An Irishman's Diary


Asylum comes from the Greek, "beyond seizure". It is an important word in both the English language and in the vocabulary of democracy, yet recently we have seen it debased as a wet, bien-pensant description of illegal immigrants. When politicians use a pious euphemism to describe a problem, they're probably trying to avoid dealing with it. Ah yes, that old familiar: an Irish solution to an Irish problem, viz., no solution at all.

The people arriving in containers in Wexford are not asylum-seekers avoiding imprisonment for their beliefs. They are economic migrants who in their devious ambition are just like the thousands of Irish people who fled the economic mismanagement of this country to an illegal status in the US in the 1980s. Just as the Irish perfected techniques to allow them stay in the US and work, so now the illegal immigrants here are rapidly learning to master our laws, our institutions and our habits so that they can remain.

Irish nationality

Already we are hearing tales of babies being "born" in Ireland and presented to a local Garda station for attestation of Irish nationality, so securing the parents against expulsion. No doubt there are other devices which immigrants use to stay here. So what response should we have to these people? The first is admiration, for they clearly have valuable enterprise which should be much prized; but the issue does not simply end there.

Unlike the US, Ireland does not possess an immigrant culture, or the social and political techniques to absorb and naturalise the incomer. Americans place huge importance in their flag and their oaths of allegiance because they are such powerful facilitators of Americanisation. To haul up Old Glory and put your hand on your heart is an easy yet powerful way to become something other than you were born, a magnificently simple piece of ritual which transforms a former Vietcong soldier from the Mekong Delta into a loyal US citizen.

No such mechanisms exist here, not least because Irishness is altogether more elusive and exclusive, yet ubiquitous - even our political culture is predicated on identity. Fianna Fail is only partly a political organism; more fundamentally, it is a tribe whose sense of racial antiquity and genetic integrity is probably comparable to that of Japanese Shinto. How easy would it be for any Fianna Fail cumann to campaign heartily for a coal-black son of Sudanese immigrants? Even the less aboriginally-obsessed Fine Gael might have difficulty putting its organisational heart into supporting Mohammed Khan from the Rann of Kutch for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Cosmopolitan challenge

History has not made us cosmopolitan, and now we are being presented with the cosmopolitan challenge which has come to other Western European countries before us. Middle-class liberal blather and its slithery lies about "asylum-seeking" is an enemy of cosmopolitanism, for the latter is possible only when one tries to accommodate the truth. Trying to conform with untruths is the path to misery. "Asylum-seekery" sets a preachy and holier-than-thou tone for any discussion about incomers; for how can any civilised person reject a petition for asylum? The lie is in the question. These people are not seeking asylum. They are seeking a better way of life; and who can blame them?

That doesn't mean we should dodge realities. In Britain 30 years ago, anybody who had doubts about the rightness of large-scale immigration was denounced as a racist by the say-gooders, who in their careers and their homes were secure from the impact of the incomers. But those at the bottom of the British social heap, poorly educated and only barely understanding the overnight transformation of their neighbourhoods, had no such economic or domestic security. This is the class which is normally fondly regarded when journalistic babble is heard; but when it did not behave according to the cherished stereotypes of the Decent Working Class and the Honest Poor, it was denounced as racist by middle-class journalists for whom the consequences of immigration could be measured solely in restaurants.

Similarly, many policemen became openly and proudly racist: in a strangely Poujadist alliance, police and proletariat came together in their common dislike of immigrants, and some constabularies were corrupted almost beyond redemption by a culture of racism. Attacks on immigrants were routinely ignored or even encouraged; gangs began to flourish, with perfectly predictable consequences. The murder of such as Stephen Laurence was as inevitable as a date on the calendar.

Political courage

We can listen and we can learn from the experiences of others. We must have controls over immigration, and we must have the political courage to return those have arrived here illegally. The US does, and it is the most successful multiracial society in history.

Otherwise, we shall be seen as the soft touch of the European Union and will thereby be guaranteeing for ourselves a future of racial strife. Equally, we must insist on a police force in which the expression of racist abuse, either to the public or to any other garda, is a serious disciplinary offence.

But most of all, we must tell the truth, in word and use of word. The poor of Dublin will not call illegal immigrants "asylum-seekers"; nor should we. And we should certainly not expect the least advantaged and least educated communities in Dublin and elsewhere to be the sole and unassisted hosts of ghettos of newcomers. Down that road lies certain disaster.