‘We’re no open borders party…climate-related migration must be avoided’ – examining Sinn Féin’s immigration stance

As Mary Lou McDonald’s party soars in the General Election 2020 polls, Sinn Féin’s manifesto reaffirms their emphasis on domestic policies of health and housing. TheCity’s Kate Brayden examines their immigration stance and statements on climate refugees.

Sinn Féin’s rise in popularity in this General Election campaign — especially with younger voters — is a historic change to the usual Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael power duo. 

But does their manifesto prove that they are ready to ascend to the global stage of foreign affairs, which is changing by the day as a result of climate breakdown? And what is their policy on refugees fleeing persecution?

In a recent landmark ruling, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated that “without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to violations of their rights.” 

Therefore, a country cannot send a person back to their home state if their life is threatened by climate change. 

Much work must be done to ensure that this ruling becomes legally binding to protect citizens from developing countries who are destitute as a result of C02 emissions altering the climate, creating dangerous weather events and pollution. 

Under Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan’s latest plans, Ireland is set to accept up to 2,900 refugees over the next four years – using a combination of resettlement and community sponsorship. 

The new arrivals will mostly be Syrian refugees who are currently living in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon – and 150 Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia.

In 2015, the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was created as part of Ireland’s response to the global humanitarian migration crisis.

That crisis has become steadily more concerning as extreme weather events and wars decimate poorer parts of the world. 

A new phase of the IRPP will see 650 resettlements in 2020, 700 in 2021, 750 in 2022 and 800 in 2023. 

But if Fine Gael return to power, will they live up to these claims – and are these numbers high enough to make a valuable impact?

Does Sinn Féin have any better plans? 

SF’s election manifesto states the party is “determined to avoid the failed policies that have fostered resentments and tensions in other countries” as a result of immigration and foreign policy decisions.

Sinn Fein Councillor Chris Andrews. Credit: Twitter – @an_phoblacht

The party declares unequivocally that they are not an “open borders” party – and do not believe in any such thing. 

SF Councillor Chris Andrews, who’s standing for election to the Dáil in Dublin Bay South, told TheCity.ie: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone advocating ‘open borders’, but rather, it’s a dog whistle used by the far-right to spread fear. 

“It’s used to give fair migration systems a bad name.

“Every state has to have an immigration system with well-functioning rules and regulation that everyone understands and that serves the interests of the people of the country – but which also protects people fleeing persecution and war. 

“Our international obligations must be fulfilled, and in an orderly manner.

“This system must have regard to how many people are needed to meet shortfalls in the labour market and how many people can be integrated effectively with adequate support and resourcing.”

Plenty of progressives have pledged their support for open borders, such as Israeli-Irish Jewish political sociologist and author Ronit Lentin. The activist for Palestinian liberation and for the Palestinian right of return opposes all deportations in Ireland.

Andrews’ remarks match up with his party’s manifesto, which states that: “Where we do need migrant workers, such as to fill vacancies in our health system, our migration system should facilitate this efficiently.”

While some may read this as viewing human beings only in terms of their economic worth, the party stresses that Ireland must cope with issues of housing and health before tackling migration issues. 

Sinn Féin are also in favour of ending the Direct Provision system of accommodation for asylum seekers.

In terms of climate refugees, the party says a pledge to take in climate refugees “does not solve the problem which caused it”.

“We must avoid a situation of mass climate-related migration – not solely for the difficulty it will pose to recipient nations, but because people deserve to live in their own nations and communities,” their manifesto reads. 

“They should not have to flee their land because of polluting activities of far-away nations and, most of all, foreign corporations.”

The party also pledge to ensure that the Irish Navy plays an active role in search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

Seán Crowe, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South-West, told this website: “Internationalism is at the core of Irish republicanism. 

“We will never be blind and ignorant to injustices abroad.

“I have long called out the Government for not reaching its targets on the resettlement and relocating of refugees in Ireland.”


“We need to reach these targets and ensure we do more to protect people fleeing persecution and war.

“Sinn Féin will restore and enhance our international reputation.”

Irish aid is currently about 0.4% of Gross National Income.

Ireland’s “A Better World” development strategy emphasises gender equality, climate action, governance and humanitarian need – and commits Ireland to achieve a target of 0.7% by 2030. 

Sinn Féin pledges to strongly support Irish Aid, would increase funding on Overseas Development Aid (ODA), ensure the State works towards its ODA targets and would commence work on an interdepartmental plan to increase Irish ODA to reach the 0.7% GNI target.  

Historically, our nation is strongly in favour of neutrality – but participates in peace operations, deploying 623 peacekeepers (not including U2′s Bono).

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