No more room for ambiguity on values

A society less comfortable with moral ambiguities, convenient fictions or, as they are often called, Irish solutions to Irish problems, might be more uneasy about the gap between what we pretend to be and what we are. 

The passionately held beliefs on either side of the Eighth Amendment debate are testimonies to this mismatch between a hoped-for Shangri-La and the hard-choices world we live in. The long-anticipated Supreme Court decision yesterday to formally strike down the ban on asylum seekers working in the State is another.

Yesterday’s ruling came after a member of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar, the victims of escalating genocide, challenged the Government’s position after spending eight years in direct provision. No matter how you dress it up, especially in a country so happy to sing the céad míle fáilte anthem, our asylum systems seem deliberately contrived as disincentives to anyone who might take the tourist-bait idea of Ireland of the Welcomes at face value. They have, not inaccurately, been described as a form of internment.

Last month Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan published the Government’s proposals to try to deal with the situation. To suggest that they seem restrictive would stretch even our capacity for ambiguity. The proposals require that applicants must have a job with a starting salary of at least €30,000 a year and cannot otherwise be filled by an EU citizen or a person with full migration permission in Ireland. Applicants will have to pay between €500 to €1,000 for a six to 12-month work permit and are unable to apply for a job in more than 60 areas including positions in hospitality, healthcare, social work, childcare, general care services, marketing, sales, administration, textiles, printing, housekeeping, food and construction. No quiet “No Irish Need Apply” but not that far away from it either.

There are few areas in today’s world where the values of liberalism and Christianity are so widely challenged as around immigration or asylum. And not without good cause. Sometimes overpowering numbers of people, some of whom have no wish to assimilate into the society that offers them refuge, some of whom who would destroy it, swamp available resources. Others imagine that our principles might be set aside so theirs can be tolerated. This week’s defence of barbaric female genital mutilation by Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland is a perfect example of that contempt for hosts’ values. Dr Selim must know that this butchery is utterly unacceptable in this society yet he defended it raising questions that can have only one conclusion. Dr Selim’s extremism flies in the face of a December 2012 UN declaration that the procedure is a violation of human rights. The WHO says it “violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment...”

Today we have the worst of both worlds. We have to pretend that Dr Selim’s extremism is a valid contribution to a debate that cannot exist and we have far from ideal procedures for dealing with asylum seekers. A firm, utterly unambiguous response is required in both cases.

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