Ireland steps up as immigration leader
The 2006 census, released over the summer, shows a rapid rise in immigration in the past decade.
(Page 2 of 2)
One reason for this is historical. Many Irish emigrants were themselves the victims of racism – many British boardinghouses had signs that read "No blacks, no Irish, no dogs" – and these experiences have helped temper local attitudes to the new arrivals. But also, the most common nationality of immigrants between 1995 and 2000 wasn't Polish or Chinese or Nigerian. It was Irish, returning migrants who are reversing the flow of emigration (in the US, nearly 35 million people claim Irish ancestry).Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Still, the Irish government has been proactive. "One of the recommendations from the World Conference on Racism, held in South African in 2001, was for governments to design national action plans," says Kensika Monshengwo, training and resource officer with the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. "The Irish government was quick to put in place a National Action Plan Against Racism that is used by the police, education institutions, and service organizations."
Ireland's Employment Equality Act outlaws discrimination on nine specific grounds. "You don't find that in many other countries. Even the European Union directive only has six grounds," say Mr. Monshengwo.
As part of its response to the National Action Plan Against Racism, the Irish police force, An Garda Síochána, changed its entry requirements to allow nonnationals to apply for positions. Speaking recently, Brian Lenihan said that the Garda "must be broadly representative of the community it serves, and the changes in Irish society are starting to be reflected in the intake of Garda recruits." At present, it has trainees from China, Poland, Canada, Romania, and Denmark.
"I don't know of any other country where nonnationals can be a member of the police force," says Monshengwo. "It is a major step that is mindful of the future, when the force will be policing a diverse community."
But problems have arisen. In July, a member of the Sikh community completed his exams and training for the Garda Reserve, but was told he could not wear a turban on duty. Wearing a turban is obligatory for Sikh men, and police forces in the US, Canada, Malaysia, and Britain allow it.
"On one hand they are being pioneers in opening the door for non-nationals," says Harpeet Singh of the Irish Sikh Council, "and on the other hand they refuse to follow the example of other police forces in including Sikhs."
This present impasse mirrors a broader debate. Does Ireland follow the multicultural model of countries like Britain, where common public values don't necessarily trump individual cultural practices, or the assimilation model of France, say, where the dominant national culture prevails? Ireland recently appointed a minister of state for integration policy, but a clear position has yet to emerge.
"[M]any NGOs ... are concerned about the separation between developing an integration policy and our immigration policy," says Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland. "We must ensure that our immigration policy does not create barriers to integration. The forthcoming Immigration, Residence, and Protection Bill should clearly define migrants' rights to family life, permanent residence, protection against discrimination, access to services and ... information."
The bill will come before the Irish parliament convenes this fall.
Irish policy has been slow to evolve, but many say it's off to a good start. "Remember that diversity and multiculturalism is only 10 years old in Ireland," says Adebari. "By allowing immigrants to participate in society, Ireland has accepted the first generation of immigrants."