The outburst by the Mayor of Limerick, who called for ‘anybody’ living in Ireland who cannot afford to pay for him/herself to be deported after three months, has highlighted the absence of concern for migrants living in Ireland in the current debates about the recession. While concern has been rightly voiced in relation to people living on welfare and those in low paid jobs, no such concern has been voiced in relation to migrants, many of whom were invited or attracted to Ireland to fill labour market vacancies not filled by Irish workers. Indeed, as the Limerick Mayor insisted, ‘during the good times it was grand but we can’t afford the current situation unless the EU is willing to step in and pay for non-nationals.’
To put migrants back into the recession debate, let’s get some facts straight.
Firstly, workers were the great majority of the various categories of non-EU nationals coming to Ireland in the last decade (about 280,000 work permits were issued from 1998 to 2008), followed by asylum seekers (74,000 applications made from1998 to 2008), students and dependents. Between 2002 and 2006, there were 133,436 people with EU nationalities in Ireland, of whom 103,476 came from the UK, and, after 2004, 120,534 came from the 10 accession EU states.
Secondly, migrant workers make up a high proportion of people signing on the live register. According to the Trinity Immigration Initiative, between October 2007 and 2008, this number increased by over 100% from 21,035 to 44,600 (while the number of Irish nationals signing on increased by 52%). Most recently, the number of migrants from the New Member States signing on, who had the highest employment rate for any migrant group, increased by 200% from 6,542 to 22,285
In addition, in recent months the Homeless Agency noticed a trend of the increasing use of homeless services by non-Irish nationals, usually from the EU Accession states, who are affected by the Habitual Residency Condition, and therefore have worked and contributed PRSI payments for a period of at least two years, and are thus eligible for welfare payments.
What do all these facts and figures tell us? Firstly, if we follow the mayor’s call, we need to begin by deporting British people. But just imagine the outcry if Britain called for the deportation of Irish people who cannot afford to pay for themselves back to Ireland.
Secondly, we need to remember not only the contribution made by migrant workers to the Irish Tiger economy. We need to also remember that they are not just workers, but humans who qualify for the same rights and duties as Irish citizens.
Thirdly, and lest we forget, Ireland is also home to 6,841 asylum seekers whose cases are still pending and who are still living in direct provision holding centres, existing on an allowance of 19.10 euro per week (not raised since it was first introduced in 2001). They are surely the poorest of the poor, whose concerns, and the concerns of the unquantifiable number of undocumented migrants, many of whom became undocumented not by choice, are never raised in the recent discussions.
Irish people should remember that migrants are humans, part of Irish society. Moreover, migrants have children, many of whom were born in Ireland and knowing no other reality. For the sake of these children, if not for their parents, we need to make migrants part of all debates on the current economic crisis.