When US president Joe Biden was asked about the plight of migrants at the US-Mexico border during his first formal press conference, he referred to his own Irish ancestry again.
He recalled his great-grandfather’s perilous journey across the Atlantic in a coffin ship and the fact that he left “because of what the Brits had been doing”. In some quarters, his use of the pejorative term ‘Brits’ raised a few eyebrows, but his comments have gone down well with Irish and Irish-American audiences only too willing to recall the UK’s colonial history and the mass emigration and millions of deaths caused by the Great Famine in the 19th century.
We might, however, pay equal attention to the context of Biden’s speech. He was speaking about the difficulties facing migrants and said that while he could not guarantee being able to solve everything, he could make everything better.
If only we could do the same in Ireland, where the number of incidents against migrants and minorities increased to 700 in 2020, up from 530 the year before, according to the Irish Network Against Racism.
The only ones to benefit from our inhumane system of direct provision are the accommodation providers, who earned over €1.6bn in contracts between 1999 and 2020. It is a sad reality that we have not used our own long experience of forced emigration to shape a more compassionate attitude to the migrants forced to our shores.