Very few people are out canvassing for less British people to be allowed into the country, pointing to the Brits for stealing our jobs and marrying our women, or arguing that the Brits are coming over here for the express purpose to go on the dole. These people, of course, are wrong. The British are a considerable drain on the Irish population. There are 100,000 UK citizens in Ireland. In fact, of all Irish immigrants, UK citizens make up about 20%. 3.2% of our social welfare spending goes to UK citizens. About 8000 UK citizens are on Jobseeker’s benefit. Who knows what Brexit will bring? Probably more Brits, grubbing for our tax money. Next they’ll be teaching our children God Save The Queen and selling coffee bags in Lidl. These people feel so entitled to Irish resources they’ll bring their families here and consider themselves worthy of state assistance, despite never integrating properly, instead continuing watch British sports and congregating together. These people have the gall to declare themselves Irish.
My father is fond of telling people that we’re economic migrants. He’s right, of course. He emigrated here from Yorkshire when I was four, working in IT, and has worked here ever since. We came here in search of a better life. The ‘economic migrant’ line makes people laugh, though because, let’s all honest with each other, nobody thinks of a white english-speaker as an economic migrant. But, as my father would point out, it’s true. That’s what we are. Oddly enough, though, he’s not the target of much racism or anti-immigrant sentiment. Most of it directed at Eastern-Europeans or Africans. My mother is from the Philippines; people would not laugh if she said the same thing.
Because, many will argue, the Eastern Europeans and Africans are attracted here by benefits, less likely to contribute. Well, here are some numbers I’ve trawled from the CSO and welfare.ie, to save you the bother. About 12% of the population is non-Irish nationals. 2.57% of the overall population are Polish, 1.1% are Muslim, 1.06% are Black. In December 2017, 87% of recipients of social welfare were Irish nationals, leaving a whopping 1% discrepancy between immigrant population and social welfare spending on immigrants. If you care to do the division (which is, really, not a great way to spend your afternoon off, let me tell you), you’ll that the amount of non-Irish in the welfare system appear in proportional to their numbers in the population. The amount of homeless people in Ireland present in a similar way. This all, of course, makes the Brits one of the largest draws on social welfare spending. Yet, strangely, it’s not the Brits that get any of the flak for being a drain on the system. On what basis?
I’ve been here since the beginning of primary school, got a B2 in Irish and worked several jobs. I speak with an Irish accent, and my ethnicity isn’t easy for anyone to guess; I just about scrape the requirements for full, unquestioned acceptance in Irish society. I’m acutely aware that if I spoke with a slightly different accent, or looked a little more distinctive, things would be very different for me. As it is, I don’t seem to fit anyone’s image of an ‘immigrant’. People will look me in the face and tell me in a low voice that they’re not racist but they just think our country shouldn’t be so codling to foreigners when we can’t even look after our own. It won’t even occur to them that they’re talking about me and my family.
That’s the paradox, though. When people are talking about “foreigners”, they are not talking about people like my father. Even if they were, they wouldn’t be talking about any significant drain on resources. Very, very few people would have a problem with me going on the dole or being admitted into hospital on account of my nationality. Anti-immigrant sentiment in Ireland is not based in nationality alone. It’s about thinking brown people or people with weird accents do not, and cannot, belong here. It is the idea that those people are lesser than white or “normal sounding” people, and must be held to high standards to prove themselves acceptable and palatable. They come from lesser societies, and must be shown to have abandoned their harmful foreign ways before they are considered to be deserving of the privilege of being Irish. Of course, people like me, who have proven ourselves to have a bit of good breeding, are off the hook.
Are people (or, at least, the Irish people) inherently racist? I’d like to think not. In fact, as someone who looks and sounds a little funky, people have never expressed anything but curiosity about me. People are not programmed to be suspicious of the idea of anyone foreign. Is it based on experience? Very likely not. The amounts of non-Irish nationals here are low, and relatively scattered. The majority of vocal naysayers have likely met very few actual immigrants in their life, or at the very least, know less than ten.
Yet, as any browse through the comments of any newspaper article will tell you, people are suspicious of certain non-nationals here. At the moment, a 9-year-old boy born in Ireland, Eric Zhi Ying Xue, is facing deportation to a country to which he is not a citizen. 14-year-old Nonso Muojeke was granted leave to remain after 12 years of living here (after having his deportation order become the centre of a controversy). These issues are seen as ambiguous; they are being debated right now. Fewer would see any ambiguity in my application for citizenship, thanks to a white, English-speaking heritage. Fewer still for my friends and peers with two white parents; nobody can tell at first glance whether or not they’re Irish, so it would obviously be considered wrong to deny them their nationality. There is little difference between all of us. I might even go far as to say there is little difference between me and another Irish person, too. Almost as though we were all people, deserving of equal treatment and dignity in the eyes of the state. Imagine that. But in the eyes of many of the Irish people, our races set us apart from each other without room for overlap or ambiguity.
Irish people believe in a “greedy immigrant” that doesn’t exist. There are not many of us and we cost no more than anybody else. There’s a strong and colourful image of an Ireland being invaded by all manner of reprobates and criminals, all of them with the intent of over-powering and over-exploiting the country. Interestingly, in this image, none of them are white English-speakers. Why is it that? Perhaps the pervasive influences of American and British media, where concerns about diversity, invasion, and “mixing pot” culture leak into the Irish mind without basis. Perhaps the many xenophobic fears that drove Brexit have penetrated their way over to Ireland. Now that’s something the Brits shouldn’t be bringing here.
Hate movements have always had difficulty gaining traction in Ireland, where people are as adverse to change and extremism as they are to explicit rudeness. Much of our racism comes in the form of what I’d like to call “Irish Nana Racism”, where all Asians are suspicious until your local shop employs a very lovely girl from South Asia who helped you with your bags, God bless her. I’m not saying those attitudes aren’t harmful; trust me, even half-baked, ingenuine racism has terrible consequences on the lives on those it affects, but I would like to optimistically believe in an Ireland that is inclined to be accepting, to be curious but not judgemental of what it doesn’t recognise, and to be open to broad definitions of who is Irish. I’d like to hope that if Ireland’s stereotypes and poor representation and trashy newspapers laid off, many more Irish people would have the privilege of being considered Irish without question. After all, I have no choice but to hope for it. It could easily be my neck on the line.