Any Irish person who is still seriously asking that question today would want to take a serious look at themselves, and perhaps especially if you're reading this in the United States now.

Ireland owes most of its global cultural reach and its economic survival to immigration, after all.

It's not just a side issue to us, it's not a dusty political debate, our Diaspora is a vital worldwide corridor that has helped us amplify our voices on the world's stage, to the financial benefit of all.

Read more: Number of Irish deported from the US has almost doubled since Trump became President

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Touring around Ireland last week I witnessed and was inspired by just what a great job the Irish people are doing with the issue of immigration themselves.

Foreign nationals add charm, international perspective, hard work and frequently much needed economic innovation to the domestic economy in which they live and work and the Irish people clearly understand and respect that.

Around the capital last week I saw new immigrant restaurants, food stores, shops and service economy workers getting up early and making major contributions to the thriving national economy.

I lost count of how many times I heard someone say “thanks a million” with a European or Asian or African accent. It's a small island, after all, you're never going to live in isolation in it.

Read more: Trump is making it all up - the Mexican border and terrorists

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

On the streets, I saw a Muslim charity group set up a long table outside the GPO (the famed headquarters of the Irish revolution) to help feed the homeless, a practical and humanist response to a government crisis that was met with a grateful response by the crowds they served.

Not that it's all plain sailing on every issue of course, when is it? There is a militant core of right-wing Irish Twitter accounts (many of them are non-Irish bots) doing their level best to convince Irish people that the country is being “invaded” and “overrun” and that very soon when they venture out they won't know Crossmolina from Caracas.

Fully eighty percent of Irish people believe that immigrants have integrated successfully into the Irish nation (that's the highest proportion of all EU member states) and if you need further proof of this yourself you need only go for a night out in any big city or town.

Integration is a continual process but it already clear that both native Irish and immigrants are working hard to make a success of it. Ireland has wisely resisted Brexit Britain's decision to look twice at foreign nationals or scapegoat them for all the nations ills. When you live next door to a nice immigrant family, it's harder to see them as the destabilizing cultural force the far right swear they are.

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

When Enda Kenny was our Taoiseach he gave a memorable, heartfelt speech about the good that immigration does and the lessons the Irish have learned from the experience right in front of Donald Trump, the most anti-immigrant American president in modern times. Kenny was at The White House for Saint Patrick's Day and his words are worth recalling now.

“It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St Patrick and his legacy,” he told the room. “He too, of course, was an immigrant - and though he is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe he’s also a symbol of, indeed the patron of, immigrants.”

Read more: Huge barriers facing Irish emigrants coming home to Ireland

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with President Donald Trump at the White House St Patrick's Day celebrations in 2018. Image:

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with President Donald Trump at the White House St Patrick's Day celebrations in 2018. Image:

“Here in America,” Kenny continued, “35 million people claim Irish heritage, and the Irish have contributed to the economic, social, political, and cultural life of this great country over the last 200 years.”

“Ireland came to America because deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We came, and we became Americans. We lived the words of John F. Kennedy long before he uttered them. We asked not what America could do for us, but what we could do for America - and we still do.”

In this world, the Irish have learned, you have a choice between building bridges and building walls. Walls may protect what you have, but bridges make what you have double and triple and quadruple. The choice is either to make a success of immigration, as the Irish are clearly doing, or turn immigrants into political scapegoats and monsters as Brexit Britain and Trump's America have done.

Image: Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

Image: Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

No one is calling for a wall on the Canadian border, although actual “terrorists” have attempted to gain access to the United States via that northern corridor last year. That's an issue we don't hear the current administration talk about at all. Have a guess why?

The human capacity for hypocrisy and bigotry is limitless of course, but there aren't many Irish people around the world who can still seriously argue that immigration hasn't been of benefit to them or to their nation. So we should share that lesson loudly with the world. We know what it was like to be targeted by people who feared us and we know what it means to make the world our home.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section, below. 

* Originally published in Jan 2019.

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