IMMIGRATION AND THE NICE TREATY

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A dangerous surge of racism and xenophobia has accompanied Ireland's recent economic boom and the resulting opening up of Irish society to a level of immigration it has not experienced before. People from all over the world are coming here in search of work and asylum, as has happened to many countries going through similar economic changes. This imposes a particular obligation on the Government and civil society organisations to defend the rights of immigrants and welcome their contributions.

That norm has certainly not been adhered to by the No to Nice campaign in its use of the immigration issue to launch its campaign against the treaty. The organisation argues that the Government's decision not to seek a derogation from the free movement of labour clauses in the accession treaties means Ireland will become liable to a huge surge of immigration when these countries join the European Union. This position is in keeping with their defence of a fortress Ireland concept against European integration, replete with traditional values and structures.

As Mr Dick Roche, the Minister of State for European Affairs, points out in his polemic with Mr Anthony Coughlan, a leading campaigner against the Treaty, "existing surveys on migration patterns in Europe show that the claims are false. Ireland barely registers as a location in these surveys." Such claims also fail to take into account existing European and Irish law on worker migration. Mr Coughlan's effort to separate the Nice Treaty from the immigration issue is quite unconvincing, given that the treaty is so directly concerned with enlargement.

Mr Roche's vigorous exchange with Mr Coughlan and the firm way in which many organisations concerned have dissociated themselves from claims that the Nice Treaty will enable such a surge of immigration to occur indicate that the campaign will be fully engaged - unlike the one last year, which the Yes side lost by default. This is welcome and comes none too soon. The campaigning is expected to intensify immediately the holiday period is over. A great deal will depend on how effectively the main political parties and interest groups get involved in what is increasingly a debate on Ireland's future in Europe. A victory by the No side in which such xenophobic propaganda is so much to the fore would do lasting damage to Ireland's political integrity and international reputation. It would be regarded as a triumph for the same forces as have supported far right movements throughout Europe over the last year.

Sinn Féin and left-wing groups opposed to Nice have been deeply embarrassed, and rightly so, by these developments. They and the Green Party affirm internationalist and multicultural values while rejecting the terms of this treaty, which is designed in large part to enable the EU enlarge. They now have a more difficult task to convince their supporters these core values will survive a second No.

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