Monday 26 September 2016

Will migration crisis find a leader who understands what leadership is?

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

Protesters and gardai with battons drawn were involved in scuffles in Dublin city centre. Photo: Sam Boal/
Protesters and gardai with battons drawn were involved in scuffles in Dublin city centre. Photo: Sam Boal/

Unlike most other European countries, there is no real tradition of political street violence in Ireland.

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Maybe the vexed issue of Northern Ireland occupied people's minds to the extent that we never really got into the habit of seeing pitched battles between rival bands of extremists.

But that all changed on Saturday as Dublin became one of many European cities which saw scuffles break out when self-described 'anti-fascist' agitators disrupted rallies which were being held in support of Pegida, the German anti-Islamic protest group.

Of course, this is the kind of battle which many of us wish both sides could lose.

No rational person wants to see this country descend into the kind of anarchy and street violence which haunts our European neighbours.

Which is where our politicians come in. It was no surprise to see the likes of Sinn Féin and People Before Profit speak at the counter-demonstration. Both groups are politically savvy enough to know there are votes in this issue.

But where do the votes lie for the other parties?

After all, mainstream politicians have done their best to steer well clear of the immigration debate, preferring to issue mealy-mouthed platitudes in place of actual solutions.

It has always been thus, of course, and every government in Europe is panicking as the immigration genie, which they had hoped to keep firmly corked in its bottle, has escaped.

In fact, this is now the biggest single issue facing the entire continent and is the gravest threat to the future stability of an already embattled EU.

It's all very well for the current Government to say that we will accept 1,000 refugees, before increasing that to 4,000, then 5,000 until now we're hearing that it could be as many as 25,000 in the next few years, with more to arrive after that.

But behind those statistics is a grotesque migrant death toll which seems to get exponentially worse with each passing week.

Fresh reports emerged yesterday of more drowned migrants. Thirty three people died in two separate incidents involving small vessels trying to travel to Greece from Turkey.

That brings the death toll for this year to over 400 - and we're barely into the first week of February.

Just as stark are the immigration figures themselves - 69,000 people have landed on the shores of an already bankrupt Greece in the last four weeks, with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands more due to make the perilous crossing when the winter storms abate and the spring brings calmer seas.

You don't have to be a Pegida supporter to realise that this is both unworkable and unsustainable, as well as profoundly immoral, while only the most fanatical proponents of the no-borders policy think we should fling open our doors even wider.

We're well used to politicians spouting nonsense about the morally superior dimensions of our neutrality and how it also supposedly gives us an advantage when it comes to talking to countries which we haven't colonised.

So, in this state of benign moral superiority, why don't our leaders try some actual leadership for a change?

Rather terrifyingly, we are not witnessing the beginning of the end of this humanitarian catastrophe, merely the end of the beginning.

As Russia concentrates ever more military might in the region and shows a willingness to employ its arsenal in a way that shames the United States, this conflict will likely only spread even further.

So rather than arguing about the numbers of refugees we must take in, why not talk about lancing the boil at its source?

If you want to stop mass, uncontrolled and uncontrollable migration from the area, then you need to stop the cause because it doesn't matter if we end up taking in 100,000 refugees, even more will keep arriving as long as the war continues.

We have historical form when it comes to taking a proactive role in international affairs.

In fact, perhaps our proudest moment came in 1968 when, as Minister for External Relations, Frank Aiken became the first signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a crucial piece of international legislation which he drove forward.

Do we have any politicians who will step into that breach?

Will we have a new government which will take advantage of our neutral, non-colonial past to call for mediation on Irish soil?

After all, the current peace talks in Geneva are going nowhere and while a change of location won't suddenly bring all the parties together, it would at least put us in a position to have some valuable input.

In the past, we have often been able to use our relative geographical isolation as an excuse to take a passive stance on international affairs.

But this is now an Irish issue which is careering out of control and will get worse as long as we cede the debate to the nutters and extremists on both side of the immigration aisle.

Like many Irish voters, I still don't know who I'll be voting for.

But if we saw one Irish politician actually stand up and make some concrete suggestions - even if they prove to be in vain - rather than retreat to the craven safety of empty rhetoric and incomprehensible soundbites, then that would surely be a candidate worth paying closer attention to.

Irish Independent

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