Irish attitudes to immigrants raise concerns; Half consider some races superior to others

Half of Irish people believe some cultures are superior to others and almost half think some races are born harder working than others.

Close to one in five, links intelligence to race, believing that some races are born less intelligent than others.

Attitudes to the 200 nationalities, races and ethnicities that make up Ireland’s foreign-born residents are also closely linked to the state of the country’s economy with more positive attitudes prevailing in boom times and more negative attitudes in the recession.

Some groups of people prompt more negative responses than others. Fewer Irish people are willing to welcome more Muslims into the country than immigrants generally, and fewer again are open to having more Roma reside here.

The findings are from an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission which looks at Irish attitudes to immigration and diversity between 2002 and 2014. Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the commission, said while the attitudes recorded were not extreme when compared to how many of our European neighbours feel about their immigrant communities, they still gave rise to some concerns.

“In some ways, the findings hold up an uncomfortable mirror to our attitudes to immigration,” she said.

Is it extreme? No, it isn’t. But is there work to be done? Yes, of course, there is.

The report notes that 535,475 non-Irish nationals now live in Ireland, making up roughly one in nine of the population and giving Ireland the fourth highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the EU.

Ms Logan cautioned however, that the statistics gathered pre-dated the increase in migration to Europe from the Middle East in the last few years and the very divisive debate that has raged across Europe since.

The report found that, unlike other European countries, people’s attitudes do not vary much with age, whether they are rural or urban dwellers or whether their politics are classed as left wing or right wing.

Ms Logan said that she considered this a positive feature as it meant the immigration issue was less polarising here than elsewhere in Europe.

“Whether this continues is a case for political leadership. We are encouraging our own politicians to show leadership on integration and understanding of diversity,” she said.

Attitudes are influenced, however, by how well educated and financially secure people are. “A very clear finding from this report is that those who have higher levels of education have more positive attitudes to immigration,” said report co-author Frances McGinnity of the ESRI. She said there was also a link between attitudes and wealth.

“There is definitely a story coming out that if you’re more secure financially and in many other ways that you’re more welcoming.”

Ms Logan said while there was no indication from the report of racial tensions in poorer and marginalised communities, there was a need for policymakers to safeguard against any such development. She said that integration should be a key consideration in urban planning, school admissions, poverty reduction and community supports.

“We like to think of ourselves as a compassionate, welcoming society but we have evidence to the contrary now,” she said.


Recession has impact on opinions

The report is based on the biennial European Social Survey which interviewed 2,000 Irish people for each survey from 2002 to 2014. Attitudes were ranked on a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being the most positive.

The highest ranking from Ireland was 6 which related to the question of whether it was felt immigration was good for the economy. This was recorded in 2006 at the height of the boom. That fell to a ranking of about 4.2 in 2010 at the height of the recession but it increased to 4.8 in 2014.

Respondents were also asked about the cultural impact of immigration and whether they felt overall that immigration made Ireland a better place. In both cases, attitudes were more positive during prosperity than during recession although the rankings changed less over the period surveyed.

Irish responses were compared with the average for 10 European countries — Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Irish attitudes wavered more as the economy fluctuated and were generally more negative on the cultural impact of immigration. On the question of whether the overall impact of immigration made the country a better place, Irish attitudes were more positive than the European average up to 2008 and have matched the other countries since.

Overall, about 58% of Irish people are open to allowing more immigrants of generally the same race to come and live here, although that figure was as high as 80% from 2002-2006.

However, when asked specifically about Muslims, the figure fell to 40% and only 25% would welcome more Roma.


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