I grew up in a homogeneous Ireland that was stiflingly conservative, dominated by the ethos of Eamon de Valera and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. For decades, I have campaigned for a liberal Ireland that values everybody’s individuality and rights.
I also want to see a liberal world with the same values. That means helping those who are born in less fortunate circumstances. This includes people born in Ireland, economic migrants seeking a better life, and asylum seekers fleeing persecution and seeking refugee status.
For generations we Irish have migrated to other countries to seek a better life, creating a global diaspora. In the nineties, the Celtic Tiger economy attracted both returning and new migrants. This marked the start of a refreshingly more pluralist Ireland.
Not only can migrants better their own lives, as have countless Irish people who have moved abroad, but migration also helps countries to prosper. When managed properly, it means more young workers, more taxes, more economic growth, and a richer culture.
While welcoming migrants, we should also protect and advance the liberal democratic values that are making us a country that people want to move to. In particular, the state should protect equally every individual’s freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
In the twelve months before last year’s census, about 121,000 migrants arrived here, the most in fifteen years. About 29,000 were returning Irish, about 29,000 from the EU or UK, about 28,000 from Ukraine, and about 35,000 from other countries. Alongside this, about 60,000 Irish people migrated elsewhere.
Most migrants are good people, and refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable. However, some people understandably worry about sudden large social changes in their local community, and some people are stoking these worries to encourage division and hostility.
We should counter intimidation and violence against migrants, whatever their legal status. This includes chanting outside people’s temporary dwellings, threatening or assaulting people, promoting racism, and preventing citizens from going about their daily business.
The state should deal more quickly and humanely with migrants seeking legal status, enabling those who qualify to live and work here sooner, and removing with dignity those who do not qualify after a fair process. And it should work towards everyone, born here or elsewhere, having a safe place to live.
We are lucky to live in a democracy, however flawed it might be. We must protect our democracy itself, as well as protecting the victims of intimidation and violence against migrants. Together we can build a liberal Ireland that values everybody’s individuality and rights.