Festival of Change- Inclusion in Irish society

Our Leave No One Behind project features groups from all types of backgrounds. As this is the case, we feel it’s important to touch on inclusion in Irish society. Due to the recent discourse about asylum seekers, this piece will focus on the discrimination they may face. We would like to disclaim that all groups face discrimination in their own right and it is not a competition. Historically, Ireland is no stranger to immigration. During the Famine, millions of Irish fled to America and struggled to assimilate. In more recent times, Irish went to the likes of Australia and the UK in the hopes of employment. However, the crisis in other countries has seen many families and individuals seek out safety in Ireland, they have not received the warm welcomes that the Irish once needed themselves. Particularly, we have seen much violence and protests amongst Irish people against asylum seekers. So what are some potential reasons for this? 

Economic and monetary concern is largely the source of where the threat comes from. Irish people are perturbed about money ‘being drained and wasted’ on different nationalities. The government and media portray an influx of refugees or asylum seekers as a crisis which adds fear to the shortage of housing. This contributes to the overwhelming concern pertaining to the use of tax money being spent on asylum seekers. Marginalised groups may turn on each other as they believe they are getting prioritised by the government in terms of benefits and housing. As groups may feel threatened financially, it has essentially become a ‘class war’. This displays an undercurrent of nationalism and the idea of looking after one’s own citizen, not extending help to others. The rhetoric surrounding housing perpetrates a prominent idea that if DP was abolished, asylum seekers would move up on the housing list over Irish people. This leads to the assumed conclusion that Irish people will suffer if Direct Provision is abolished.  The Irish identity is viewed as the majority, therefore have the belief that they are entitled to economic resources as opposed to other groups, adding to the reasons why discrimination may occur. 

The most shared impression of asylum seekers is that in fact, they are not actually seeking asylum. Many believe the asylum seekers tangled themselves into the system to reap the rewards of the welfare state. These thoughts fail to mention the unattractive system of Direct Provision. If social housing is given to asylum seekers, people who were on the list would get angry which becomes a zero sum game. However, it is not anyone’s fault, just the unfortunate system that plays the blame game. Again, financial anxiety plays a role in this stance. If people advocate for more asylum seekers or better systems, they assume it will create more taxes. Another perception of asylum seekers is that they are victims. They are often painted as ‘poor, non-English speaking people’ and often forgotten to be humanised and seen for the intelligent, skillful people that they are. 

The media has a huge part in creating this narrative of asylum seekers and so we do not blame anyone for the above views. Direct Provision is a cruel system which leaves people waiting for a place and identities in communities. It turns people against each other. We wish to highlight that discrimination is a commonality that all groups face and to raise awareness of this in order to protect wellbeings.

The Leave No One Behind Festival of Change hopes to bring the diverse groups involved together in a more positive space to have conversations about what it really means to create an inclusive society for all, leaving no one behind.  Taking into consideration the challenges highlighted above and the range of other topics which have come up throughout the course of this project we hope to bring greater awareness of how to create healthy, vibrant and flourishing communities that ultimately can support everyone.

Words by Rebecca (LNOB #3 team member)