Any political party that targets immigration has no right to call itself Irish 2 months ago

Any political party that targets immigration has no right to call itself Irish

This weekend in Ballyfermot, Peader Tóibín launched his new political party: Aontú.

The Meath West TD is most famous for breaking ranks with his former colleagues at Sinn Féin over the issue of abortion, and getting rinsed live on-air by Simon Harris in a televised debate on the matter. Shortly thereafter, Tóibín was suspended from the party for six months, and then quit.

Though Tóibín proved himself to be out of step with the public on that key social matter, he is now seizing the opportunity to make a broader case to the public. Though again, it seems as though controversy is afoot.

The most widely discussed pillar of Aontú's manifesto so far is their call for a "discussion" around sustainable immigration.

"There is no doubt there is a growing unease and concern among many people in Ireland around the issue of immigration," Mr Tóibín told the Irish Times at the weekend.

"There needs to be sustainable levels of immigration in this country, it needs to be managed. There needs to be some link between the capacity of the country and the numbers of people coming in, if there’s not there’s going to be hardship for indigenous and newcomers alike." Aontú have since said that the Irish Times "edited a couple of lines from the overall context of our response."

In some alternate universe, Tóibín's response might have had some grounding. If we lived in an Ireland that doesn't boast roughly 100,000 vacant properties. If we didn't have a government that tries to refuse billions in tax from Apple. If we weren't a country that has produced so many of our own immigrants that our diaspora outnumbers our population 20:1.

Net migration to Ireland was 34,000 last year. Not only that, but just under one-third of migrants to Ireland were Irish people (immigrants) coming back. New York City is home to twice as many people as the Republic of Ireland, in a landmass ten times smaller. We have more than enough room.

Still, Ciara Kelly hosted a discussion on the issue at the earliest opportunity, her midday slot on Newstalk. It came just two hours after the Aontú Twitter account had complained of forces seeking to "shut down and censor respectful debate".

Yet another mysterious case of debates simultaneously being shut down while given a hearing by a nationwide broadcaster. Ivan Yates quickly followed suit. Censorship takes many forms, it seems.

"Suppression of the debate (around the issue of immigration) will not make its necessity less but will push the natural anxiety of some underground to be harvested by less responsible people. Honest concern with regards migration can quickly be transformed into anti-migrant sentiment by unscrupulous politicians and activists," the Aontuú website reads.

It's a disturbing warning. We must allow them to set the terms of the debate, or God knows what might happen next. Unless you appeal to that natural anxiety - what makes fear of immigration a natural anxiety, by the way? - then these poor people can't be held responsible for whatever they do next. Fortunately there's no worrying of suppressing the debate with Newstalk around.

And yet: "Grave wrongs have been committed and lives have been lost when some politicians seek to manipulate anxiety to make political capital from this issue," as per Aontú.

Framing the issue this way — that xenophobic violence is what happens when you don't let the people who want to curb immigration have their say — is so irresponsible as to be sickening. The idea that lives have been lost — Charlottesville? Christchurch? Jo Cox? what lives do they mean? — because those societies didn't give enough of a platform to those who wanted fewer immigrants, is nothing short of scary.

Because the reality is this.

People do not fear immigration for reasons like sustainability and economic anxiety.

If you are truly economically anxious, you would fear the millionaires and billionaires and banks that horde wealth. You would fear a government that cannot build a hospital without mismanaging the project so badly that its price almost triples. You would worry about tech firms setting up on our shores specifically because they know our government wants them using every tax loophole in the book.

You would not fear an immigrant because he comes here to earn €36,000, pays the same tax as everybody else and struggles to find somewhere to live in this landlordocracy.

Fear of immigration is completely irrational. It's the kind of thing that's stoked up by powerful people so that they can hold on to their power while poor people and immigrants scrap it out in the courtyard of the ivory tower.

Anyone who thinks, in a global system where 1% of people can own more than 50% of the world's wealth, that their enemies are on the dole, or are middle-income earning immigrants, needs a reality check and a clip round the ear, not a podium.

Ireland has the resources to provide for those in Direct Provision. We have the resources to house our 10,000 homeless. We have the wherewithal to collect the tax owed to us by multinational corporations. That the government doesn't do these things is a deliberate choice.

By painting immigrants as the burden on resources, rather than addressing how the resources are misused, Aontú are doing what political actors have done for decades: scapegoating immigrants.

And coming from an Irish political party, there could hardly be a higher hypocrisy.