The Smug Racist Republic versus Globalising Elite…

This is the third time I have felt compelled to respond to a speech or Opinion Piece by my friend Andy Pollak whom I hold in the highest regard despite disagreeing with him so fundamentally on several issues.

On the first occasion, I took issue with his assertion that The South is not ready for re-unification on the basis that it must become much more like Britain to satisfy unionist concerns, arguing that unionists won’t vote for a united Ireland regardless what concessions are made by nationalism, short of Ireland re-joining the UK. That simply isn’t going to happen.

On the second occasion, I took issue with his assertion that the southern media is almost entirely ignorant of the north and argued that southern people probably know as much about Derry as they know about Donegal, and more about the goings on (or lack of) in the Northern Ireland Assembly than they know about legislation currently passing through Seanad Éireann.

And now Andy has weighed in on how the Refugee crisis reveals the racism in the smug republic… which has led to accusations that he is simply venting his unionist bile against all things Irish.

It is beginning to feel as if I am man-marking him, but in fairness he raises important issues which require elucidation and discussion rather than abuse. And fair dues to Andy for having the courage to present his views on this forum where he is unlikely to get a sympathetic response. And indeed, the response has been extensive and often vituperative.

But I think that response has also been mistaken.

As so often in Northern Ireland, complex issues get dragged through a Green/Orange prism where many of the genuine issues are missed. So I responded as follows with a comment soon lost in the maelstrom of reaction, which I think needs to be considered further:

I think ascribing Andy Pollak’s views to unionist hatred of Ireland is well wide of the mark. Andy hasn’t lived in Dublin for decades because he hates the place. I’m sure he would be even more critical of British immigration policies if that was the point of the OP.

There is a strain of liberal thinking which believes almost all state controls on freedom of movement are morally wrong. It is a form of belief in a laissez-faire global capitalism where everyone should have an equal opportunity of making a life wherever they choose.

John Lennon wrote a song about it in: “Imagine there’s no countries”. It’s a beautiful and idealistic vision.

The EU’s freedom of movement rules are about as close to it as you can get to it in international relations, and was the main reason the UK left the Single Market as well as the EU as you cannot be in the Single Market without supporting the “four freedoms” of movement of goods, capital, services and people.

But virtually everywhere else you will find Draconian restrictions on freedom of movement and especially so in “non white” countries.

That is why I think his criticism of Ireland is so unfair. We actually have quite a liberal immigration regime compared to most countries which is partly why we have transformed so quickly from a largely mono-ethnic country into a country with a larger proportion of non-native born people (17%) than almost anywhere else. Far greater that some countries with large overtly racist parties or xenophobic policies (for example the equivalent figure for the UK is 13%).

I cannot think of any other country in the world which has transformed itself so quickly, with relatively few internal tensions, internal cohesion largely intact, and maintained a generally humanitarian attitude towards our neighbours in Europe.

I think the policy Andy espouses puts all that positive progress at risk. There is a limit to the amount of change small rural or deprived urban communities can absorb and it is all to easy for well heeled urbane professionals to tut tut at those far more dependent on stretched public services than they.

If there is smugness, it is on the part of elites who can afford private housing, healthcare and education and whose livelihoods are unthreatened by workers coming in from abroad.

Global capitalism thrives on forcing workers to compete against each other, and the more international rivalry the better. Sometimes that gets out of control and wars or border disputes break out. And then capitalist elites and liberals distain the ignorance of the “deplorables” who cling to their guns and religion or local customs and networks and deride them as racists and luddites and losers.

But it is not Andy’s identification with the unionist community that is the problem here. It is his identification with an international elite well represented in Irish liberal circles who have done very well out of globalisation.

The costs, on the other hand, are borne by those dependent on services from a state that has grown too rapidly to be able to provide for their needs. The scapegoats, as ever, are the most vulnerable in society, decried for being racists when many have already shared what little they have.

It has to stop.

In another lengthy comment I gave my take on what is really happening:

The author concludes that the reason Ukrainians are accepted in large numbers is that they are white. Could it not also be because Ukraine has been accepted as an EU membership candidate country and that the right to travel within the EU flows naturally from this?

Could it not also be that Ukraine is currently fighting an existential battle with an imperialist Russia that threatens much of Europe – Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and even Poland? Basically, Ukrainians are fighting Russia on behalf of Europe and dying in large numbers doing so. The least we could do is take in their refugees if we are not going to help with the war effort itself.

Also, the tacit understanding is that the Ukrainians will return to Ukraine once the war is over and the economy recovers. That could take a few years, but it is not forever. Huge numbers of Poles came here when Poland first joined the EU. Many are now returning as the Polish economy is now thriving. In the meantime, they contributed a lot to Ireland, and the hope is the Ukrainians will do the same.

All of which is not to say migrants from non-European countries shouldn’t also be allowed to settle here. Many do. But it is the sovereign right of the Irish state to decide who, how many, and based on what criteria. Border control is one of the most basic functions of any sovereign state and very few allow unhindered migration.

We restrict numbers immigrating from many countries around the world. Apparently, it is only racism when it applies to black or brown people. Only “white” people (whatever that means) can be racist. Something to do with white guilt, perhaps.

But most countries around the world would laugh at the suggestion they are not allowed to restrict entry based on whatever criteria they choose in their own national interest. Many only want skilled professionals, technologists, or craftspeople who can add a lot of value to their economies and don’t compete with local talent too much – and then only if there is a skills shortage. Many only allow immigration to avail of cheap labour or for specified periods or with local employer approval.

Calling Ireland smug and racist for doing the same is a cheap shot. If so, practically the whole world is racist for discriminating against outsiders in favour of their local citizens. It is hardly strange that governments should favour those who elected them and allow immigrants primarily only if they can add value locals can’t or won’t. What is the point of the nation state if it doesn’t do so? And nation states show no sign of disappearing.

My concern is that Andy’s politics are in danger of igniting a similar divide in Irish politics as we have seen in Trump vs. Hillary Clinton in the USA or Leavers versus Remainers in the UK.

If you demonise already marginalised small rural or deprived urban communities for reacting against large, unplanned, and under-resourced influxes of foreigners when they are already waiting years on public housing and healthcare waiting lists, lack public transport links or adequate resources in disadvantaged schools, you are going to drive them into the arms of the far right in Ireland.

Thankfully the far right have so far enjoyed miniscule support in Ireland, generally receiving less than 1 or 2% in elections to date. Political parties which sought to exploit a so called “silent conservative majority” in the country – the Progressive Democrats, Renua, and Aontú – have either bombed or remained marginal.

We do not yet have the large and growing far right parties increasingly common throughout the world – Trump’s Republicans, Johnson’s Conservatives, UKIP and the Brexit Party in the UK or Vox in Spain. The Front Nationale/National Rally, in France, the Alternative for Germany, the Dutch Forum for Democracy, the Freedom Party of Austria, the Italian Northern League, the Bulgarian Attack, and the Hungarian Jobbik have all cultivated relations or signed formal cooperation agreements with the Russian government.

The EU is the main bulwark we have against a re-emergence of fascism in Europe, and it is no coincidence that many leading Brexiteers came from a far right background and sought to destroy the EU, comparing it to the Soviet Union or Third Reich. Their attempt to import those divisions into Ireland should be resisted at all costs.

One of the things that I love about Ireland is that, for all the transformative changes in recent years, we still have relatively high levels of social engagement and cohesion. People generally know their local TD and relations between opposing parties are generally cordial. Attendances at anti-immigrant, anti-vaxxing, anti-EU rallies have been minimal, and attempts by Nigel Farage to build links with the Irish far right by comparing our EU membership with our experience under British colonialism have been treated with hilarity and derision.

But you can create a lot of noise on social media with relatively few activists. Andy Pollak is onto a good thing when he lambasts the Irish political establishment, the Irish mainstream media, and the Irish people more generally about their ignorance of the north. Just as paper never refused ink, criticising the ignorance of the masses on social media is going to find a ready and receptive audience. Criticising people for being smug and racist plays well with globalising liberal elites.

But casting Andy as an embittered unionist who hates all things Irish is well wide of the mark. He is as patriotic as any and proud of much of what Ireland has achieved. It is a mark of a mature democracy that we can have impassioned and animated debates on the issues of the day, and I couldn’t disagree more passionately with him on the need to avoid labelling those opposed to unplanned and ill-prepared mass immigration into local communities as racists.

And the smugness comes mainly from those who can virtue signal about immigrants at little cost to themselves.

We should address the issues arising out of mass immigration and inadequate public housing, healthcare, and transport services as the national emergencies they truly are. If you want to point the finger of blame it should not be pointed at the often poorer and marginalised rural and urban communities who are bearing the brunt of the problems arising.

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