Ireland’s demographic future

Having seen what has occurred in other western countries as a result of mass immigration and multiculturalism, Ireland finds itself in a unique and terrible position. Unique because we have a chance to learn from a the mistakes of others. Terrible in that, if we get things wrong or don’t deal with them in time, we won’t be able to claim we didn’t know. We knew what the risks were, and we let it happen anyway. Only someone familiar with the cowardice, evasiveness and complacency of Irish politicians will know how frightening that position is. How will the chips fall? Into this uncertain atmosphere steps John O’Hagan, an economics professor at Trinity College Dublin, who writes in the Irish Times (parish pamphlet of the local Powers That Be) that Ireland should consider doubling its population though immigration. It goes without saying that this is a balls-to-the-wall, batshit insane idea, as well as sinister and ominous one, but it provides us with a rare opportunity to talk about some specific plans for Ireland’s demographic future, so let’s see what he has to say.

The reasons he lists for wanting to increase immigration are the mostly the usual ones. Ireland has an aging population which is not naturally replacing itself. Immigration is an economic net positive, and to dissent from that point is bigotry. He also notes that Ireland is underpopulated by international standards, therefore any of the “usual concerns” about mass immigration and overpopulation can be ignored. This point is not usual in immigration arguments at all, and in fact a really weird angle to take. But in any case let’s take these in turn.

At this point, the experience of other European countries who made a semi-conscious decision to become multicultural societies is that the decision is one which can change the cultural life of a country suddenly, in ways that are difficult to anticipate. There are a great number of people in the U.K., France, America and Germany who would love to turn the clock back and do it all differently. That being the case, for the rest of my life I never want to hear talk from any person about using immigration to address an aging population without first describing 5 other programmes of equal gravity they have enacted in full in an attempt to address the problem. Taking steps to completely change the culture and demographics of the country is off the table until you can point to what else you’ve tried first. I don’t want to hear anyone channeling Ned Flanders’ father, telling me “we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas”. Try something completely, and then come back to me and talk to me about mass immigration in half a century.

Economic benefits: for the moment we’ll ignore the issues of insufficient housing and the prospect of Dublin becoming a majority minority city, because O’Hagan ignores those as well. Everything that matters in his stance can be summed up in this extraordinary and revealing quote (not his) - he tells us that we should ensure that economic arguments on immigration “are not used to provide an economic basis for Cultural Prejudice; what may be normal cultural proclivity to feel more comfortable surrounded by people who look and talk like you”. This is the Davosian mindset towards European cultures expressed in a single phrase. The inheritance that is passed on from generation to generation through everything from songs to sports to food to language, institutions, along with the knowledge that you are part of a greater national family with an identity that is distinctly yours, that gives you a sense of place and belonging, that can be lost if not protected… we have a phrase for that stuff, and the phrase is “Cultural Prejudice”, and the last thing you would want is for it to get in the way of the economy. Now finish your Soy, you’re late for your shift at the Facebook factory.

The overpopulation point is a weird one. He writes as through it's a recurring concern in immigration debates, but its one I’ve never heard before. Perhaps what he’s doing here is giving us a taste of the sorts of arguments that will be made in the future as the powers that be try to sell the public on the idea. Eventually Ireland’s “dangerous underpopulation” will be an accepted talking point that “everyone knows”, and another reason why increasing immigration is a desirable necessity. When I say his argument is sinister and ominous this is what I’m talking about. There is an innate close-mindedness in Irish society, and nowhere is it reflected better than in its commentariat, and the way they can arrive at a unified position without reference to the public’s concerns or interests. When you read the article out loud, the sound you hear is of the official positions being slid into place, like bricks in a wall.

To refute the overpopulation point specifically – it may be the case that Ireland could support double the current population if that population was spread evenly throughout the country. But we all know these new visitors wouldn’t disperse themselves evenly throughout the country – they’d pretty much all go to Dublin. Think of all the social, economic and cultural issues that exist right now as a result of Dublin’s disproportionate size and importance within the country, the resentment and disconnection felt towards the capital. Now imagine, on top of everything else, Dublin is a majority minority city and multiply the impact of those issues accordingly.

It’s getting tedious saying this, but let’s recap Irelands experiences with mass immigration and multiculturalism so far. We have been spoiled rotten by having Eastern Europeans as our first major immigrant group. maybe that’s part of the reason we are reluctant to have this conversation, because we always think it will be this good – that all future groups will fit into our national life so seamlessly, and bring so few unfamiliar problems with them. To go one step further – as mentioned above, there is an innate conservatism in Irish people, an unwillingness to depart from an oppressive consensus that means that some level of immigration truly is both desirable and necessary, to let some intellectual air into the room if nothing else. Things haven’t gone well for us when we’ve shut ourselves off from the world. There is no arguing this country needs some level of immigration, and that by international standards our experiences so far have been great. But there should similarly be no argument that the levels of immigration O’Hagan describes are not desirable, that we won’t always have it as good as we have, and that we need to consider how we bridge that gap.

What we need now more than anything else is a discussion about what we want the demographics and culture of our country to look like in 5, 20, 50, 100 years time. The conversation needs to include specific numbers, specific values, and reference to specific problems. Who? How many? Under what conditions? In relation to demographic and cultural changes, we need to outline what is the best we can hope for and the least we will settle for; the absolute worst that can happen and what we are willing to sacrifice to avoid that. Among the various wings of the Irish Cathedral, there is no appetite for that conversation; quite the contrary, even saying these things out loud is wicked. So I suppose we should be greatful to professor O’Hagan for staking out an extreme position we know for certain we must never arrive at.