Immigrants Should be Welcomed to Ireland

Immigrants Should be Welcomed to Ireland – by Ciarán Cuffe, Evening Herald 28th March 2001.

‘Rivers of blood’ were the words used by the late Enoch Powell back in 1968 to describe a feared wave of immigration into England. Thankfully times have moved on, and while many are still concerned at the recent rise in immigration, there is little doubt that immigration have been a positive force within Ireland over recent years. From Salsa dancing classes to pizza take-aways, we should be grateful for the diversity that immigrants have brought to Irish life. However there are concerns over accommodating the increasing numbers of people who are arriving in Ireland.

Immigration is a reflection of our economic boom, and just as thousands left during the recession of the 1980’s, the recent arrivals are testimony to the recent strength of the Irish economy. Many new immigrants are working in the construction sector. The National Development Plan identified Ireland’s infra-structural needs and many workers are required to make up the shortfall in labour needs. They are helping to tackle the housing crisis and provide the rail lines and road improvements that are required.

Inner City communities which witnessed the apartment boom of the 1990’s ask whether new residents from abroad will threaten or contribute to the life of their communities. Much depends on Government policy. In the absence of strong policies for deciding where growth is to place, it is left up to market forces to decide. Given that most of the jobs created over the last few years have been in urban areas, it is inevitable that immigrants will flock to our larger towns and cities seeking work. This can put pressure on local authority housing lists in urban areas. The Eastern region in particular which includes Dublin and its ‘commuterland’ accounted for 49% of the new jobs created over the last five years. It is important that we spread the effects of our economic success on to our smaller towns and villages, and to rural areas.

Currently a National Spatial Strategy is being prepared by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. This document will be published next year, and shall spell out where future growth is to be located. It may well identify towns such as Athlone and Tralee as urban growth centres for new development. Many of our recent arrivals such as architects from South Africa may well end up designing or building these new developments. People who have recently arrived in Ireland are generally prepared to share accommodation, and make the most of accommodation that is made available. People are concerned that new arrivals will add to the housing crisis, but they may well be contributing to the solution. What is clear, is that we must plan ahead for this wave of immigration. The use of holiday camps and floating ‘hotels’ for accommodation reflects a muddled and unplanned approach to the immigration challenge.

Ireland is becoming increasingly urbanised. It is important that we avoid housing solutions of low density that leave recent arrivals far away from their jobs and friends. What is needed is ‘smart growth’ not suburban sprawl. This means providing vibrant mixed-use communities linked by high quality public transport. Buildings such as Crampton Buildings in Dublin’s Temple Bar show how people of all ages and backgrounds can be housed successfully at high densities. We must also re-use old industrial land such as in Dublin’s Docklands to make new neighbourhoods. Existing residents have campaigned to ensure that new housing developments contain social and affordable housing. There is no reason why many of those who have come Ireland in recent times should not be offered the opportunity of living side-by-side with people who have lived here all their lives. ENDS

Evening Herald 28th March 2001, this webpage published 10th january 2018