Arrivals – the continuing story of immigration

This morning I was standing in the arrivals hall in Dublin airport, waiting for a friend who is visiting from the United States. It was the usual Dublin airport experience – big crowds, lots of commotion, a sense of excitement and occasionally of tension. My visitor’s flight was slightly delayed, and so I passed the time watching my fellow arrivals-waiters; and suddenly I realised that, at least where I was standing, almost nobody around me was speaking English (or Irish). Right next to me was a young Polish family, and next to them again what I think were Latvians; on my other side, two young Czech men, and then a young couple who were possibly Rumanians. And then another young family emerged from the customs hall, and my Polish neighbours greeted them with great excitement, with a loud ‘Céad Mile Fáilte!’ (Irish for ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’).

We have come a long way in Ireland. A long way from when my German family, with its part Polish roots, was something very very exotic in 1960s Mullingar. Now we have people from every part of the world, and we can experience their view of us and of themselves and their cultural perspective. And this has helped to turn Ireland into a citizen of the world, with on the whole an open and tolerant outlook. Not only that, the prosperity of recent years would have long evaporated without this migration, as companies would have ceased to invest in Ireland because of our rather small available labour force.

There has been some speculation that, with more challenging economic times, immigration would decrease or even cease and migrants would return home. Of course some will, whatever the economic climate. But many won’t, and on today’s rather anecdotal evidence, backed up by some statistics released this week, we will continue to have immigration, and we will continue to need it.

Most countries that have experienced sudden surges of immigration have also experienced various social problems – but so far, on the whole, that has not happened here. The cancer of racism, while not totally absent, has not been widespread, and equally we have done reasonably well integrating immigrant communities (though not always, as some of the school admissions stories told us last year).

But this is now one of the vital national priorities – to ensure that manageable levels of immigration continue so that we remain a viable location for foreign direct investment; and to ensure that we provide a viable social and cultural home for the migrants, and a welcoming indigenous community that does not fear that either its economic prospects or its culture are being excessively corroded. None of this is easy, but there are few things more important for us if we are to prosper in the times ahead.

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2 Comments on “Arrivals – the continuing story of immigration”

  1. MBM Says:

    I disagree with the sentiment that Ireland is now “a citizen of the world” thanks to immigration. The mere physical presence of a lot of recent immigrants doesn’t make a place cosmopolitan. It’ll take one or two generations for the novelty to sink in.

  2. MBM Says:

    Sorry for the nit-pick but ‘céad míle fáilte’ should be spelled with an acute accent on the ‘i’ in ‘míle’.

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