An island of refuge? Ireland’s political parties and ‘Fortress Europe’

Photo: Pixabay’s latest series, ‘An Island of Refuge?’ tackles the immigration policies of seven political parties, highlighting their views on asylum seekers, the Direct Provision system, migrants, climate refugees and open borders. Editor Kate Brayden gives an overview of the findings.

While Ireland’s recent General Election was undeniably focused on issues based at home, we have turned our focus to the increasingly unstable global landscape and its influence on our nation’s attitude towards migration and foreign affairs.

Éire may be known as a welcoming place, but the strain of climate breakdown is impacting far-right rhetoric worldwide – examining whether our politicians are succumbing to this issue is a key concern.’s team of journalists interviewed TD candidates and councillors from Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, The Green Party, Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil after dissecting each party’s manifesto statements on immigration and foreign policy to garner our coverage.

In the aftermath of the election, the parties must now organise a government that will withstand the tests of the international stage. This includes policies relating to justice and climate breakdown. 

Photo: Pixabay

Refugees are a core part of this, with thousands risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean every year, and some losing their lives in the fight to escape war. The policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ aim to keep people from nations specifically outside of this continent out, the very people who are affected by the planet’s destruction despite having the lowest carbon footprint. How do Ireland’s political parties hope to treat them?

Sinn Féin, possibly writing the most intriguing manifesto in terms of economic promises, have claimed that they are against open borders, but also hope to end Direct Provision. What they would replace the system with, however, is a mystery. Should they find themselves in power, they intend to 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 stance certainly needs more explanation. 

Mary Lou McDonald celebrates Sinn Féin victory. Photo: Instagram/africaworld_news

People Before Profit and the Green Party have socialist and left-wing policies embedded in their manifestos, with PBP acting as fierce critics of imperialism and of tyranny abroad. References are also made to the UN Security Council seat Ireland is hoping to win, as well as US military presence in Shannon Airport. The party condemn the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad – someone largely responsible for the flight of Syrians towards Europe

 The progressive stance of the Greens is reflected in their emphasis on freedom of movement, open borders and refugee housing, and they are highly aware of climate breakdown’s role in the displacement of innocent communities in developing countries.

Labour’s political director Nat O’Connor has taken an arguably weak stance, admitting that Ireland is not playing the part of a wealthy country, accepting a low number of refugees, but “we can’t promise to do something that we cannot do”. Housing and health are first on the priority list for the party, which are worryingly diminished following the election.

As the party competes for control of the Dáil, Fianna Fáil is proposing long overdue complete reform of the asylum system and to improve refugee accommodation. Their manifesto has figures and policies backed up by plans, which is a (welcome) change from some of the other vague manifestos. However, it could be all talk rather than action. Pledging to speed up the asylum process, they take a leaf out of the Greens book by promising an integration plan as well as allowing asylum seekers to access driving licences. 

In 2015, the Fine Gael-led government pledged to take 4,000 programme refugees fleeing war-torn countries like Syria by the end of 2017. Even now, we’re still well short of that quota – having resettled only 3,206 such refugees. The government has faced fierce criticism over their handling of Direct Provision, with Fine Gael ministers exhibiting resistance to change. Former Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan promised to improve the party’s numbers when it comes to refugee placements, but are they to be believed?

Irish communities held protests last year nationwide, rejecting the possibility of new Direct Provision centres opening in their area. Migrants rights groups such as the Movement of Asylum Seekers of Ireland insisted that these protests were not to support asylum seekers, but were rooted in racial undertones “dressed up in human rights language”.

“The Irish of #Fingal have voted once again for their own extinction,” O’Doherty posted on Twitter following the result.

Interestingly, only 1 per cent of respondents cited immigration as a main voting concern of GE2020 in the Ipsos MRBI exit poll for The Irish Times/RTÉ/TG4/UCD. Within this umbrella topic, climate refugees, asylum seekers  as well as migrants are all grouped. 

Desolate refugee camps. Photo: Pixabay

There are important distinctions to be drawn between asylum seekers, migrants and refugees – but these terms often get mixed up in the course of public debate on what is a complex topic. The issue will only become more onerous as CO2 emissions cause further destruction in the Global South, South-East Asia, Australia, Canada and the US. 

The movement of people has already led to dangerous, inhumane situations in the refugee camps of Libya and Greece, with the European Union recently rejecting a voting to ask members to step up search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

An asylum seeker is someone seeking refugee status – but whose application has not yet been approved. In the meantime, as long as they’ve made an application for asylum to the country they’ve landed up in – usually on the basis they were forced to flee their home country – they are entitled to remain in the destination country while their request is being processed. If it’s ultimately approved, then they have permission to remain. If it’s rejected, then they’ll be deported. 

Though some, who fail to qualify as refugees, are granted subsidiary protection to remain.  Migrants are not fleeing persecution; instead they choose to move country – often for economic reasons.  

Those defined as refugees have been recognised as such under the 1951 Refugee Convention of the UN, while programme refugees have their claims formally assessed in refugee camps overseas – and are invited to the destination country under a resettlement programme.   

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