X Close

Is a new migration crisis brewing on Ireland’s border?

Marchers in Newtownmountkennedy this week. Credit: Eamonn Farrell

April 28, 2024 - 6:30pm

Ireland’s beleaguered Minister of Justice, Helen McEntee, is not blessed with a reputation for competence. Kept on in her role, to wide surprise, in new Taoiseach Simon Harris’s cabinet reshuffle, her already plummeting reputation was not enhanced by a shambolic parliamentary committee grilling this week which highlighted not only her department’s EU-beating failure to deport unsuccessful asylum claimants, but also her absolute lack of command of her brief.

With mass migration causing unprecedented turmoil in Ireland’s hitherto placid political scene, McEntee — whose home was apparently evacuated this week due to a bomb threat — is urgently flailing around for a quick solution to problems of her own department and government’s making.

The necessity of turning around her reputation reached crisis point this week, due to a dramatic escalation of protests in the village of Newtownmountkennedy, in Harris’s own rural Co. Wicklow constituency. Echoing the succession of protests against the dispersal of migrants across the Irish countryside, the Newtownmountkennedy protestors confronted Gardaí deployed to protect the contractors readying the site for migrants currently living in a sprawling tent encampment in central Dublin, an embarrassing public symbol of government policy failure. A previous attempt to move the migrants to a tent encampment in the Wicklow mountains failed when they promptly walked back to Dublin. This attempt at dispersal went dramatically worse.

As villagers set fire to one of the disused buildings on the site, the Gardaí clashed with locals, using pepper spray while coming under a hail of stones from behind the hedgerows. Strikingly, the villagers alluded to Ireland’s troubled history of rural disorder, referring to the Gardai as “Black and Tans” and “dirty R.I.C. [Royal Irish Constabulary].” The outbreak of violence in such a leafy, placid community marked a new escalation in Ireland’s wave of anti-immigration protests, with McEntee warning the country was “at a crossroads” and conservative outlet Gript declaring that “the State has crossed the Rubicon,” creating a situation in which “open conflict between the state and the people is not only likely, but inevitable.”

Searching for a way out, the Irish government has blamed Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan for Ireland’s increasing migrant influx. Foreign Minister Micheál Martin has claimed that asylum seekers who know their claims will be refused in Britain are crossing the open border — demanded by the Irish government during Brexit negotiations — from Northern Ireland. Sunak, under pressure from his own base over migration, was happy to take the win, declaring that Ireland’s crisis was proof the Rwanda “deterrent is already having an impact because people are worried about coming here”.

In truth, while both have incentives to hype up the Rwanda scheme’s impact, its true role is unknown, largely due to the Justice department’s chaotic recordkeeping. Nevertheless, on Saturday McEntee declared that the Irish government will introduce emergency legislation to send its unwanted migrants back to the UK, and will meet Home Secretary James Cleverly tomorrow to discuss.

But this is easier said than done: just one month ago, the Irish High Court stated that, precisely because of the Rwanda policy, Britain is no longer a safe place for migrants, barring their legal return. With talk in Ireland of new checks within the Irish Sea border and along the border with Northern Ireland, the country’s migration crisis is swiftly becoming an international incident.

Yet if the looming game of migrant ping-pong is a headache for both governments, it also presents difficulties for Sinn Féin, the island’s largest party on both sides of the border. While in the Republic Sinn Féin has swung frantically away from its previously pro-migration rhetoric, now railing against “open borders” and the EU migration pact, in the North, where migration policy is set by Westminster, its leadership has avoided the issue, leaning into the pro-Palestine cause to keep its base enthused.

The prospect of Northern Ireland becoming the new battleground of both countries’ migration crises places Sinn Féin in an uncomfortable position, just as it approaches the brink of power. How can it reconcile its commitment to free movement across Ireland with the growing anger of its Southern voter base, and the risk of exporting that dissatisfaction into its Northern heartland?


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

arisroussinos

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

41 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steven Carr
Steven Carr
20 days ago

Ireland has the superb example of Citizen’s Assemblies where 99 members of the public are selected at random.
There have been Assemblies about abortion and biodiversity loss and climate change for example.
The topic of immigration would be ideal for a Citizen’s Assembly as then ordinary members of the public would bring their wisdom to bear on the subject.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Citizens assemblies are eadily manipulated by governments who manage the “experts” who get to guide these random members of the public. Manufactured consent in operation. Governments hide behind them. Politicians need to have the courage of their convictions

Matt M
Matt M
19 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I think Steven was joking. The Irish government would never dare hold a CA on immigration.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
19 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Politicians need to have the courage of their convictions.

Couple of queries:

What when the politicians have no discernible convictions? (For example, the current UK Conservative government.)

What when the politicians do have convictions, but their convictions run counter to those of the voters? (For example, most current governments in the West.)

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
19 days ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Excepting the criminal convictions

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
20 days ago

Regrettably, the lawyers can still scupper the Rwanda plan. The only practical solution is to move all illegals to Northern Ireland and then England, Wales and Scotland leave the UK.

John Murray
John Murray
20 days ago

I’ve always thought Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the islands is like the famous comic book line: “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me.” Why anybody would think that the prospect of going to be Rwanda is a deterrent when the UK has Northern Ireland sitting right there is always going to be a mystery to me.

jane baker
jane baker
20 days ago
Reply to  John Murray

The Rwanda plan is a money transfer scheme. All those millions of pounds from the Treasury sent to Rwanda to improve the infrastructure to make it safer for the migrants,is there FOI access to detailed receipts of where all the money went. No,thought not. It could be relevant here that A LOT of Tory MPs own land in Rwanda due to some social unrest creating investment opportunities. Social unrest is good for creating investment opportunities. I’ll just add.two words “back pockets”.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
19 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

I’m not saying you’re wrong, but can you provide any evidence of this? I think you receive downvotes, not because people disagree with you, but because you make extremely bold statements that can’t be substantiated. I looked online and can’t find any evidence of this even on websites from organizations thoroughly opposed to the tories and their Rwanda scheme.

R Wright
R Wright
18 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Given that foreigners aren’t allowed to buy property in most African countries (due to anti-Indian and Lebanese legislation post-independence) your theory sounds like nonsense.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
20 days ago

Aaah, Oireland. The moral high horse is wonderful isn’t it…all pats on the back on the international stage and unlimited virtue signalling. Then you discover you can’t afford the beast and it’s eating you out of house and home. Gosh, I wish I had more sympathy. Really, I do.
Also: splendid bit of Irish logic in evidence over the weekend: more or less blanket condemnation of the Rwanda scheme across the Irish media, calling it inhumane and cruel…only for the government to start flailing and demanding the migrants who have come over the open border you so wanted to be returned to Britain, where they might be subject to that cruel and inhumane treatment.

Clara B
Clara B
19 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yep, that about sums it up (Is it really bad that I’m kinda enjoying all this? Such a delicious example of virtue signalling biting one on the derriere).

David Ryan
David Ryan
19 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the views of the Irish govt/media in any way represent those of the people. The gulf between the two widens every day. And give the “Oireland” refs a rest will you.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
18 days ago
Reply to  David Ryan

First time I’ve ever said or written that word, actually.
And rather surprising that you take issue with that an not the “Irish logic”…is that Oirish logic too? Sorry…couldn’t resist.

David Ryan
David Ryan
18 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“Oireland”, “Irish logic” and now “oirish logic”? You’re not covering yourself in glory Katharine. Give it a bloody rest.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
18 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It has to be said that it is a joke accusing the Irish of virtue signalling! The undoubted crisis in Ireland has actually outed the pseudo-right of Tory and Reform UK as the biggest virtue signallers on the planet – for them the immigration issue has always been merely a stick for their obsessive hatred of the EU – nothing more.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
20 days ago

The scenes from Newtownmountkennedy this weekend were shocking indeed, on many levels. To see the violent scenes unfold in such a small Wicklow town was sad. Still, you have to reach back a long time in Irish history (before 1922, I would say) to see government policy having to be enforced by riot police.

jane baker
jane baker
20 days ago

So are they all right wing,sorry EXTREME right wing Nazis then?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
19 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Well, the war…

Peter B
Peter B
20 days ago

So the Irish government have snookered themselves. Britain is at the same time both “unsafe” and they want to deport people back here ! And they’d doubtless complain if we tried to send them one step furtgher back down the chain to France. Oh dear, what a shame. They lost any residual goodwill with me after 2016.
I’m starting to get a feeling of deja vu – first the entirely predictable meltdown of the SNP incompetents in Scotland. Then Wales. Now this.

jane baker
jane baker
20 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

The logical next step is to offer them leaky boats ,next stop America

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
19 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Please no. Our airports, parks, and available hotels are filled to the gills with our own “migrants,” “asylum seekers,” and “refugees” of our own.
We have to clear the chickens out of the coop to make space, as it is.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
20 days ago

Irish victimhood to the fore yet again … a Govt of self entitlement … the chickens are coming home to roost.

jane baker
jane baker
20 days ago

It’s really funny on lots of different counts. The people who for centuries were the migrants to the World and demanded respect and acceptance (even if they didnt get it) now are not prepared to extend that to their incoming migrants. As usual the intelligentsia,I’m guessing,are the ones who probably drove policy so long as it was theory only. And the intelligentsia always live in places where the people whose cause they champion can’t get to. Places that are subtly innaccesible. Then the migrants know that in England,Wales or Scotland they will not be attacked or harmed in a violent way,no matter how much the politicians put up the shadow fear of Right Wing Nazis. But in Ireland the people are not feeling in the least constrained by virtue signalers and are rioting, attacking and doing everything that if done in Britain would be reviled. It’s really funny.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
19 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh

Grainne McLoughlin
Grainne McLoughlin
18 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Actually it’s not funny.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
17 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

By definition, those that left are not the Irish that are there today, so there would be no reason to assume the sensiblities of the leavers and stayers are the same. The anglo capacity to detect nuance remains dormant.

Rob N
Rob N
20 days ago

Sinn Fein – yet another Nationalist party that hates its own people and, thus, Nation.

j watson
j watson
19 days ago

Alot of rhetoric out ahead of any practical options.
One of the obvious deductions is that asylum seekers in the UK are largely free to go wherever they please, and others that overstay a legal visa likewise. The absence of ID cards in the UK makes that inevitable unless we have barbed wire compounds, which given the numbers is neither practical or appropriate. We’ve ducked the need for ID cards for almost 20yrs but needs to happen for multiple reasons.
That aside what this further proves is the answers to illegal migration and the people trafficking can only come from collective action on the part of States. Rwanda might amount to a dribble of a deterrent at best.

Matt M
Matt M
19 days ago
Reply to  j watson

The NHS app is now on pretty much everyone’s phone in Britain. Adding a page for immigration status would seem pretty easy (our passport, NI and NHS numbers are already mapped to each other). A National ID card scheme could rolled out in a couple of months. A good one for manifestos!
Whether it helps control illegal immigration is another matter but it can’t hurt.
The main problem with illegal immigration is that we cannot deport people that turn up here and come from places considered dangerous (like the UK is – hilariously – in official Irish eyes) or which refuse to take their own citizens back. That is why a third-country scheme like Rwanda is always going to be necessary – though the impact of it will only be to incentivise would be immigrants to choose easier countries like France and Ireland for their asylum claims. At least it keeps them out of Britain which is all we can really ask of our government.

j watson
j watson
19 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Yep MM the ubiquity of Smart technology in our pockets makes it a different proposition to 10-20yrs ago and 90%+ of us v rapidly got our heads round a Covid vaccine confirmation on our phone. The lack of ID requirements is one reason more want to come here – they can disappear more easily. But you are right alone it’s not enough.
The EU Migration pact signed a fortnight ago showed they may also be opening up to idea of third country scheme. The numbers though make that but only one part of a strategy, and far from easy as we’ve found.
Obviously in our tete a tete with Ireland we won’t want that to lead to the French withdrawing some cooperation on their beaches. That does at least delay some coming here.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
19 days ago

The migrants coming down from the North of Ireland are escaping the hell-hole that is Tory Britain. Ireland must not send them back.

David Giles
David Giles
19 days ago

Schadenfreude; I think that’s the German word for what I’m feeling here. I’m also pondering the French word petard, as in one’s own!

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
19 days ago

One cant help but laugh heartily.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
19 days ago

My comnent just niw was deleted. Let’s just say it involved a hearty guffaw and see if it vanishes.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
19 days ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Sorry I failed to proof read in my irritation.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
19 days ago

This developing situation, which is serious, brings forward the importance of the re-unification of IRL. There is already (probably) a majority for re-unification in NI. Disregard the opinion polls. On the day of the referendum, every nationalist man, woman, child, cat and dog will be down at the polling booths at 07.00. They will sweep partition into history with the help of, say, another 10% of voters. The Republic’s Establishment won’t say that because it is opposed to re-unification as it would mean sharing establishment privileges with IRL’s second largest province. We the People, however, favour re-unification.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
19 days ago
Reply to  Michael Clarke

I wish that was true, Michael but I think that too many nationalist people are employed by the British state and whatever they may say, they’ll be unwilling to vote themselves out of a job. Also the nationalist community has totally lost its way. SF and the SDLP are post-nationalist parties now, the Church is dying out and, for most young people, nationalism is more of a meme than a real political project. Maybe the prospect of a border poll might reenergise the community but right now it’s a mere shadow of what it once was

R S Foster
R S Foster
18 days ago

The violence is barely surprising. As soon as the British withdrew, the Irish fought a much more bitter Civil War with each other than anything the British State ever attempted, Black and Tans or not. (amongst other things it featured public executions carried out by lashing a group of one’s antagonists around a bundle of grenades and blowing them to bits!)…

…and as well as high profile efforts to shoot or bomb Irish Protestants into what was an explicitly Catholic State until quite recently…there has always been a permanent undercurrent of political violence (or threats of it) in the Republic…leaving aside the endemic armed gangsterism of the Dublin underworld…

… If it all blows up, I wonder who they will ask for help to keep the peace? Clearly, not Britain…but it would be real education about the reality of the place for either the Yanks or the EU…

R Wright
R Wright
18 days ago

I can’t dredge a single ounce of sympathy up from the depths of my heart.

Ryan McNabb
Ryan McNabb
18 days ago

Welcome home, chickens! Let me show you to your new roost.