecedented crisis

The European country, which until now was among the most open to immigration, is today experiencing an unprecedented crisis. Since the violent riot on November 23 in Dublin which followed the stabbing attack of an Irish citizen of Algerian origin against three children outside a school, the political landscape has been turned upside down. Last January, some 66% of Irish people thought the country had welcomed too many immigrants.

The crisis has already cost Prime Minister Leo Varadka his head, officially sanctioned during a constitutional referendum on family policy, but where, according to analysts, the population took the opportunity to condemn his migration policy. The Minister of Justice, Helen McEntee, received several death threats and had to evacuate her residence with her two children following a bomb call.

“It’s the ‘perfect storm’,” says Keire Murphy of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in Dublin. The researcher recalls that Ireland has always been a country of emigration and not of immigration: it only began to receive immigrants at the turn of the 1990s. And even then, it was mainly an immigration of European origin. Last year, the number of asylum seekers increased by 415%.

With the arrival in a country of barely five million inhabitants of thousands of Ukrainians, Nigerians, Georgians, Pakistanis and Somalis, the reality is no longer the same, explains columnist Eilis O'Hanlon in a column in the Telegraph. The new arrivals, she writes, “were dumped into urban or rural communities that were already struggling with a deficit in services and investment. »

In these localities, accommodation projects have been met with categorical refusals, or even angry demonstrations. From Rosscahill, on the west coast, to Cork, in the south of the island, via Rosslare Harbor on the eastern tip, hotels and abandoned premises intended to receive newcomers were burned down. Without supporting these extremist gestures, 6 out of 10 voters are now calling for a more restrictive policy. This is quite a change, whereas just a year earlier, an ESRI survey ranked Ireland among the four European countries most open to immigration, behind Sweden, Luxembourg and Denmark. In February 2021, didn't the Minister of Integration, Roderic O'Gorman, indicate in a micropost, in eight languages, that Ireland was going to offer each asylum seeker “the keys to their own accommodation” ?

“They have nothing to do here”

“We had our hotel stolen,” says Ian, who works at the Millmount museum in Drogheda, a town the size of Rimouski located halfway between Dublin and Belfast. It was in this town, which the writer C. S. Lewis said was found only in churches and pubs, that in 1649 Oliver Cromwell set out to conquer royalist Ireland. Without forgetting to put to the sword between 2000 and 3000 inhabitants.

The small fortified mound which houses the museum is now deserted. “The hotel was our bread and butter,” says Ian. I used to get tips. I no longer have one since the hotel was requisitioned for migrants. »

On the other side of the River Boyne, which crosses the city, Fine Gael MP (centre right) Fergus O’Dowd is not taking offense. “They took the only big hotel in town from us. People can no longer live anywhere. Especially since the only other major hotel in the region, the Westcourt, is also occupied by refugees. All this was done without consultation. I found out about it an hour before the hotel was requisitioned. » Even the security procedures necessary to increase the hotel's capacity from 240 to 500 beds were not respected, said the MP.

According to him, the city lost at least 10 million euros in tourist revenue.

Throughout the country, more than 300 hotels were requisitioned. But it is far from sufficient to meet demand. It is estimated that in Dublin, almost 1,000 asylum seekers have no place to sleep. For weeks, 200 of them — most of them young men in their twenties, from Algeria, Jordan or Palestine — had been camped in front of the premises of the Office of International Protection, a stone's throw from parliament. . Until, on April 30, the government decided to relocate them to a reception center outside the city.

A decision taken the day after Justice Minister Helen McEntee announced that 80% of asylum seekers enter Ireland from the UK via Belfast, thanks to the free movement that exists between the two countries. The movement has reportedly increased since London announced that it will transfer its asylum seekers to Rwanda, where their files will be processed. “Expulsion is just a cosmetic solution,” says volunteer Olivia Headon, who devotes part of her time to the migrants, around twenty of whom had already returned with their tents the day after their expulsion.

“These migrants should never have been there,” says independent MP Carol Nolan. We are facing an unsustainable wave of immigration. Some flee persecution and war, but not all. We have already welcomed more than 100,000 Ukrainians and we must make it clear to the rest of the world that we cannot welcome more. » The MP does not hesitate to speak of “chaos” in a country which, even before the arrival of migrants, needed 250,000 housing units. “Why should they get housing when there isn’t enough for the Irish ? I’ve never seen such anger! »

The former Sinn Féin MP believes that some elected officials could pay dearly during the local elections which will be held on June 7, at the same time as the European elections. “It feels like our leaders are living on a desert island. »

Sinn Féin torn apart

On the left, a certain far-right movement is accused of having manipulated popular anger. “We were not at all prepared for this influx of migrants and the far right took advantage of it,” says Daithí Doolan, candidate for Sinn Féin in the European elections. An extreme right of which we had never really seen traces in Ireland, with the exception of micro-formations like the Irish Freedom Party. The next local elections could give us an idea of ​​their progress.

A few hundred meters from his office, located a stone's throw from the old Dublin shipyards, in the charming Irish Town district, workers are busy renovating an old pub. The Shipwright was set on fire after a false rumor spread that it was being used as a shelter for migrants.

For this former trade unionist who became a municipal councilor, all this is the work of the far right. “Immigration is far from the number one problem in Ireland,” he says. An assertion denied by polls ahead of these European elections, where the housing crisis and immigration are competing for first place among voters' concerns.

Doolan wants to believe that, as opinion polls indicated until recently, Sinn Féin will form the next government and that it will be able to advance the cause of reunification with Northern Ireland. In constant progress since the 2020 general elections, the party is today in free fall. Although he remains in the lead, his support fell from 36% in the summer of 2022 to 27% last month. Among the causes, the party's traditional electorate, which is recruited from popular and working-class circles, which is far from sharing certain opinions of its leaders. Some 70% believe there are too many immigrants in Ireland, and a majority associate immigration with increased crime. A proportion of 52% are even ready to reinstate controls at the Northern Ireland border. A shame for a party which defines itself as that of reunification and which fought to preserve free movement after Brexit!

For months, its leaders have been walking a tightrope. If the reception of migrants is not appreciated by its popular electorate, the restrictions on immigration to which the party finally had to resolve could cause it to lose the support of young graduates from big cities. A dilemma that he will have to resolve between now and the next general elections, scheduled in less than a year.

“In Ireland we almost never talk about immigration,” for fear of provoking racism, wrote the columnist of l Irish Times Fintan O'Toole. A denial that the Irish political class will not be able to afford for much longer.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116