O'Doherty... Migrants in the Med: why devil is in the detail
Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30
When Joan Burton announced on Monday that Ireland would "take its fair share" of migrants from North Africa, alarm bells started to ring.
According to the Tanaiste: "We will get the finer details of the procedures and examine them in detail. Broadly, we're agreeable to taking part in the arrangements and to take numbers that are appropriate to our size, population and resources. "
The keyword here is "detail" - you know, that place where the devil lives.
Because how many is our fair share? 100? 1,000? 10,000?
But behind all the emotive language, we would be well served remembering some important facts. For starters, the current crisis surely proves, once and for all, that foreign aid simply doesn't work.
The Wall Street Journal estimates that $50bn is sent to Africa every year and it quite obviously isn't having the desired impact. If it was, we wouldn't see tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa making the dangerous trek across the worst region in the world.
We've also learned that we can finally put the whole 'Arab Spring' nonsense to bed.
Three years on and those first breathless reports of the brave 'rebel alliance' fighters from the Free Syrian Army doing battle against the despotic Assad now look hopelessly deluded and naive.
Despite all the denunciations and condemnations "in the strongest terms" (as opposed to?) from Western governments, those same governments are remarkably tight-lipped about their role in creating ISIS and causing the humanitarian disaster that is rapidly becoming an apocalyptic charnel house.
Some 137,000 migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and the sun-dappled paradise that is Somalia have already crossed the Mediterranean this year and there are, quite literally, millions more waiting to join them.
Thousands of people have already died making that crossing and thousands more will continue to die as long as they believe the risk is worth it and while we all have a basic human sympathy for these people, at what point does it simply cease to be our problem?
We've already seen Christians being slaughtered on boats and pushed overboard because they were praying.
Do we want the people responsible for such murders to be given asylum, training and education in this country? Do we want them in Europe, full stop?
ISIS have already promised to "flood" Europe with 500,000 refugees complete with plenty of their own fighters mixed in with the civilians and, let's be honest, they tend to be pretty good at keeping their word. Also, as the sailors on the LE Eithne have found, the overwhelming majority are young men, rather than huddled ranks of poor families. When they rescued 647 migrants from two rafts the other day, 544 of them were men, and that proportion is replicated in all the available statistics.
Understandably, the worry faced by anyone when discussing this issue is that they will be immediately lumped in with someone like Katie Hopkins, who referred to migrants as "cockroaches".
In that instance, she either didn't know or didn't care about the very particular use of that word during the Rwandan genocide (my guess is that she didn't even make the connection, which somehow manages to make her remarks even worse), but she also, single-handedly, managed to irradiate the debate to the extent that most people have simply stayed as far away from the issue as humanly possible.
So if we calmly, logically agree that we can't simply throw open our borders and let everyone in (and we still agree on that much, surely?), then what should we do? The obvious thing would be to start killing the smugglers and destroying their boats, although the current Libyan Government opposes that because they claim the smugglers also "need their boats for fishing".
Even if the Western powers don't want the bad PR of killing a load of refugees by mistake, they have an obligation, first and foremost, to their own citizens.
Their primary obligation in this instance must surely be securing the borders.
Or they could take a leaf from Australia's approach - they rent an island from Papua New Guinea and place refugees there while their applications are being processed, meaning nobody sets foot on Aussie soil until they have been approved.
Or we could do nothing, mouth more platitudes and continue to make things worse for everyone - except the smugglers, of course, who make a fortune.
Is that what we really want?
Not for the first time, I found my mind wandering back to The Life Of Brian this week. That's because a feminist Twitter campaign called #livetweetyourperiod has come under fire. The objections didn't come from squeamish men who were appalled by a normal bodily function, as might be expected, but instead they came from people who think this is insulting to transgender people.
As one mad person, sorry activist, put it: "Pls remember to be inclusive of our trans sisters, brothers & genderqueer kin when you #LiveTweetYourPeriod. Not only women get their period."
Remember Eric Idle as Stan, the man who wanted to be a woman from the movie? He demanded the right to have a baby and said it was part of his "fight against oppression", prompting John Cleese's character, Reg, to sneer: "A symbol of his fight against reality, more like."
Isn't it depressing that arguably the finest comedy ever made probably wouldn't even be released today without law suits, boycotts and death threats to the Python team?