Celebrating Chinese New Year does not make Ireland inclusive

Photo calls and dumpling workshops are fine but we must improve life for migrants

The Dublin Chinese New Year Festival programme has been launched and runs from 1 – 13 February. 2019 celebrates The Year of the Earth Pig, which represents overall good fortune wealth and prosperity. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

February 5th sees us celebrate the Chinese New Year with this year being the Year of the Pig.

In Dublin, the Chinese New Year festival was officially launched by the Chinese ambassador Dr Yue Xiaoyong and Dublin Lord Mayor Nial Ring at a photo call in January. It promises 17 days of events for all the family.

The Mansion House is being turned red, there will be tea ceremonies, art courses, fairs – and of course food. The aim is to celebrate the new year with Dublin’s growing 17,000-plus Chinese population as well as introducing their culture and heritage to Irish people.

My parents came to Ireland from Hong Kong in the 1970s. Like many young people they moved to find jobs and build a future. This trend of immigration from China continued through the 1980s and all the way through to the noughties. Ireland has remained a destination for Chinese and other migrants looking to build a better future for themselves.

Some came as students to learn English. Others opened eateries and introduced a whole nation to the infamous “spice bag”. Many came to work two jobs so they could support their family and provide their children with a brighter future.

As China’s economy grew we began to see a different relationship emerging. Ireland started to pay attention to China’s economic might and spending power. Right now, China is one of our biggest trading partners. By the end of 2017, trade in goods and services stood at €16.2 billion, Irish firms exported more than €5.6 billion worth of goods to China and 90,000 visitors from China came here in 2017 to spend money. It is not a relationship we want to squander.

Diversity and immigration

Financial reasons aside, there are moral and social arguments for celebrating diversity and immigration with all nationalities and not just with the Chinese.

Ireland has always prided itself on doing what’s right and lending a hand to those in need. Individuals travelling great distances to build better lives need our support.

Year of the Pig

Dublin’s Chinese community 'delighted' with new year celebrations VIEW NOW

From a social standpoint, migrants help form different aspects of our workforce. Immigration has also brought us individuals who helped build our country and created some famous businesses. Think Waterford Crystal, where Czechoslovakian immigrants helped build an iconic Irish brand.

But does celebrating Chinese New Year over 17 days really mean we are an inclusive society that celebrates diversity? The world is becoming less welcoming towards immigrants but Ireland does not yet have a serious anti-immigration movement . “Yet” being the operative word.

It was heartening to see that only 50 people turned up at the anti-immigration National Party convention in 2017 and similarly that the Immigration Control Party candidate in the 2011 general election only gained 0.082 per cent of first-preference votes in Cork.

Eric Zhi Ying Xue was born in Dublin but he is not entitled to Irish citizenship due to a 2004 law change

However, as is apparent in countries such as the US and UK, the far-right has gained momentum. The anti-immigration backlash is growing here too.

We saw it last last year during the campaigning for the right to remain of nine year-old Eric Zhi Ying Xue. Eric, whose mother is Chinese, was born in Dublin and has never been outside the country. But he is not entitled to Irish citizenship due to a 2004 law change which restricted the right to children born in Ireland whose parents were Irish citizens.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Nial Ring with Lisa An (11), Amia Zheng (10), Anna Zheng (8) and Fiona Weng (9) at the announcement of the Chinese New Year Festival taking place on Hill Street on Saturday, February 9th. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Lord Mayor of Dublin Nial Ring with Lisa An (11), Amia Zheng (10), Anna Zheng (8) and Fiona Weng (9) at the announcement of the Chinese New Year Festival taking place on Hill Street on Saturday, February 9th. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Eric’s mother, Leena Mei Mei Xue, arrived in Ireland 12 years ago. Her attempts to regularise her residency failed, and a deportation order was served against her in 2015. A last appeal was rejected in June.

Deportation threat

She and Eric faced deportation until more than 50,000 people signed a petition started by his fellow pupils at St Cronan’s in Bray, calling for him to be allowed stay. His long-term situation remains unclear, but the threat of imminent deportation has been lifted.

But despite the public support, anti-immigrant sentiments surfaced in the wider debate. When you look at the reaction in some quarters to his desire to stay in the country of his birth and recent fires at designated direct provision centres in Donegal and Roosky, it is a reasonable question whether we as a society are actually as inclusive as we think.

Despite the public support, anti-immigrant sentiments surfaced in the wider debate

It could simply be a case of a few bad apples, but if we are to truly be inclusive and actually celebrate diversity it will take more than photo calls and dumpling workshops.

We should do it by improving conditions for migrants choosing to make Ireland their home. We need to question whether the system of direct provision used to manage asylum seekers is the best we can do or will it turn out to be the Magdalene Laundries of our time.

We need to understand that the 27th amendment – which removed the rights of Irish-born children of immigrants such as Eric to automatic Irish citizenship – disproportionately affects vulnerable migrant children.

Even though the amendment was passed by 79 per cent of the vote , we need to ask if was properly debated or discussed. We should not only have started talking about it when when a child like Eric was facing deportation.

Hazel Chu is national co-ordinator of the Green Party

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