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29/12/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole

Sunday Read: Challenging the Far Right with the facts

In the last Sunday Read of 2019, we will look to dispel some of the myths surrounding immigration and the spread of fake news. The distortion of facts is no longer confined to extremist social media outlets. They are being brought into parliament.

For example, Noel Grealish hit the headlines recently claimed that billions of euros were being remitted from Ireland to Nigeria, implying that it could be the result of fraud or criminal activity. He deliberately ignored official data from the CSO (which the Government had supplied to him) showing remittance levels to be a fraction of his claim. Only a few weeks earlier he described Africans as ‘’spongers’.

Far-right and anti-immigrant groups are constantly distorting information on immigration in pursuit of their dismal agenda. For instance, they claim Ireland is being ‘flooded’ with immigrants.

It is true we have a high level of non-nationals living in Ireland. But what they don’t tell you is that over 20% come from the UK (including people from Northern Ireland) and other English-speaking countries. And many of these would be sons and daughters of Irish emigrants and working side by side with SIPTU members in our health service.

Of course, when the far Right talks about ‘immigrants’ and ‘foreigners’ they are referring to people from outside the EU and the US: Asians, Africans, South Americans and people from the Middle East. There are relatively few from these national groups living here in Ireland.

People from these regions make up only 2 % of the population. As for Africans – the target of Grealish’s vitriol – they make up only a fraction of the total population. And people from the Middle East, the target of Islamophobia, makes up even less. Another far Right claim is that immigrants come here to ‘live off the state’. This doesn’t hold up either.

In Ireland, unemployment among non-citizens is almost the same as the rate among citizens. In the EU the situation is much different, with non-citizens unemployment much higher. It should be pointed out that over recent years many EU countries (e.g. Germany, Sweden) welcomed a large number of people fleeing wars and deprivation.

It will take time to integrate these people into the domestic labour market. But the fact is that we have one of the best records of integrating non-nationals into our labour market. People don’t come here to sponge – they come here to work and make a better life for themselves. And in the process they help grow the economy which helps all of us.

One more trope of the Far Right is that we are being overrun with asylum-seekers or, as some would have it, ‘bogus’ asylum-seekers. Again, this is nonsense.

During the three years of the European migration crisis, 2015 to 2017, Ireland received 8,400 asylum applications. To put this in perspective, if asylum applications were at the EU average, we would proportionately have received nearly five times as many applications.

And while some argue we have a lax asylum regime, 61% of asylum applications are rejected, compared to an EU average of 45%.

All the claims of the Far Right and their allies collapse when we look at the reality. There are, however, many who get taken in by the claims and not because they are racist or anti-immigrant. Many are confused, hurting, looking for answers. Progressives must engage with this constituency with empathy, pointing out the reality and providing a better alternative for them, their families and their communities.

The Far Right – through its extremism and manipulation of facts – is trying to poison the immigration debate in order to polarise positions. In reality, they don’t want an informed debate on immigration. They want a shouting match. They hope, in this atmosphere, to make gains. We shouldn’t allow them that oxygen. We should challenge them at every turn.

And engage in an inclusive dialogue throughout society that can win people over to a positive message – about the economic, social and cultural benefits of immigration and the immigrants themselves.

Thank you for sharing our message online throughout 2019, for all the positive feedback, downloads and recommendations. Happy New Year. See you in 2020.

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