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Irish in Vancouver divided amid claims of violence and rowdiness

Community is at odds over the alleged behaviour of students over for the summer

A Canadian flag on the ferry to Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Some Irish students spending the summer in Vancouver, Canada, have been accused of urinating on dancefloors and absconding from restaurants and rental properties without paying their bills.

The claims have emerged as tensions rise between Irish people who have settled in the Canadian city and recently arrived students over the alleged behaviour of the latter.

“There’s a real concern amongst people living in Vancouver that it will end up like Australia, where the Irish have a terrible reputation and it became very difficult to secure visas as a result,” said a long-term Irish resident of the city, who did not wish to be named.

Claims that Irish students have been fighting in bars or engaging in rowdy behaviour on public transport have appeared in recent posts on the Irish and New in Vancouver Facebook page, which has almost 20,000 followers.

Local media outlets in Vancouver recently reported that 16 police cars showed up at Trump Tower on upmarket West Georgia Street on July 13th, when a pool party attended by hundreds of Irish students had to be shut down. Three people were arrested at the scene for breaching the peace.

Sgt Jason Robillard of the Vancouver Police Department said: “Some clubgoers ended up in a fight, and officers were called in to get those involved to leave. The disturbance was fuelled by overcrowding and alcohol.”

A 21-year-old student from Dundalk, Co Louth, speaking on the basis of confidentiality, said she was at the party . “It was an overcrowding issue,” she said.

The student said that what has surprised her about her time in Vancouver has been the ease with which drugs such as cannabis and magic mushrooms can be accessed.

“When you’re on the beach people just come up and ask what kind of drugs you want. You can get shrooms easily. Something like that wouldn’t work in Ireland because we wouldn’t know when to stop, but everyone is chilled out over here and it’s something else to do other than drink,” she said.

Destination of choice

Vancouver appears to be the latest destination of choice for young Irish students seeking summer work abroad.

For decades, Irish students flocked to American cities such as Boston, New York and San Francisco using J1 visas, but restrictions introduced in 2016 mean that J1 applicants must now secure employment before leaving Irish shores.

The exact number of students in Vancouver is difficult to establish because they arrive in Canada on the same two-year working permit as Irish citizens who want to stay long-term in the country.

The International Experience Canada (IEC) visa lasts for two years and allows holders to come and go – as long as their travel insurance covers the entire two-year period.

Following gradual annual declines in the number of Irish IEC holders between 2012 and 2016, government of Canada statistics show there was a 28 per cent increase in working permits issued for Irish citizens between 2016 and 2017. There was a further 6 per cent increase in the first six months of 2018 (to 5,647).

“We have noticed large numbers arriving in Vancouver in late spring both this year and last,” said Cathy Murphy, executive director of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre.

“These are likely young people reinventing the IEC as a J1, rather than utilising the two years that the IEC allows. This is a new trend,” she added.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” confirmed John Mullins (21), from Clontarf in Dublin, who added: “I’ve had the best summer of my life.”

He has worked in a lumber yard all summer and flies back to Dublin shortly to continue his course in primary school teaching.

John Mullins and Colum Mulhall

“There’s about 60 of us over here and I live in a frat [fraternity] house with 13 other guys. The IEC is cheaper than the J1 and you don’t have to wait until you’re 21 to drink alcohol – the legal drinking age here is 19,” he said.

“Our employers wanted us to stay on because the Irish work really hard. I’m obviously one of the Irish students being tarred with the same brush as the troublemakers – they are in the minority. Most of the lads I’ve encountered in the frats are very chill and are just trying to get to know people.”

“I’ve loved it so far,” added Colum Mulhall, a 21-year-old studying quantity surveying in Dublin, who has been living in the same house close to the University of British Columbia as Mullins.

“This is my first time living away from home and it’s good to get a bit of freedom and to experience working in construction. There was a bit of trouble with the neighbours but the Canadians are really nice – he came over and asked us to be quiet, so we did,” he said.

“There’s always stupid people who show up and cause trouble. That could happen anywhere – look at Harcourt Street [in Dublin] on a Saturday night.”

Stricter drink laws

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Rachael Collins, from Naas, Co Kildare, who has been working as an administrative assistant and a tennis coach over the summer, said: “I have heard stories of the Irish being rowdy, however, no more rowdy than they would be in Dublin.

Rachael Collins (R) and Alannah Maher enjoy their summer in Vancouver

“The Canadian drink laws are much stricter, as you can be banned from a club for a year if you are kicked out for being too drunk – that’s something to be aware of if you are coming over in the future.”

Founder and CEO of online community Moving2Canada Ruairí Spillane, from Co Kerry, has been living in Vancouver for 10 years.

He believes the settled Irish community and the younger students need to show “mutual respect” and stop “mud-slinging” on social media to ensure the reputation of Irish people is not damaged in the long-term.

“We work hard and play hard. That’s a fact,” Spillane said.

“When you’re dealing with high numbers of people arriving, there are always going to be people who overstep the mark.”

He said the Irish “are doing a spectacular job of integrating here” and said his clients want to hire Irish people. “That’s not going to change overnight or because of a few incidents.”

However, he sees a “big difference in attitudes” between the people arriving for the summer and those who intend on making a life in Canada.

“The summer students are thinking: ‘Get in, get out, have the maximum amount of fun in three months’ time.’ Whereas, of the people coming here on a two-year visa, I would hazard a guess that 50 per cent of them want to become Canadians. That’s probably why you see the conflict on social media.”

Spillane’s message to Irish students is: “Be more thoughtful of the local laws. Canadians are very respectful and polite. You are in someone else’s house. Behaviour that upsets your hosts should not be tolerated, regardless of how much craic we are having.”

Ruairí Spillane

And to his counterparts in the settled Irish community, Mr Spillane says: “These are 19- to 21-year-olds we are dealing with .. . We need to realise that they need to be mentored. Let’s praise them a little bit more.

“I would be very annoyed if I was a young person coming here, being polite and spreading the good vibes, and being generalised as a ‘J1er’. Us longer-term residents needed to shake off generalisations when we first arrived and now we are casting judgment.”

Meadhbh Monahan is an Irish freelance journalist based in Vancouver

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