The RTÉ Investigates report on Prime Time last Thursday about crowded apartment rentals was depressing. How many Irish parents worry about their children backpacking in Asia or on a J1 in America or on work experience in New Zealand and Australia? In most cases they’re having a ball, but still we worry. Are they looking after themselves? Are they being treated with respect where they work? Is accommodation alright?
These are in the main, countries we consider “first world”, modern and welcoming, just as we are seen as “the land of a thousand welcomes”. But are we? Outside of direct provision centres, the integration of migrants from eastern Europe and beyond has been relatively seamless over the past twenty years. We don’ have ghettos unlike other countries such as England, France and Belgium. Still, that Prime Time programme projected an outdated ignorant attitude which pertains towards non-nationals. While not the main point of the report, it wasn’t difficult to ascertain that in exploiting mainly foreigners by offering such accommodation, there is an attitude towards outsiders which is offensive and outdated.
Thousands of Irish students travel abroad each year for work and get the experience of living in a foreign country. And while there are sure to be tales of being discriminated against and of being treated shabbily, it doesn’t make it acceptable here in this day and age. In the main, young Irish farmers for example will have fond memories of working on farms down under. Isn’t that the experience we would like others to have in our country?
My son, Patrick’s best friends are all sons of foreign nationals from Africa, eastern Europe and Asia. They’re Irish like the rest of us, but Patrick has such a wonderful insight into their cultures learned from their parents which is in itself a great education. When I watched the Ulster final with him and his friend Sultan and the match was in the balance and I was jumping around like a hen on a hot griddle, Patrick turns to Sultan and says: “Will you have a word there with Allah?” pointing sympathetically at his Dad. And Sultan replies winking to Patrick: “Allah says Cavan is going to win!” And they laughed as I prayed to God for a miracle.
We seem fascinated and excited when we discover that an American president has Irish connections. Remember that only happens because the likes of Joe Biden’s ancestors had no choice but to leave Ireland for a better life in a faraway land. The same applies to the many non-Irish who have come here for a better life. Only that when they get here, they’re treated like second-class citizens by being expected to share a small bedroom with bunk beds and forced to drape towels to protect their dignity.
We’ll go to the shops, the petrol station, the A&E and we’ll demand service, in many cases from non-Irish staff. From farm labourers to fruit pickers, meat plant workers, truck drivers, shop workers, chefs and waiters, much of the food we eat is a result of the labour of foreign workers. If you have a problem with foreigners in Ireland, does that cross your mind at all?
Irish people live in squalid conditions here too which is outrageous. But no matter where you come from, we should be angry that any human should be expected to live in squalor in a country like Ireland today. I wouldn’t live in such conditions as shown on Prime Time last week. Why should I think it is right that anybody else should?