Last month, social psychologist and University of Limerick PhD researcher Mamobo Ogoro posted a short message on Twitter. In it, she underlined the diversity of migrants, noting that "migrant" does not automatically mean asylum seeker. "Yes, voices in DP (direct provision) need to/must be heard, however, automatically assuming that all migrants are refugees/asylum seekers (particularly African migrants), removes the voices/experiences of many. Migrant is an umbrella term."
So, who do we think of when we hear the word “migrant”? Is it the Pakistani man running the local newsagent or the French chef in a nearby restaurant? Is it the Syrian family claiming asylum or the American musician busking on Grafton Street? Is it the Argentinian tech worker or the Brazilian Deliveroo cyclist?
One of the largest cohorts of immigrants in Ireland is the Brits. I would love to ask these people who they see as an immigrant
In the ethnicity and equality section of today's Ipsos Global Trends 2021 study, researchers pose the statement – There are too many immigrants in my country. Ireland scores very positively on the chart, with less than a third (31 per cent) agreeing with this claim, compared with 56 per cent in France and 53 per cent in Britain. However, who were Irish participants thinking of when they answered that question?
Dr Amanullah De Sondy, head of study of religions and senior lecturer in contemporary Islam at University College Cork, believes that, for many in this country, immigrant immediately means "a black or brown person".
“We don’t think of immigrants as someone who comes from the UK. When I say ‘I’m an immigrant from Scotland’ people say ‘What?’ One of the largest cohorts of immigrants in Ireland is the Brits. I would love to ask these people who they see as an immigrant.”
De Sondy admits he was pleasantly surprised by the Irish response to the Ipsos question on immigrants, but warned of the danger of “falling into the trap of believing we’re doing very well here”. Other research, such as the recent higher education authority racism survey, which found higher education staff from ethnic minorities are much more likely to earn significantly less and be on precarious contracts than their white Irish colleagues, highlights the discrimination and racism that clearly exists in Ireland.
“I think this survey offers us a moment to reflect on where we want to go from here,” he says. “Our real challenge in the Ireland of 2021 is how do we deal this multicultural, multiracial, multi-faith community that we’re trying to enhance.”
The fact that just 46 per cent of Irish respondents agree that “people from different backgrounds and ethnic minorities in my country are treated fairly” shows there is an awareness of the inequalities and divisions that exist between different communities on this island, says De Sondy.
“It shows half the population don’t believe we treat immigrants fairly. So what structural changes do we need? The sense of being Irish is shifting and that is inevitably going to scare some people because racism is all about power. But I’m still optimistic, I feel we’re on the right track.”
Sociologist Dr Lucy Michael believes the Ipsos research is a fair representation of Irish people’s values and beliefs which, she says, “have consistently been miles ahead of political representatives when it comes to attitudes to immigrants”.
The 81 per cent of Irish people who agreed that “my local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together” (compared with just 65 per cent in Germany) reflects other research that shows white Irish and ethnic minorities mix well in local communities, she says.
“That’s why our Government relies on such a laissez-faire integration policy,” says Michael. “They know people get on locally and our migration integration strategy is a reflection of the trust in the capacity of Irish society to integrate.”
Teresa Buczkowska, integration manager with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, was also surprised by Ireland’s positive rating as a tolerant and inclusive country when it comes to immigrants and ethnic minorities. Working directly with minority groups in this country, Buczkowska regularly encounters the barriers and discrimination such groups face and believes adding more nuanced questions to the Ipsos research might yield somewhat different results.
“If we broke them down to individual groups like Muslims or Roma, I don’t think they’d get the same support,” she says.
Ireland is a welcoming country to migrants but there are still lots of issues here
Buczkowska was also surprised that 44 per cent of respondents did not agree that people from different backgrounds and ethnic minorities are treated fairly in Ireland. “I would expect more people to turn a blind eye towards barriers to integration for migrations but this shows more people are aware of these issues. They do realise things are not perfect. Ireland is a welcoming country to migrants but there are still lots of issues here,” she says.
While this positive attitude towards immigration may be welcomed by many, it’s important not to lose sight of the 31 per cent who said there are too many immigrants in Ireland, says professor of migration and social policy at UCD Bryan Fanning.
Similar numbers, between 35-37 per cent, responded that they would prefer for Irish people to “remain very different from all other nationalities” and agree with the statement that they “feel like a stranger in my own country”.
“You could say that’s about a third of Irish people who see a society that is conflicted and who don’t share those same inclusive values. That’s quite a lot of people.”
“We should reflect on the fact that a significant minority are not in tune with our openness and could be described as dissatisfied. It’s not like America which is pitched at the knife’s edge or Brexit in Britain but there’s a clear minority who are uncomfortable with this progressive, modern, outwardly focused Ireland.”
The State should not become complacent about the discomfort these people feel, says Fanning. "These are encouraging findings for Ireland and it seems to indicate we have a vision of nationalism that is progressive and inclusive. But we also should acknowledge those who are less comfortable with this. Social cohesion is one of our strengths, it would be terrible to lose that or see it diminish."
The Ipsos/Irish Times data presents Ireland among its European counterparts and larger nations. The full survey includes 25 countries. ipsos.com