A liberal democracy debates every issue, even immigration

The Killarney Convention Centre last May, where approximately 3,500 people from more than 120 countries became citizens of Ireland. It was the first large-scale citizenship ceremonies outside of Dublin. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

Peadar Tóibín, founder of new political party Aontú, says his call for a debate on immigration was criticised unfairly and misrepresented

THE Aontú political party is only three months old. We have held 40 public meetings around the country attended by 6,000 people.

Last Saturday week, we had our national launch. Some 600 people heard three hours of debate on housing, health, education, Irish unity, Brexit, the right to life, and regional development.

We also profiled 60 local election candidates on the day. This is phenomenal grassroots growth. There was no reference made to immigration by any speaker.

In response to a journalist’s question on immigration, I said that if a person is fleeing war, violence or famine, that we, as a country, under international law, should provide refuge to them. I said that there needs to be a link between resource capacity and the numbers of people coming to Ireland. If there is not, there will be hardship for both Irish people and immigrants.

I said that we, as a people, should be able to have a respectful, responsible debate on the issue. I said that the pressure on services and resources was not the fault of immigrants, but was due to the lack of government investment. I said the solution was to build adequate housing and to provide health and education for everyone in society.

Aontú believes that migration is a part of modern life, that without it our health service, and many industries, would grind to a halt. We recognise the valuable contribution that migrants have made to Ireland. Aontú is a pluralist movement. We believe that everyone in Irish society should be able to fully be who they are, without fear or favour.

Last week, a reputable consultancy firm stated that the population of Dublin may rise by 150,000 in the next three years. William Hynes, director of Future Analytics Consulting, said: “The findings, to date, have really brought to light the importance of understanding migration as a key component of population change, particularly given Ireland, by its nature, is a small, open, but globally connected economy.”

Any government that fails to prepare for this is not doing its job. Politics is robust, especially if you stand against the establishment view or stand up for what you believe in. Defending your policies can be a challenge, but when you start to get attacked on policy that you don’t have, it gets bizarre. In the past week, the surreal nature of herd mentality was in full view. A truncated quote was misinterpreted by many. Untrue motivations were attributed. Each tweet became more divorced from what was actually said and each article further away from actual policy.

After the initial interview, at no stage did any journalist or commentator call to check the facts. Heavy words such as ‘xenophobe’, ‘racist’, and ‘dogwhistle’ are lightly thrown. This is both dangerous and grossly irresponsible.

And censorship is the point. Ireland is fiercely orthodox and uniform. The politics of Ireland has radically changed over the last 30 years, but the intolerance of differing views is as it always was. For example, last week, a female Aontú candidate was banned from a ‘Women in Politics’ debate in Galway because of her pro-life views. This translates to ‘we are liberals, who welcome a broad spectrum of opinion and views, provided they conform exactly to ours’.

This is far from a liberal democracy. In a liberal democracy, there should be no censorship; there should be no issues that cannot be debated.

Respectful and reasonable debate is a valve to real frustrations. Supressing that valve does not dissipate the views, but pushes them underground and into the open arms of those on the extremes.

The illiberal manner in which so-called liberals deal with issues such as this helps to create the monster that they most fear. That is the irony.

Open and respectful debate is also critical in rigorously holding the establishment to account. Open and honest debate is not the enemy of democracy: It is a pivotal part of every democracy.

None of this is accidental. Compare the words used by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on January 12 and the establishment reaction to it. He said:

“Migration ….but it does need to be managed. We need to manage it right and see the picture as a whole. They have concerns about the increasing impact migration has on housing, for example, the impact on the health and education systems, particularly when there are a lot of kids in school who do not have English as a first language. They have concerns about security and crime.”

What’s was the response to these words by the establishment? Nothing. The self-appointed champions of woke said nothing at all.

The craw-thumping TDs attacking Aontú for suggesting a debate on immigration are the same ones who are responsible for the disgraceful shame of direct provision. This is news now because of the growth and momentum of Aontú. We are not here to fiddle around the edges of the political system. We are not here to rearrange the chairs of a sinking political culture. We are here to build a new political movement that will positively change the face of Ireland for generations.

Aontú will not shirk from any debate. We will not hold the finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. We will not accept the censorship of group mentality. We will robustly and respectfully represent Irish society in all of its diversity. Aontú seeks a migration plan that meets our obligations as a people, and which is humanitarian and sustainable.

Peadar Tóibín is a TD and founder of the new political party, Aontú

More on this topic

Barriers to employment for migrants highlighted

Irish family facing deportation from Australia ask for public support

Family comes first for construction workers returning to Ireland

Publicans want tax breaks to entice returning emigrants

More in this Section

Donohoe pulled in two directions as he seeks to regain prudent reputation

Unanswered questions in Garda sick cert case

Boris’s boyhood dream may yet become Britain’s nightmare

G20 environment plan laudable but will be too little too late


Stereolab: The right band at the wrong time

Kaleidoscope: The festival that is Electric Picnic for families

The High Priestess of Punk on 40 years in showbusiness ahead of Irish gig

Orla O’Regan: ‘I treasure the way my life has turned out’

More From The Irish Examiner