Editorial – In spite of far-right rhetoric refugees deserve ‘a place of welcome’ here

Norma Smurfit's "Famine" sculpture in Dublin which commemorates victims of the Ireland's famine in the 19th century who were forced to emigrate to survive.

Last week president Michael D. Higgins called on people to remember the history of Ireland. This history involved the forced emigration of millions of ancestors to countries across the world. Having had no other choice left to them, they were unwilling migrants in a world that oftentimes did not want them. They were, essentially, refugees from Ireland. 

Yet, they managed to thrive and their descendants continue to do so in their adopted countries. With this in mind, he highlighted that this is “embedded in our folk memory”. However, he went on to point out that many countries continue to act “with indifference” to the plight of refugees. People fleeing wars and poverty he wrote, are also the target of “dangerous political rhetoric” instigated by the far right and mainstream politicians vying for votes. Instead, he, argued, we should “create a place of welcome” for asylum seekers and refugees who want to come here. 

But what Higgins failed to point out is that Ireland itself is indifferent to the plight of refugees. Or at least the government is. Why else would it place refugees in living conditions that have been condemned by the United Nations (UN)? Direct provision was introduced as an emergency measure over 20 years ago. Yet it still exists, much to the benefit of private companies who make millions out of housing asylum seekers. 

Alongside governmental indifference we also have a collection of far-right talking heads in Ireland who are targeting minorities. Some of them believe in the so-called “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. This pet theory of the far right posits that asylum seekers are being purposely sent to predominately white countries in order undermine the “natural” demographics of their targets. 

To the far right, within the context of the “Great Replacement” theory, asylum seekers are then transformed from asylum seekers into foot soldiers of an invasion force. Irish extremists refer to the arrival of asylum seekers as a form of plantation, harking back to the British plantations of Ireland from 500 years ago. They seek to create an enemy. And enemies, traditionally, are fought. 

With elections on the way the far right will become even more vocal and extreme in their pronouncements. In the last week we’ve had one candidate in the upcoming elections tell the EU Parliament that Ireland and the EU need to be rescued from “totalitarian liberals” and “jihadi Islamists the Zionist elite have imported”. When the time comes, he said, this would be Ireland’s “final battle”. Only the true faith of Christianity will save Europe and Ireland. He finished by declaring:

In this holy crusade, I pledge my life.

Although this is just one example, more is to come. The likes of the above comments cannot go unchallenged. It’s clear what can happen when the rhetoric of war and crusades is aimed at minorities, especially those who come from the Middle East and Africa. 

So far all of Higgins’ words, much work has to be done in creating an Ireland deserving of asylum seekers and refugees in the first place. We must ensure that the far right doesn’t get anywhere near power. And, probably more importantly, we must not allow the government to kowtow to the demands of independent TDs who have decided to vie for the far-right vote.

These are small but important steps. And they are steps that will make Ireland a more welcoming and inclusive country. It can be a country for everyone who wants to call it home and not just those who happen to be white and Christian. This is the best way to honour the memory of our predecessors. Where they were once forced to take refuge we can now offer it to others. To this, we are duty-bound by our history and our shared humanity. 

Featured image via Flickr – William Murphy