Immigration Honesty Is Best Policy
IT seems that I can't take a holiday at all. I'm off for a couple of weeks and what happens? The whole country goes down the toilet, that's what.
Two weeks ago, as I predicted, a majority of Irish people voted against the Lisbon Treaty, the proposed agreement on new structures for the enlarged 27-nation European Union (EU).
And as if that wasn't enough, last week the full depth of the collapse of the Irish economy was revealed in a major economic report, and political and business leaders began openly using the R-word (recession) for the first time.
In fact the two events are related. Before the Lisbon vote there was a lot of scare mongering here about abortion and gay marriage and something even more horrifying ... higher taxation! The idea was sown in the minds of voters that all of this would be forced on us.
We would be swallowed up in the new Europe, which would over-rule our courts. We would lose our Irish way of life, as well as our full time European commissioner.
Even though all the political parties, the business bosses, the union leaders and even the churches said that these fears were unfounded, people voted against. The whole thing was too confusing.
If You Don't Know, Vote No. And they did, in sufficient numbers to sink the referendum.
In the aftermath, the experts claimed that many people had been confused and fearful, that they had voted No because the political parties had failed to explain what was involved in clear and simple terms. And there is some truth in that.
But the real reason the referendum was rejected had little to do with irrational fears or with a failure by the political parties here to explain why the proposed changes in the European structures were desirable, even for small countries like Ireland.
In the last column I wrote for this paper before going on holiday, I correctly identified what the problem was and warned about what might happen in the vote on June 12. I wrote about an unemployed decorator I had heard on the radio explaining why he was going to vote No.
It was because of the immigrants, he had said. There were so many Polish and Latvian painters and carpenters and plumbers in the country working for half the minimum wage, he could not get a job.
He said he would never work again, thanks to the enlarged European Union. So he was voting No.
In politically correct Ireland, immigration was never mentioned by either side during the campaign of course. But in the aftermath of the referendum, the EU itself did detailed research among Irish voters to find out why so many had voted No.
And guess what? One of the main issues to emerge was immigration.
It's not that Irish people are any more racist than anyone else. But many people here dislike the scale of immigration we have seen in Ireland since EU enlargement, and they correctly blame the EU for this.
They dislike the effect it is having on Irish society, and they worry about the competition for jobs, particularly since we are now faced with a major economic downturn. So they voted No in the referendum precisely because the treaty was designed to bring Europe even closer together.