By David Raleigh
President Michael D Higgins has said Ireland must not treat migrants the same way it has treated members of the Travelling community.
The President, who has sought a second concurrent term in the Áras, gave a keynote speech at the launch of a four-year migrant integration plan by Limerick City and County Council today.
Mr Higgins did not speak to journalists, despite requests from reporters for an opportunity to ask him questions prior to and after the event.
After his speech, Mr Higgins spent nearly half an hour posing for selfies and photographs with attendees.
It is understood he will speak to the media when he is expected to return to the Treaty City next month to officially canvas for votes.
In a prepared speech, President Higgins highlighted how Irish society should make efforts to “understand and accept the complexity of (different) identity”, by reflecting on its own history of mass migration, including the Great Famine; the Flight of the Wild Geese; and more recent periods.
“We need to be ready to cast our memory back to our own ancestors and relatives, to consider how they were treated on arrival in their new homes,” he said.
“Even more, how we would have wished their experience had been when encountering the other.”
“In doing so, we should be able to reconsider our own (integration) approaches, so that we don’t repeat the mistakes that were made elsewhere at any time.”
Skilled migrants, he said have a “value and (a) contribution” to make to Ireland.
Mr Higgins recalled working in a hotel in England in the 1960s, when racism was widespread against the Irish and the Black communities: “I was writing my first letter to a newspaper, The London Evening Standard, (after) someone had (said they) wanted to send all the Irish home; and the owner of the hotel where I was working for the summer, said (to me), ‘we would like you not to put the address of the hotel in your correspondence’”.
He added: “We’ve made mistakes…in the past. I think, particularly, in relation to the Travelling community, where, in fact, we hadn’t, in fact, understood when we had a standard (and) often inflexible housing legislation, which was not capable of taking into account the complexity, of difference, and of needs.”
“In the 20 years from 1996-2016 Limerick’s population has grown by almost a fifth, by 18%, and some of this group can be attributed to migration,” he said.
“Today, people born outside Ireland count for just under ten per cent of the population of Limerick city and county.”
[quote]People have come from afar, and they are making a contribution to Irish life and society.[/quote]
Eugene Quinn, National Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland and Chairperson of the Limerick Integration Working Group, said he was “worried” that “anti-immigrant rhetoric is finding political traction in the US, in Europe, in Poland, Hungary and Austria, and recently, even in a progressive and open State like Sweden.”
“This is dangerous and it is wrong, and we must fight it,” he said.