Attitudes To Emigration

By: Liam O'Ruairc
One of the most visible signs of the 'new Northern Ireland' has been the immigration instead of the traditional emigration. It is estimated 35,000 people belonging to ethnic minorities have settled in the North and there are another 50,000 migrant workers.

Their number has recently trebled. According to the Department of Social Development, 5826 national insurance numbers were issued to immigrants in the year 2004/2005, while a total of 15 614 were issued in the following year 2005/2006. (1)

The majority of those new immigrants come from the new EU states, Poland in particular. A majority of them tend to work in the manual and service sectors, while only a small proportion work in professional sectors. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions reported that migrant workers experienced widespread racism, sectarianism and exploitation in terms of pay and working conditions. (2)

Parallel to this wave of immigration, has been the increasing number of racist attacks. Racist incidents have rocketed during the peace process: from 41 in 1996 to 936 in 2006. (3) Because of this, "Northern Ireland has been dubbed the race hate capital of Europe". (4)

A study carried out by Vani Borooah, professor of applied economics at the University of Ulster, and John Mangan, professor of economics at the University of Queensland for the economics journal Kyklos confirms that Northern Ireland is the hate capital of the western world. Not only does Northern Ireland have the highest proportion of bigots, but the bigots are on average more bigoted than those in other countries.

Nearly 32,000 people in 19 European countries as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US took part in the human beliefs and values survey. They were asked: Would you like to have persons from this group as your neighbours? The five groups were people of another race, immigrants or foreign workers, Muslims, Jews and homosexuals.

In Northern Ireland 44% of the 1,000 respondents did not want persons from at least one of the five groups as their neighbours. As regards each of the five groups, the percentage of respondents in Northern Ireland who would not like them as neighbours was homosexuals (35.9%), immigrants or foreign workers (18.9%), Muslims (16%), Jews (11.6%) and people of a different race (11.1%). For the same groups, the average of all the countries surveyed was respectively 19.6%, 10.1%, 14.5%, 9.5% and 8.5%. (5)

According to the 2005 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, Protestants were found to be more likely to be racist and xenophobic than Catholics. (6)

The German magazine Der Spiegel (28 February 2005) branded Belfast the most racist city in the world and blamed loyalists for that fact. (7)It is estimated that loyalist death squads are behind 90 percent of hate crime. (8)

The reason for this goes deeper than the fact that sections of Loyalism have had relationships with fascist groups in Britain over the last three decades; it is that intolerance is intrinsic to Unionism: "It is a political position which is circumscribed by the very foundation of the Northern Ireland state. When Ireland was partitioned, northern unionists abandoned their fellows in three counties of historic Ulster (Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal) and went for self-government of six counties on the grounds that they could continue to maintain a majority over nationalists in six counties much easier than in nine.

As a result, there is a strong strain in Unionism which encourages protectionism, conservatism, narrowness of vision and opposition to anything which may threaten its need to be in the majority. Traditionally, the threat to majority has been seen to come from the nationalist community. But it is a small step to extend one's attention to any new 'threats', including those from the minority ethnic community. Thus those unionists of Craigavon who oppose the mosque have not suddenly discovered a streak of intolerance which was not there before; they have been intolerant of nationalists for generations.

And the loyalists of the Village have likewise in the past shown their intolerance towards Catholics in their midst; it is not a major step to apply the same principles and tactics to others who move into the area. While PUP condemns fellow loyalists who act in this way, just as Ulster Unionist Party chief David Trimble has condemned the councillors of his own party who have opposed the building of a mosque, intolerance within Unionism is a legacy which has not been overcome by recent peace moves, modernisation or realpolitik." (9)

Despite an official ideology of anti-racism, the state is often content to ignore the issue: "This was emblemised by the apotheosis of the late George Best -who had infamously suggested that 'Pele wasn't bad for a nigger' and confirmed his attitudes to race when he suggested of Andy Cole that '£7 million was a lot to pay for a nigger'. It is ironic, therefore, that murals of Best have become the acceptable face of 'post-conflict' loyalist Belfast and that the Government makes a point of emphasising its support for migrant workers rights in George Best Belfast City Airport. The disavowal of Best's racism says something profound about the priorities of government and community in terms of race -certainly it would seem impossible that Ron Atkinson -himself disgraced for a singular use of the term 'nigger' - would be featured on a £5 note or lending his name to an airport." (10)

(1) Kate Chambre, Immigrant workers keen to pay their way, The Newsletter, 31 July 2007
(2) NI migrant workers 'exploited', BBC 18 December 2006
(3) Suzanne Breen, Has peace made us the race hate capital of the world? Sunday Tribune 2 July 2006
(4) Angelique Chrisafis, Racist war of the loyalist street gangs, The Guardian 10 January 2004
(5) Kathryn Torney, Northern Ireland: hate capital of western world, Belfast Telegraph, 7 February 2007
(6) Mark Oliver, Ulster justice system 'institutionally racist', The Guardian 26 June 2006
(7) Debra Douglas, Mag brands Belfast most racist city: Der Spiegel lays blame on Loyalists, Belfast Telegraph, 2 March 2005
(8) Henry McDonald, Loyalists linked to 90 per cent of race crime, The Observer 22 October 2006
(9) Bill Rolston, Legacy of intolerance: racism and Unionism in South Belfast,
(10) Robbie McVeigh, Has Peace made us the Race hate Capital of the World? in What to do about racism and the exploitation of migrants? Supplement to Fortnight, March 2007

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