Ireland is a paradoxical place, hence all the poets. However, Irish paradoxes abound not just in literature but in a political sphere as well.
For example, in the same year that the Irish government launched ‘the Gathering’, an initiative to bring people back home for the holidays, it also encouraged mass emigration by repealing air tax and cutting social welfare. As youth unemployment hovers around 30%, and the Government openly promotes looking elsewhere for work, the current economic programme has been popularly described as ‘the Scattering.’
Ireland rejects more asylum seekers than most EU countries. In 2010, Ireland rejected 98.5% of all applications, the highest rejection rate of an EU country that year. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in Dublin also found that over the last 7 years Irish attitudes to immigration have become increasingly negative.
An ESRI report published in June indicated 20% of Irish people would oppose entry to immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds. This comes at a time when Irish emigration is at a record high. These figures seem to spell out hypocrisy as the unofficial stance on migration.
The paradox here arises from the fact that those Irish that have emigrated—and now live as immigrants in other countries—have no vote. There is no means, other than the odd Facebook post, for them to communicate their experiences politically.
Although they number more than 3.1 million passports, there is no direct representation of their viewpoint. It is not then surprising that Irish society has learned nothing from the mass exodus of its young people. Change is required to shift the stereotype of strongly accented conservatism suggested by two-faced government policy.
Not all government officials are to be maligned, however. Irish ambassador to the United States Anne Anderson’s efforts to provide for the 50-75,000 undocumented Irish in America are admirable. Her work benefits not just Irish immigrants, but the Hispanic community as well. The coalition of Irish-American cultural, business, and civic organizations co-operating with the Irish embassy might persuade the Republican camp on a traditionally unpopular theme. Many Republicans, including potential 2016 Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, claim Irish descent. The reminder that immigration involves more than one community in America is important to emphasize at a time when many think of it as a Hispanic issue.
The problem in this otherwise commendable campaign arises when Anderson stresses ‘the historical and contemporary’ relationship between the USA and Ireland. For the historical and contemporary relationship between Ireland and its diaspora has not yet been properly recognized.
peeches on the importance of Irish immigrant contribution might seem a little rich when Irish emigrant contribution is kept under the carpet. Despite their historic contribution to state coffers, Ireland is one of only 3 EU countries to completely disenfranchise its emigrants.
Taxation and residency are often held up as obstacles before any movement wishing to rectify this situation. However, continuing the contradiction, taxation and residency are not considered sufficient when it comes to the right of non-EU nationals to vote in major Irish elections. Citizenship is disregarded in one case and emphasized in another.
In response, a number of the recently emigrated are campaigning on social networking sites under the group and slogan, We’re Coming Back. Announcing their principal aims as the achievement of a Presidential vote in 2018 and immediate representation within the Irish Senate, We’re Coming Back array themselves against the hypocrisy of a state which provides them with an Irish passport but partial citizenship. Although there are older groups online with similar objectives, We’re Coming Back benefits from a clear affiliation to We’re Not Leaving, a pressure group trending on Twitter and pub tables. Both stand against the ‘safety valve’ of encouraged emigration, by which the Irish government lowers unemployment statistics without innovation at home, and deprives those on the plane of an opinion.
The consensus for change is everywhere evident. The Irish Constitutional Convention declared itself favourable to an overseas vote by 78 to 100 in September. Various forms of an overseas vote have also been proposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs, such as Mark Daly, Brian Hayes and Paul Kehoe. The general idea has even been endorsed by the current President, Michael D. Higgins.
After all while paradox can be teased out and disputed in poetry; in politics it should stand corrected.
* David Burns is an Irish emigrant and "Lecteur" (Teaching Assistant) at La Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France.