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Irish official says integration an issue

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, October 16, 2007

John Haskins, the senior Irish government official responsible for immigration policy, opened Monday’s panel on the effects of a changing population in Ireland by quoting Irish author George Bernard Shaw.

“‘We are made wise not by the recollection of our past but by the responsibility of our future,'” Haskins said at the panel, which took place in the McKenna Hall auditorium.

More than 100 years after the height of immigration to America through Ellis Island, some of the problems of integration remain the same in the new Ireland, Haskins said.

“These are new lives, but this is a historic issue,” he said.

Most of today’s immigrants to Ireland originate from Eastern European countries such as Poland and Lithuania, Haskins said. There are also large numbers from China and Africa.

The overall population of Ireland increased by 10 percent since 2002, as reported by the 2006 census, Haskins said. The population of non-nationals increased by 90 percent and now includes one in 10 residents, an estimate Haskins called conservative.

Between 1945 and 1973, Europe underwent a guest worker phase, Haskins said. He cited a popular quote: “We wanted workers, we got people.”

Europe as a whole had to invest in wide-ranging social structure to see if these workers could integrate into society, so policies on immigration and integration need to be related, he said.

“Immigration policies define the overall framework within which integration works,” Haskins said.

A balance is therefore needed, he said, and “some difficult decisions have to be made.”

The new Office of Integration reflects what Haskins calls the nexus of immigration and integration.

“All departments must deliver on services to newcomers,” he said.

The term integration implies “we are integrating into something,” Haskins said, a process that involves “understanding ourselves and cherishing our roots.”

This process is three-fold, he said, including “them understanding us,” “us understanding them” and “us understanding us.”

Haskins, who visited America for the first time this year, referred to a well-known Latin saying printed on the one dollar bill: “E Pluribus Unum.”

“It is taking many and creating one that works,” he said, emphasizing the idea of creating the “we” in society.

Ownership of integration occurs at societal, institutional, community and individual levels, Haskins said.

Ireland is still in what Haskins called “the newcomer category,” because it does not have second- and third-generation non-nationals.

“We have good antidiscrimination laws, a good national action plan against racism, a good social inclusion infrastructure and have initiated a good inter-faith dialogue,” he said.

Citizenship, he said, is an essential goal, but there must be precursors to the process, “not just a memory test.”

Philip Watt of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism moderated the panel, titled “The Demographics of the New Ireland.” As a part of the “Race and Immigration in the New Ireland” conference presented by the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, Monday morning’s panel was preceded by opening remarks from Conor Lenihan, Minister of the Republic of Ireland.