By Robert Geoghegan
Balbriggan is Ireland’s youngest town with an average age of 30.8 years and Ireland’s fastest-growing town. There has been rapid immigration in the last two decades resulting in Ireland becoming an increasingly diverse country in terms of national and ethnic origin.
In 2016, 535,475 non-Irish nationals were living in Ireland, a decrease of 1.6% since 2011. Balbriggan has grown to a population of 21,722 according to a 2016 census population, a 191% cent increase compared with the national average of 35%.
Data compiled by Fingal County Council shows almost one-third, 28%, of the population is foreign-born, compared with 13% nationally with a further, 19.1% identifying as non-Irish.
With this in mind, Balbriggan is seen as a litmus for how Ireland will deal with integration for future generations. Unfortunately, there has been a conflation of race and gang issues.
This sentiment between racial issues and youth gangs came to a head-on, in November 2017; it was reported at the time that a large group of residents met at Balbriggan Garda station to highlight the growing issue and to sign a petition to get more Gardai on the street and to call on the Government to do more in the fight against crime.
Another article reported that residents were concerned about the lack of resources and the growing need for more Gardaí on the streets. Quoting the then Sinn Fein councilor, Malachy Quinn, “people make their voice heard that we demand more investment in Gardai and services for our town.”
Mr Quinn concluded: “As a region with the youngest population, it is vital that investment should reflect this.”
“I don’t see myself as anything but Irish,” said local Balbriggan resident Ilya Gourilev.
Ilya said: “I have spent most of my life here in Ireland, my passport is Irish”. Ilya, moved to Ireland when he was twelve; first he lived in Blanchardstown and then in 2006, he moved to Balbriggan. 2006 saw the population increase from 9,615 too 15,146 in 2011, an increase of 57% during the worst global economic crises.
Our Balbriggan and new Irish
A Balbriggan Leadership Group, Our Balbriggan, is chaired by President of Dublin City University, Professor Brian MacCraith. Our Balbriggan was set up to connect with residents, public services and businesses in a meaningful way. It was announced that a ring-fenced €20 million plan is to be put in place to help transform Balbriggan main street and harbour. The Our Balbriggan development document notes the town “felt divided”, the lack of integration holding back its potential.
A spokesperson from Balbriggan Integration Forum talked about what Fingal Council have been doing to try and improve integration in Balbriggan: “With the help of the Fingal County Council Community Development Office and Cairde, the Balbriggan Integration Forum runs many activities that help people to integrate into their community.
“From participating in the Balbriggan Patrick’s Day Parade to the committee baking cupcakes decorated with the flags of all the different nationalities who live in Balbriggan.
“We were recently given a Communities4Environment grant to clean and improve the grounds of the Cairde Centre, where we are based: we plan to invite the people of the town in to paint a mural together. We held an Integration Through Art exhibition in the Cairde Centre in October.” He added.
It is through education that change happens, TheCity.ie spoke to local resident Charmaine Nolan about the changing identity of Irish people: “My children are Irish, they are mixed race, and they only identify as Irish. Which is something I would have had difficulty wrapping my head around a couple of years ago.
“Growing up in Balbriggan has been a blessing with how diverse it is. I am however worried when my kids become teenagers because my oldest is eight and my youngest is five, so it is okay at the moment. I am not sure what will happen in secondary school, and maybe I shouldn’t have to be.”
The country is looking to Balbriggan for the future, and hopefully, Our Balbriggan is Ireland’s future.