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What America can teach Ireland about immigration and abortion

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Former President George W. Bush
Former President George W. Bush

It wasn’t always so easy being an Irish American.

Oh sure, there were the bad old days of anti-Catholicism and the No Irish Need Apply signs.  But there’s always been a fair bit of tension between Irish Americans and folks from Ireland.

I will admit that Irish Americans are to blame for some of these problems.  There are times when folks whose great- great- great-grandparents were born in Cork try to pass themselves off as experts on the Emerald Isle, and that is as painful to witness as it is silly.

In recent years, Irish Americans were particularly taken aback by the anti-American sentiment in Ireland which came out strong during the George W. Bush years.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were never very popular in the U.S., much less in the rest of the world. 

And yet, the sight of virulent anti-American protests in Ireland still shocked Irish Americans who’d come to believe the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic shared common bonds.

The Irish in Ireland proudly stood on the moral high ground.

Oh, how times have changed.

Like America, Ireland is currently struggling through nasty debates on immigration and abortion.  As the Irish are learning, there’s no real high ground on issues such as these.

Irish Americans might even be inclined to gloat when it comes to immigration.  The U.S. Senate recently passed an impressive immigration reform bill, and the anti-immigrant sentiment that once seemed pervasive in the U.S. has transformed into a stubborn acceptance of the fact that the U.S. needs a thriving immigrant population.

True, the immigration bill is likely to die in the House of Representatives.  But that chamber of government has long since proven itself so useless (thanks Republican Party!) it almost does not merit mention.

The Irish have long viewed nativism in America with a mix of curiosity and indignation.  Having sent sons and daughters to the U.S. for generations, watching these immigrants eventually produce children and grandchildren who won World Series baseball games and reached The White House, the Irish assumed that Americans would and should (eventually) embrace all ethnic groups.

But Ireland itself is now experiencing a bit of a nativism.

A recent report from the Economic and Social Research Institute shows that between 2002 and 2010 the number of Irish people who are “opposed to immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds coming into the country more than trebled, from six percent to almost 20 percent,” as The Irish Times reported.

Irish views on immigration “are more negative than those in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.K.,” the Times notes, adding, “Only the U.K. scores worse than Ireland on attitudes to the impact of immigrants on cultural life.”

Dr. Frances McGinnity, author of the report, said, “The evidence seems to suggest that rapid growth in the immigrant population, followed by economic recession, has resulted in increased concerns about, and resistance to, immigration in Ireland.”

It’s almost as if America could look over at Ireland and say, what’s wrong with those people, picking on poor, helpless immigrants?

The Irish are hardly handling the abortion issue any better.  The way the Irish have transformed their relationship with the Catholic Church in recent decades, in light of horrific sex scandals, has been nothing short of revolutionary. 

And yet, when it comes to abortion, church teaching still holds sway, making it controversial to pass even a modest pro-choice law.

Church leaders call the recent abortion bill a “Trojan horse” which will lead to more broad provisions down the road.  They are 100 percent correct.  Irish Americans can provide guidance on this issue.

Like most U.S. Catholics, they are in favor of birth control and pro-choice on abortion. It is the 21st century.  Deal with it.

America, of course, is not perfect on these issues.  In Texas, the state that gave us George W. Bush, anti-immigrant sentiment remains strong and controversial anti-abortion laws are about to set off a full-blown culture war.

Sounds a bit like Ireland, no?

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)

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