The Ironies of Irish multiculturalism

A letter I sent to the Irish Times on 24 December 2009


Fintan O’Toole’s (spot-on as ever) article on the ironies of the Bishops’ multiculturalism (December 22, 2009, has broader ironic implications.

One irony relates to the church’s role in migrant integration. Having lost their key role in education and health service provision, Catholic religious orders have been working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. While extremely useful, many of the projects initiated by relilgious orders are run by white, Christian, settled Irish people, without giving leadership roles to migrants and other racialised people. This top down, and at time destructive approach means that migrants have little say in how these organisations are
funded and run.

The other, even broader, ironic implication relates to Irish integration policies. On the one hand, the Republic of Ireland claims to have ‘got it right’ in avoiding the pitfalls of both French assimilationism and British
multiculturalism through what it terms ‘interculturalism’ and ‘integration’. However, integration policies, which since the recession have been  conspicuous in their absebce, are targeted only at ‘legal’ migrants with refugee status or work visas, leaving other migrants, including asylum seekers, here ‘legally’ to seek refuge, out of the loop.

On the other hand, the state insists on integration ‘on our own terms’. Thus it demands proficiency in English, the state’s second language (while at the same time cutting the number of language support teachers), as a pre-condition to acquiring citizenship. And thus  An Garda Siochana refuses to allow Sikh volunteers to don a turban on duty, while not outlawing Catholic symbols, all in the name, the Garda insists, of ‘impartiality’ and ‘cultural diversity’. All of which makes a joke of the mantra of integration as a ‘two way process’, and is a far cry from the republican values of civic equality upheld by O’Toole.

Yours etc,

Ronit Lentin