David McWilliams’s Christmas best seller, The Pope’s Children is a mine of statistics and intelligent analysis. Few commentators have his comprehensive grasp of where the Celtic Tiger came from, what it is doing to Irish society and where it is all leading. His piece in yesterday’s Independent focuses on 2031, and how profoundly Irish society will have changed. By that time, I expect/hope to have my bus pass, but will venture no predictions over whether Northern Ireland will have reached the end (a) of the Peace Process or (b) its teather. Thanks to Ciaran for the heads up!
“By 2031, we are likely to have a significant black urban underclass, paying rent to a Chinese landlord class. There is also a good chance that we may have a second generation Polish Taoiseach, bankrolled by his oligarch father who arrived here broke in 2004.
Irish academia will feature a disproportionate number of Indians, yet the Irish language will be stronger than at any point since before the Famine. The majority of white Irish people will be content and living in a huge – formerly agricultural – suburban belt which will bear more than a passing resemblance to Wisteria Lane of Desperate Housewives fame.
Make no mistake about it: immigration, displacement and the resulting social upheavals are the key issues facing this country. Real politics will be determined at the point where economics, demography, immigration and geography intersect.
At the moment we are witnessing a phoney war, characterised by oversensitivity, overblown rhetoric and ham indignation, the winner being he who shouts loudest or he who feigns most injury.
The debate is book-ended on the Left by the “multiculturalism at all costs,” brigade and on the Right by the “economic growth at all costs” warriors. In truth most of us are somewhere in the middle, seeing the need or even the desirability for new blood, yet worried about where it is leading.
Equally, we recognise the logic of economic growth and the standard of living it affords us, but also appreciate that there is more to being Irish than owning the newest, Ford Galaxy. At the moment those of us in the middle are the silent majority.
This will change gradually but for now, the dominant rule governing the immigration debate is “do not offend anyone”. This carry on was most recently evidenced by the ridiculous and self-serving hullabaloo about Mary O’Rourke speaking of “working like blacks”.
A barrage of invective rained down on her from right-on liberals – all of whom knew precisely what she meant. Equally silly was the criticism that Pat Rabbitte received by growth-obsessed, free-marketers, when he suggested – logically – that some immigrants will ultimately take some Irish jobs at lower wages.
While we are talking in circles, the immigrants are getting on with the practicalities of a new life – working, saving, having families, moving up and out. The immigration debate should be about these practical aspects of day to day life and it should always be an ideology free zone.
A way to consider most likely outcome is to see what has happened in other societies and then examine what the statisticians are saying about population trends. This will shed light on where people might choose to live in the New Ireland.
At the moment, Ireland has proportionately the fastest rising immigrant population in Europe. We are absorbing eight times more immigrants per head than France. It has been suggested that we need half a million new immigrants over the next ten years. However, on present trends there are likely to be considerably more.
In short, by 2016 – 100 years after Pearse & Co fought for “Ireland for the Irish” – close to 15pc of the Irish population could be immigrants. But where are we all likely to live? The CSO attempted to answer this in a fascinating publication last May when it confirmed what most of us privately suspected – that Dublin between the canals will be a largely non-Irish zone by 2021.
During the same period the white Irish middle classes will flee to the suburbs. We saw this pattern in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. Likewise in the UK, immigrants are over-represented in central London and thin out as you head towards the M25.
This is described as the doughnut theory in the US, whereby centres of the cities are hollowed out and left to immigrants while the richer natives flee to the sanctuary of the suburbs for better schools, a perception of better safety and, frankly, to “be among their own”.
This is the historic middle class reaction to immigration. They don’t riot; they trade up. The CSO predicts that by 2021, 112,000 white Dubliners will move out (10pc of today’s population) to be replaced by 250,000 immigrants (25pc oftoday’s population).
Where will the natives go? The CSO forecasts that the region with the strongest growth will be the mid-East area which includes counties Offaly, Westmeath, Laois, Kilkenny and Carlow. The population of this region will increase by 51pc. These will be “Dulchies” – Dubs who have moved to live amongst the Culchies.
Already, these are amongst the most fertile counties in the country. The trends in the US suggest that we will also have “Exurbs”. These are predominantly white autonomous places with their own businesses, shopping centres, concerns and community fears.
They are no longer umbilically linked to the cities but have their own life support systems. Companies move out there in search of lower rents and good workers. Moreover, the 2021 transport plan will make such mid-east “exurbs” viable. In the US these places, with their individualistic creed, voted overwhelming for George Bush.
They will pose a difficulty for our parties as the new Dulchies will be apolitical in the traditional party sense. They will be single-issue people who vote for lower taxes, speed bumps and the right to drive a Renault Espace.
Dublin itself will be ethnic and young.
Given the experiences of other major cities, it is not unreasonable to suggest that entire areas – spanning a wide arc from the Phoenix Park to the Docklands will be African. Rents in this part of the city will be soft as today’s white professionals are replaced by larger poorer African families.
There will be a change of ownership in these places. Irish landlords are likely to sell to the emerging Chinese business class, who have proved to be adept property buyers in London and New York. In fact, the appearance of a Chinese mercantile class is one of the surest bets we can place at this stage.
But entrepreneurship will not just be limited to the Chinese. Immigrants tend to be more entrepreneurial than the locals and they will form bonds with local business people in an unholy alliance of outsiders. Because local entrepreneurs and immigrants see themselves as outside the mainstream professions, they will make natural bedfellows.
This will be one of the most fascinating marriages in the New Ireland: the immigrant and the entrepreneur. Typically, the immigrant does not meet the established middle ground of professionals, civil servants, journalists, commentators, the mainstream trade union movement and the like. He meets likeminded get up and go types.
The entrepreneur employs the immigrant under the table, sees the immigrants economic value and asks no questions. The immigrant sees the entrepreneur as the antidote to the prying bureaucrat. The entrepreneur is the immigrant’s initial lifeline and ultimate role model. Both are thrown together symbiotically.
Soon the immigrant network builds and instead of taking a respectable job, evidence from other countries shows that the immigrant tends to go into business quickly. However, this economic security leads to an urge for the outsider to be accepted at the top and so we see second generation immigrants move into politics.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Kennedy clan in Boston. Joe Senior made the money which allowed JFK to enter the WASPish world of the American political elite. As you read this, there is a Polish or Lithuanian Joe Kennedy making cash, saving, struggling, striving and, ultimately, accumulating.
By the time he is rich, the ambition for his son will be to break into the establishment via politics. The same ambition that drove his father from rural Poland to Ireland in the first place will drive him up the political ladder, safe in the knowledge – unlike his Irish counterparts who are striving for votes in the apolitical new outer suburbs – that he has an ethnic bloc of voters to use as a springboard.
While all these changes are occurring of course there will be immigrants taking Irish jobs. Some working Irish families will lose significantly.
This is the history of immigration and there is no point sticking our heads in the sand, pretending we face a harmonious “united colours of Benetton” future. As long as things are hurtling along, a few losers in an overall positive picture won’t pose a huge social problem, but as soon as things slow down, racial tensions will doubtlessly increase.
The question for the authorities is whether they want to manage those tensions and pre-empt them before they spill over onto the streets as in France.
As Napoleon said: “To govern is to choose”. As we enter a new world of the hyphenated Irishman – where tags such as Indian-Irish, Nigerian-Irish, Chinese-Irish or the vague cute sounding Polo-Irish will be in widespread use – I wonder do any of our politicians have the conviction to make such hard choices.
First published in the Irish Independent, Wednesday Jan 11, 2006
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty