Challenge of emigration - Our history shows us how to behave

AS our collective history reminds us almost too often life as an emigrant is never easy.

That is especially so if the local population in aperson’s new country feels threatened by people of a different race, religion or colour and act accordingly.

No Irish Need Apply still carries a nasty sting even more than a century after anyone anywhere was bigoted enough to declare their racism so very publicly.

Our folk memory of all the hardships suffered by Irish people fleeing hunger, poverty, sectarianism, religious oppression and the denial of political representation or educational opportunity suggest we should have a natural empathy with so many of the people moving to Ireland to try to begin new lives or to get an education. If not an empathy then at least an understanding that stretches to tolerance and thankfully that has, by and large, been the case.

It suggests that the symbolism and the awful reality of coffin-ships being replaced by cattle-ships carrying more emigrants than cattle being, in turn, replaced by one-way airline tickets, might have made this a society that realises that a person’s life cannot be defined or limited by the place to of their birth. Surely we cannot condemn a person to live and rear a family in a dangerous, impoverished and broken country just because they were born there?

Ireland has been spared the race riots that have flared up across continental Europe from time to time but that may not always be the case. It is possible that we may need to do more to ensure that assimilation is the norm for those who come to live and work here.

Supports for primary school children from families who do not speak English seems an essential minimum if assimilation is to be successful.

A new report by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) sounds a warning bell and suggests that a form of racial discrimination is being facilitated by the State.

MRCI claims that ethnic minority communities travelling to and from Northern Ireland can face discriminatory checks.

Just last Friday the High Court ruled that Section 12 of the Immigration Act is unconstitutional. Section 12 made it a criminal offence for non-nationals not to produce ID on demand. This may reduce the possibility of — or perception of — casual harassment, but the reality is that it will make it more difficult for the gardaí to offer the kind of protection we all — nationals and non-nationals — expect.

It would be a denial of human nature to suggest that emigration can always be a seamless, positive experience, but that reality should not be used as an excuse to set aside the basics of human decency and the cultural confidence that allows us to be a welcoming and warm society for those who come here with the intention of improving their lot and contributing to this society.

The turmoil right across north Africa and soaring populations in the Third World suggest we need to do much more to prepare for the inevitable increase in inward emigration that has already reached southern Europe. It reminds us too that no matter how bad we imagine things are here they are much worse elsewhere.

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