Irish State has nothing to boast about regarding migrants

As the EU wrestles with migration, we should not forget the demographic crisis

The Aquarius rescue ship enters the port of Valencia, where 630 migrants were allowed to disembark. Italy had refused to allow the Médicines Sans Frontières (MSF) search and rescue vessel to dock. Photograph: AFP Photo

Trump’s executive order declaring that family unity must be preserved is a welcome move, even if only to put pressure on the legislative branch to solve the problem.

Separating parents from children at the US border is wrong, even if their parents are attempting to enter illegally. It is wrong for all children, although babies who are being breastfed and children with Down syndrome make for particularly harrowing examples.

Separating children from their parents is wrong even if the Obama administration also pursued this policy. Some of the more emotive photographs of children on thin mattresses behind chain-link partitions date from the Obama administration and not Trump’s.

It is wrong even if the original legislation was designed to protect children from being held in custody when their parents are arrested.


However, there is little reason to be smug in this country. The State has nothing much to boast about in relation to immigration and asylum seekers. Direct provision continues to be a scandal even though minor reforms have been enacted.

Work restrictions

Furthermore, even though the Supreme Court found a year ago that banning asylum seekers from seeking paid work was unconstitutional, the State has fenced the right to work with so many restrictions that it is virtually impossible to fulfil the conditions.

A ridiculously high 60 areas of work are excluded: hospitality, healthcare, social work, childcare, general care services, marketing, sales, administration, textiles, printing, housekeeping, food, construction and many more.

The salary must be at least €30,000 a year, the potential employer must demonstrate that no suitable Irish or EU citizen could be employed instead, and also be willing to pay a €1,000 fee.

It would be easier to find a job if the conditions were that you had to be a fully qualified shepherd with experience of working with goats on moonlit nights in Dublin city centre.

By last month, some 370 people had managed to secure a permit for self-employment, but no one had secured a direct employment permit.

The State has opted into the EU Reception Conditions Directive which requires member states to provide accessible entry to the labour market. In the meantime, the farce continues.


It is not as if we are overburdened with asylum seekers. Jordan has roughly twice the population of the Republic but has had more than 1.5 million refugees, including successive waves from Palestine, Iraq and Syria.

Even though Jordanians naturally resent the economic consequences of such a huge influx to their country, real attempts have been made to integrate the refugees including providing public education for children and limited access to the labour market.

Jordan is a poor country lacking natural resources and it still manages to be relatively humane. In contrast, Ireland has gone back to long delays in processing asylum applications, even though there were only just under 3,000 applications in 2017.

A recent ESRI report showed that asylum seekers are now waiting an average of 18-20 months to pass through the first stage of the asylum process, as opposed to 11 weeks in 2015.

EU problem

Migration is controversial right across the EU. Recently, Italy refused to allow the Médicines Sans Frontières (MSF) Aquarius search and rescue vessel carrying 630 migrants to dock. Eventually, the rescued migrants were allowed to disembark in Spain.

Next week’s EU Council summit will be dominated by plans for “regional disembarkation platforms”, EU jargon for migrant processing centres outside EU borders, which sound like a recipe for disaster.

It represents an attempt by Angela Merkel not only to pacify her Bavarian coalition partners, the CSU, but also to stave off a crisis that could threaten the very future of the EU.

Bavaria has been the entry point for the majority of immigrants in Germany, and the Bavarian CSU face a difficult election in October. A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Germans support greater restrictions on immigration. Hence the pressure on Merkel.

Part of the difficulty with addressing Europe’s approach to immigration is that legitimate concerns of citizens of receiving countries are often dismissed as racism or Islamophobia, perhaps because it is poorer people who are most likely to be affected adversely.

Shutting down discussion like this does nothing to encourage greater generosity.

Every country must have some form of border control even if only to prevent criminal elements from entering.

Fertility rates

And yet, there is another threatening reality that is also looming. Across the EU, the fertility rate is 1.6 births per woman, way below the replacement rate of 2.1 and far too low to sustain growth and to care for the elderly.

While at 1.9 births per woman, Ireland's birth rate is one of the higher in the EU, it is still too low. In April, Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children, announced a "baby box" campaign to encourage more births.

(This happened while simultaneously promoting abortion, a juxtaposition that would be farcical if it were not so tragic.)

Instead of blocking their entry, Europeans should be fervently hoping that the currently unwanted migrants who, on average, are both younger and more fertile, will be willing to be partners in helping us to care for our increasingly ageing EU populations.