Is the boat full?

Some in Ireland like Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte (perhaps unwittingly) have begun espousing views more akin to Europe’s populist radical right parties to address fears and resentments by offering scapegoats, namely immigrants. It is as if our very national identity depends on homogeneity and can’t encompass variety. It is based on little more than an “us” and “them” ideology. There is an interesting piece on this here by Sieglinde Rosenberger. Whereas the European populists say “eigen volk eerst” (own people first), “Österreich zuerst” (Austria first), and “les francais d’abord” (the French first) or “Das Boot ist voll” (the boat is full), our one seems to be that immigrants are “pushing down Irish wages”, “pushing up Irish house prices”, and of course the big one; “threatening our very lifestyle and democratic values”.
Hard to blame the immigrants for taking our jobs when we have full employment but no doubt that will come if the opportunity arises along with doomsday predictions that the streets of Dublin will run red with rivers of Polish blood.

Manus O’Riordan in the Irish Times seems to have bought the idea that the recent wave of immigration is undermining wages and conditions for Irish workers, citing figures released by the CSO in December arguing that despite average hourly earnings for skilled operatives in the construction sector increasing by 7.3 per cent in the year ending September 2005 and earnings for unskilled and semi-skilled operatives by 7.1 per cent, severe job losses in the construction sector are down to immigrants.

To his credit, he qualifies his view by admitting that, currently, data on the impact of immigration on the labour market are not being gathered but bases his argument on the following.

“In the year ending June 2005, average weekly earnings in banking, insurance and building societies increased by 5.5 per cent. This is compatible with a modest degree of pay drift above the 4.1 per cent basic terms of Sustaining Progress.

However, a new CSO release in December showed that in the year to September 2005, average weekly earnings in the sector were now rising at only 1.7 per cent. What had happened? In the three months from June to September, average weekly earnings decreased by as much as 2.8 per cent.

The Quarterly National Household Survey shows that in the year ending September 2005, foreign nationals accounted for more than 28 per cent of increased employment in the sector. What happened can be explained by the line in the CSO’s background note that “average earnings will, for example, be decreased by staff mobility resulting in the appointment of replacement staff at lower salaries”.”

He also cites CSO figures for September 2005 which show that average hourly earnings of EUR 13.24 in food products represent a fall of 3 per cent on earnings six months earlier and a rate of EUR 12.54 in the office machinery and computers sector represents a fall of 4 per cent since March.

But his main beef is with the construction industry. “We have a steady stream of foreign nationals approaching Siptu’s construction branches to seek enforcement of their rights in respect of pay and conditions.

In September 2005, Mercer Consultants issued a Review of the Construction Federation Operatives Pension Scheme, conducted on behalf of the Pensions Board and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It drew attention to the fact that only 65,000 out of 80,000 construction employees registered with the Revenue Commissioners were included in the pensions scheme. Mercer questioned the real status of another 70,000 operatives classified as “self-employed”….

…The Quarterly National Household Survey tells us that in the year ending the third quarter of 2005, the number of foreign nationals employed in construction doubled and they now constituted a third of the total employment increase in that sector.

Others like former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald have taken a more balanced view (subs required) to the current plight of Irish workers, managing also to dispel some of the wild myths being bandied about the moment, such as the one that over 160,000 East Europeans are working in Ireland.

“Manus O’Riordan does not, however, address the fact that, since our employment market was opened to workers from central and eastern Europe, the unemployment rate has actually fallen, by 4 per cent to 5 per cent. Moreover, this reduced level of unemployment was maintained right up to December, despite a considerable increase in the inflow from new member states during 2005.

So, if there has been significant displacement of Irish workers by immigrants in some sectors, the unemployment data suggest that they must have been re-employed elsewhere. And, in so far as there is a difference in pay rates between Irish and immigrant workers, part at least of this phenomenon could be accounted for by Irish workers moving to better-paid jobs, and being replaced by lower-paid immigrants in their old positions.

It is also important to dispel the belief that there are now more than 160,000 immigrants from new EU countries working here. That figure represents only the number who have at one time or another registered for work here, and there is some evidence that even three months after registration 30 per cent had not in fact taken up employment – in the “white” economy at any rate.

Moreover, many of these immigrants – perhaps a half – work here only temporarily. A large number in sectors such as horticulture and catering are in fact seasonal workers. Consequently, of the 160,000-plus who have registered for work here since April 2004, it is doubtful that more than 65,000-75,000 are currently employed. Such a figure would be broadly consistent with the CSO’s estimates of net immigration, derived from its quarterly national household inquiry.

The scale of the overall increase in employment that has taken place since May 2004 suggests that a high proportion of immigrants may have created new jobs for themselves, rather than replacing upward-moving Irish workers. The increases in employment that took place in the three 12-month periods ended respectively in March-May 2003, 2004 and 2005, were as follows: 30,000, 43,000 and 95,000.

Moreover, the figures for employment increases in the construction sector in these three successive 12-month periods were 9,000, 15,000, and 37,000.

But as employment in private construction firms rose by only 4 per cent between April 2004 and April 2005, many of these immigrants may have gone into business on their own. And if they accepted lower levels of payment for their work, this did not prevent the hourly wages of building workers from rising by almost 8 per cent in that period – although Manus O’Riordan suggests that this figure “totally lacks credibility”.

He backs this view with evidence suggesting that many employees have been improperly reclassified by unscrupulous employers as “self-employed”.

What these data suggest is that after April 2004 the availability of immigrant workers generated some 50,000 jobs that would not otherwise have come into existence. This is a significant once-off boost to our economy, which in many cases must also have benefited consumers considerably by making it possible for them to have work done, eg on house repairs, that would otherwise have been impossible either because of cost, or because of a labour shortage, or both.

Moreover, insofar as many of these workers are in the construction sector, they offer a kind of cushion to Irish building workers, for, if and when the current construction boom ends, much of the brunt of disemployment will be borne by immigrant building workers.

Although there may be a positive as well as negative side to the picture drawn by Manus O’Riordan, his data suggest the urgent need for increased supervision of the construction sector in particular. The persistent failure of the Government to appoint a sufficient number of labour inspectors has been a grave dereliction of duty that the unions have been right to attack.

Its slowness in acting in this matter recalls its failure some years ago to respond in time to a rapid rise in asylum-seekers, which allowed a huge backlog to develop that took years to clear. In any event, we need to face the fact that our capacity to absorb immigrant labour is not infinite. And we need to be vigilant about future trends.

If Bulgaria and Romania – countries with a combined population of 30 million people and living standards almost one-third lower than the poorest northeastern European countries to which we opened our borders 20 months ago – are admitted to the EU next year, the Government should be cautious about extending similar treatment to their populations.

Meanwhile, we need to improve radically our statistical data on immigrants.

The last census in 2002 provided for the first time data, including age, on people who are not Irish nationals. But there is as yet no reliable data whatsoever on the level of employment of non-nationals: the detailed employment data published from the quarterly household inquiry does not distinguish Irish nationals from other nationalities. Filling this lacuna in our employment statistics should now be a high priority.”

This one looks set to run and run, especially if Rabbitte makes it an election issue.

  • GavBelfast

    So just imagine the challenge of incorporating 1.75m ‘Nordies’, perhaps 1 million of them with totally different historical perspective and outlook?


  • barnshee

    you are in the EC sunshine- you got it good for a long time- its payback time– all EU citizens have the right to work here. Get used to it

  • “”But his main beef is with the construction industry. “We have a steady stream of foreign nationals approaching Siptu’s construction branches to seek enforcement of their rights in respect of pay and conditions.””

    The cheek of them there foreigners expecting fair pay and work conditions in one of the richest EU countries!

  • Brian Boru

    No Barnshee you are wrong. Most EU states (12) of the Old EU imposed transitional immigration-controls which they are allowed maintain until 2011 at the latest. Of these, just Finland is likely to remove its controls this year. So when you say this is part of being in the EU, maybe you should tell that to the 12 aforementioned countries (only the UK, Sweden and Ireland decided on an immediate open-door).

    I am delighted with Rabbitte’s recent comments. I hope though that he means it, rather than just flying a kite for electoral gain. I don’t want to find that having voted for him in 2007, he then reneges on commitments in favour of “managed migration” in order to get into bed with FG and Enda Kenny. FG are wildly in favour of open-door immigration. The fatcats that bankrool FF, FG and the PD’s just love all that yummy cheap labour from Eastern Europe, which let’s then drive down labour-standards, wage-rates and ultimately to replace the Irish with. Oh yes.

    But the Irish people have to come first. Irish Ferries replaced 91% of their Irish staff with Latvians who will have to work under Cypriot labour-law because the company used maritime law to reflag/re-register abroad. After 120,000 people took to the streets it agreed to pay the Irish minimum wage but it is doubtful – considering the reflagging – if this will be enforcible or not. It was recently argued by the Government that I.F. was unique due to maritime law.

    However, this is about to change with the EU Services Directive, which contains the “country of origin” principle, allowing companies registered in an EU state to work under the labour and other laws of that EU state throughout all 25 EU member states. To give an example of how this would work: An Estonian company operating in the UK or Ireland could pay the equivalent of 60p an hour, which is the Estonian minimum wage. Don’t like it? They parachute in cheap Eastern European labour more than willing to do the work instead. Admittedly to get the Eastern Europeans to come to Ireland or Britain they would probably pay a little more, but you get the drift. The point is, that Western labour laws would cease to apply for companies registered in Eastern Europe.

    Furthermore, in order to compete cost-wise with these companies, Western companies would re-register in Eastern Europe so as to work under Eastern European labour-laws throughout the EU. Before you know it, Westerners unwilling to work for 1 euro an hour or therabouts will be laid off, replaced with desperate people from Eastern Europe for whom even this is a good wage. The race to the bottom in other words.

    This is totally unacceptable and in itself amounts to another argument for immigration controls. The rate of migration into Ireland is now the highest per head of population in the world. It is the equivalent of 2 million coming into the UK a year. If we really need 50,000 migrants a year, then why not just introduce a Green Card/Work permit system and allocate 50,000, instead of letting theoretically the whole of Eastern Europe and his uncle in? As Rabbitte said, with 40 million Poles we have to look at this.

    Oh and George, it is an unfair caricature to compare what Rabbitte said to the European Far Right. We have to be able to debate this issue without automatically being labelled as “racist”. It is the censorship and silencing of debate on this issue which helped spawn the Far Right in mainland Europe as the publics there felt the so-called mainstream parties were ignoring their concerns, anxious to get bribes from fatcats to bring in cheap labour.

  • martin ingram

    Brian Boru,

    A good post, I feel better informed than before although it is a fluid topic. It does appear that the years of EC subsidy is now over and for the first time in the State`s history it will be a net contributor.

    We can all remember the old Ireland , little infrastructure and no vision. That was a product of the money provided by the EC.


  • Brian Boru

    “It does appear that the years of EC subsidy is now over and for the first time in the State`s history it will be a net contributor.”

    No. It seems that we will continue to be a net-recipient until 2013 after the recent budget-negotiations. I aint complaining 🙂

  • Ben A

    Soon as the UK gets a decent government prepared to say nein/no/nej/non to the EU budget, the better. I for one will be laughing my fat ass off when the road projects slow down.

  • Hot diggity, them thar Europeans shore do have a way with words.

    “eigen volk eerst”
    “Österreich zuerst”
    “les francais d’abord”

    Meanwhile Paddy paddles across the River Banal floating on:

    “pushing down Irish wages”
    “pushing up Irish house prices”
    “threatening our very lifestyle and democratic values”.

    This clearly needs work, otherwise Brussles is gonna flood ya with nastygrams. They might even get medieval on your buttocks.

    My touchie-feelie side yearns for “the menace of the foreign-borne conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

    However, creative retroreflection has led me to the Gaeltacht version:

    “Aithnim Dada”

  • headbangor

    i remember when Pat was one of the “good guys”.

    just goes to show, what power does to you.

    least he hasn’t developed the woeful dress sense of a former LP leader.

    we always used to say “he” never was the same after “that” holiday in Greece.

  • Crataegus

    The aim of the service directive is reasonable, which is to open up service provision in all countries to businesses in other member states. If you are interested go to
    However the parliament’s Internal Market Committee voted in favour of the principle that a firm would be able to operate in a foreign country according to the rules and regulations of its home country – the so-called “country of origin principle”. This raises all sorts of unresolved questions about the role of National Parliaments and democracy and decision making at the European level. The committee’s conservatives and liberals outvoted socialists and greens. However they agreed to exclude gambling, audiovisual and health services.
    In my opinion what is proposed is deeply flawed and open to abuse. If you have open markets you need common standards or there will indeed be a tendency to race to the bottom. But if I were say an Engineer what is there to prevent me operating an office in London or Dublin and subcontracting that work out to anywhere in Europe or the World? The only real bar is language and the foreign workers knowledge of local legislation. You can’t really truly open markets in many sectors if the legislation, language and standards are different. The idea that you pay workers here based on the minimum wage in the country a business is registered in is absurd, carrying the logic further would they pay the levels of tax of the country of registration or the country of work?

    With regards immigration I believe that Ireland did the right thing by opening its borders and as others do the same the pressure here will reduce. At present we need these immigrants and many sectors would cease to function without them. They are an asset to this country and not a liability. They like us are Europeans and should be entitled to be here as of right just as we should have the right to travel to Poland and work or live there.

    Because Bulgaria and Romania have a population of 30 million does not mean that they will all, in mass, get on the train and head for Dublin. The mobile will be the young and better skilled and educated and will be more likely to go to Germany or England. But let us not forget we will be going there and buying up their property and investing our money there. A form of exploitation perhaps?

  • Keith M

    Brian Boru’s post has gone a long way to explaining the coxtext of Rabbitte’s recent calls for modification to our immigration policy, but I would like to add one more for further context. The Irish Labour Party are still a mouthpiece for the trade union movement, when it comes to labour policy. The trade unions pay the Labour Party piper, and therefore call the tune on issues that affect their members.

    Over the last 30 years the percentage of the workforce that are trade union members has been in steady decline. Today the unions are really only a significant factor in the public service and in the bottom end of the private sector (think like supermarkets, bank officials etc). In general the bulk of new jobs created in the past 15 years are not unionised and consequently there have been calls to lessen the role of the unions in negotiating national economic plans.

    With their power fading, you are going to see the unions becoming increasingly hysterical in trying to protect their diminishing empire and using non-nationals as a target which is very sad in a country where unemployment is no longer an issue.

  • George

    I said that he, perhaps unwittingly, was pandering to right-wing racist attitudes and I stand by that.

    He wants to bring back work permits, which are no better than bondage and led to the worst kinds of exploitation by employers of the tens of thousands of East Europeans working here under the scheme prior to May 2004.

    Workers were completely tied to employers and couldn’t move jobs. Sound familiar? It’s called slavery.

    Rabbitte has reacted to the populist fears he thinks are out there rather than reacting to the actual situation. Anything for a vote.

    He could have looked for legislation to ensure all employers in the building industry follow agreements. He could have looked that multi-billion euro public contracts only go to firms that meet set wage standards.

    He could have done lots of things but instead he looked at foreigners as the problem. Us and them politics just like the reactionary radical right.

  • Brian Boru

    “He wants to bring back work permits, which are no better than bondage and led to the worst kinds of exploitation by employers of the tens of thousands of East Europeans working here under the scheme prior to May 2004.”

    That was only because they were in the hands of employers rather than employees. That can easily be remedied by legislation.

    “He could have done lots of things but instead he looked at foreigners as the problem. Us and them politics just like the reactionary radical right. ”

    Like the restrictions imposed by the former SPD government in Germany you mean? Or the restrictions operated by the Spanish Socialist government? Or the ones introduced in Greece by the former Socialist govt? I see.

  • George

    I disagree with their restrictions and think they have made a terrible mistake.

    I have firsthand experience of Germany so I can tell you what’s happening there.

    The main reason they are keeping their borders closed until 2011 is pandering to the populist fears of the “Arbeiterflut aus dem Osten” (worker flood from the east).

    But it’s a simple case of the mountain and Mohammed. The German employers are going east instead.

    Also, there is no restrictions in Germany on minimun wages so the situation with Gama here (which was isolated) happens there all the time and is completely legal.

    German firms fly in thousands people from Portugal to work on major construction projects for 3 euros an hour. They live in containers until the job is done and fly home.

    Closing the door to the east hasn’t helped your average German bricklayer’s chances of getting a job one bit unless he wants to work for 3 euros an hour.

    Is that the type of solution you want?

    Ireland has made the right choice and should ride it out. It shouldn’t listen to people who giving a knee-jerk reaction when they say Irish jobs are at risk because of freedom of movement of European labour.

  • Crataegus

    Part of the problem is we see ourselves in terms of the old nation states instead of as Europeans. I am sure at one time there was consternation about workers from the West coast undercutting wages in Dublin.

    In the past Ireland relied on emigration, and of all people we should know the pain that the mass movement of the young away from home causes and feel compassion.

    It is an opportunity to welcome people who are here to work, build new links and friendships and if some stay well our collective identity becomes slightly different. They are not the villains, the devils are the employers who abuse the system. Many neo liberal economists expound the virtues of the free market but forget that all markets need regulation and standards to ensure fair trading.

    Economic growth in Ireland will eventually slow down and employment opportunity in central Europe will inevitably improve. As this happens there will be less likelihood for immigration to Ireland and indeed at some future date it could be the other way round.

    I agree with George you really don’t want to follow the example of Germany. Perhaps more attention should be given to ensure that migrant workers in Europe are not exploited. One of the bigger problems is not the legal immigrants but the illegal ones, who fall outside any form of protection. Vulnerable people open to all forms of abuse.

  • Brian Boru

    George your point on illegals coming Portugal is not pertinant to this debate. The answer to this is greater measures against illegal-immigration, including carriers-liability (we already have that as the law in the South as do other states) on an EU-wide level to fine carriers for carrying illegals. Biometric ID cards – whether on an EU-wide or national scale – should also be introduced. The police could ask the worker to produce their ID card, which would then be swiped to see if it was genuine or not. If not, then they should be deported straight away and no more of this nonsense with them making appeals and appeals and appeals on “humanitarian grounds” to stay in the courts. PC-judges should get a life.

    What about the rights of native born workers? Westerners are entitled to preserve their living standards from a race to the bottom sparked by an invasion of cheap labour. The CSO figures show a 2.7% growth in wages rather than 4% agreed in Sustaining Progress, and 20% of workers in the construction-industry have been fraudulently designated as “self-employed”, which exempts them from labour-law. Cynical devices like this will only get worse the more we let in. The news today that the Goverment is continuing to award contracts to GAMA confirms my suspicions that they are keen on exploitation to drive down wages and get donations as a reward from corporate-benefactors.

    “It is an opportunity to welcome people who are here to work, build new links and friendships and if some stay well our collective identity becomes slightly different. They are not the villains, the devils are the employers who abuse the system. Many neo liberal economists expound the virtues of the free market but forget that all markets need regulation and standards to ensure fair trading.”

    Crataegus, you are not going to have “friendship” is peopel are losing their jobs to cheap foreign labour. Let some in. But keep it at 40,000 or less. We need to assimilate those who come in, rather than have French-style ghettos and the violence associated with them. And I refuse to move beyond my separate European national identity. You are right that in Europe we tend to think in terms of national identities, but I don’t agree with you that this is a “problem”.

  • Crataegus


    I didn’t expect you to agree about National identities. You have a much stronger attachment to this island than I.

    I feel the main problem with immigration is it is not planned for and often the accommodation etc is not there.

    Immigrants should be paid the going rate here, not the rate of their country of origin. If that happened they would not be undercutting anyone and would simply be additional labour.

    I have a lot of sympathy for immigrants as I have seen some of the places from which they come and until there is greater hope in many parts of the world I cannot see any hope of stemming the flow of illegal immigration. With regards Europeans they are our fellow citizens and I would view them more kindly, remember how Irish were once viewed. No coloureds or Irish!!!

  • Brian Boru

    “I have a lot of sympathy for immigrants as I have seen some of the places from which they come and until there is greater hope in many parts of the world I cannot see any hope of stemming the flow of illegal immigration. With regards Europeans they are our fellow citizens and I would view them more kindly, remember how Irish were once viewed. No coloureds or Irish!!!”

    But I am not saying “no immigrants”. Just control the numbers. That is not racist.

  • George

    Portuguese workers go to Germany legally. They are not illegal immigrants. Portugal has been a member of the EU for over 20 years. They work here too.

    Also, your talk of biometric id and the rest shows you haven’t really given this any thought and instead are jerking the knee. Either that or you are feeling swamped by all these good-looking, better educated immigrants.

    In case you didn’t know, East Europeans are allowed travel within the EU. They are just not allowed work in 12 of the countries.

    Does that stop them from working or stop employers from employing them? Does it f*ck.

    Germany has a huge problem with people working outside the legal economy. It is estimated to cost them nearly 400 billion euros or 16% of GNP.

    400 billion Brian. That is a lot of cash.

    Germany has decided to pander to the populists instead of arguing the economics. It is costing them a fortune in lost revenue. The irony is, that it is the ones who least want these immigrants that are paying the price.

    There is no race to the bottom in Ireland just like there is no race to the bottom in Germany.

    The only difference is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants in Ireland pay taxes and get at least the minimum wage.

    This sustaining progress argument is a complete red herring.

    “20% of workers in the construction-industry have been fraudulently designated as “self-employed”, which exempts them from labour-law.”

    What we need here is legislation to prevent this, not legislation penalising the victim, the immigrant worker. I can tell you that if there was 20% unemployment, they’d be forcing Irish workers to do the same thing. They do this in Germany too by the way even without the East Europeans. The word is “Selbstaendigkeit” and it is done in all areas of employment.

    You really don’t seem to have read the post as the statistics show that these immigrants have created new jobs that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.

    Ireland has full employment, there are thousands of vacancies. Nobody is losing their jobs and if they are, they can go out and get another one.

    As for French-style ghettos. Over 30% of new houses are being bought by immigrants so they are moving in next door, not into ghettos. These are the facts. When the Turks came to Germany they could only move into certain post codes.

    You are scaremongering or you are scared.

    In other words, you are ignorant of the facts or trying to play on other people’s ignorance.

    Which is it?

  • Crataegus


    I agree, immigrants are an asset and there is a shortage of labour in many sectors and we need to protect them and ensure we bring them into the legal labour market. That way lies protection for us all.


    I know you are not racist the difference between you and I is I regard Europe as the country and see us all as Europeans who should have equal rights throughout and you see Ireland as the identity.

    You set a figure of 40,000 but how exactly do you ensure that that limit is not broken, how do you choose who should and should not be included? Do we include those who get married to an Irish National, do we include those from Britain or Irish that have left and return?

    I would be much more worried about the illegal immigrants who really are vulnerable and outside the law and control. There are probably more of them than we realise. That is a problem that could swamp us and really only surfaces when some die out on the mud flats or suffocate in a container or a brothel is raided. Many are leaving their countries for the same reason Irish left Ireland in the 19th century.

    Many of these people are the victims of criminals and I am not sure that any simple measure will stop the flow. Should you deport girls tricked into prostitution? Should you deport people escaping persecution in say Sudan?

    Why on one hand should a Doctor or nurse (much needed in the 3rd World) be OK and a labourer not?

    Really difficult ethical issues but equally Europe cannot have an open door policy. Roll on Turkey!

  • Scotsman

    Panic over? It seems irish Ferries is an exception

    6.2 When does the country of origin principle apply?
    It is important to note that the country of origin principle applies only in the case of cross-border provision of services without establishment in the Member State of destination of the service; for example, a management consultant who travels to another Member State in order to advise a client and then returns home.

    For services provided via an establishment in another Member State, the country of origin principle does not apply and they have to comply with all the relevant rules and regulations in that Member State. Establishment in another Member State means the creation of any fixed infrastructure such as a permanent office or permanent premises e.g. a medical practice, a laboratory, a hospital, an agency, the office of a consulting or engineering firm) through which the economic activity is pursued (Art. 4(5)). It is irrelevant where the registered office or the headquarters of the company are. It is also irrelevant whether the service provider is the owner of this infrastructure, the tenant or just the user. For any service provided via a fixed infrastructure and operated permanently by the provider in a Member State, the service provider is entirely subject to the rules and regulations of that Member State.

    The country of origin principle applies only to services which are provided into another Member State without using any fixed and permanent infrastructure there for the provision of his service. This includes cases where a service provider does not have any infrastructure in another Member State and operates entirely from his home base, but also where a temporary infrastructure is created for the duration of a particular service. Whether service provision is temporary has to be determined not only on the basis of the duration of the service but also according to its regularity, periodicity and continuity.

  • Brian

    You want to protect “Irish” workers; you also refer at some point to “native born workers”. I would be very interested to hear your definition of “Irish”.

    How about the following scenarios:

    1. A is born in Dublin.
    2. B is born in Dublin to an Irish father and a Somalian mother.
    3. C is born in London to Irish parents.
    4. D is born in London to one Irish and one Malawian parent.
    5. E is Ian Paisley.
    6. F is born in Zagreb to an Irish father and a Ukrainian mother. F has been to Ireland once as a baby.
    7. G is born in New York to joint US and Irish citizens whose grandparents left on a boat to Ellis Island in 1920. They went on a coach tour to Ireland in the 1980’s but hated the place as the people smelt bad. They support the IRA.
    8. H is born to Polish parents in Dublin.
    9. I is born to mixed Irish and Fijian parents and comes to Ireland as a young boy. He turns out to be the best hurler of his generation.

    So, who’s Irish? Can you be Irish even if you do not want to be? Do you have to speak English to be Irish? Can you be Irish without having ever been there? Can you be Irish and have a really patronising view of the place, as millions of “Irish Americans” do?

    For what it is worth, all of the people have one thing in common. They are human, and that is all that matters.