Monday 10 December 2018

'Make no mistake, there will still be deportations'

New integration minister explains his job and his ambitions

Michael Brennan

JUNIOR Minister Conor Lenihan has warned there can be "no integration without deportation".

In a major interview with the Irish Independent, the newly-appointed Minister for Integration said he wanted to give immigrants a clear pathway to citizenship and to cut down the racism they experienced.

But he said people should not be naive about what the creation of his new ministry would mean for immigration policy.

"There will be no integration without deportation. I don't want people to think just because a new Minister for Integration has been appointed that somehow the doors are going to be flung open and Ireland is going to have open, unrestricted migration."

Mr Lenihan, who is tasked with co-ordinating integration policy between three separate Government departments, is the first person to fill the new role.

He said his purpose was to provide for immigrants who were here legitimately and who were contributing to Irish society.

"You can't integrate against a background of people who clearly do not have a legitimate reason to come here coming here for economic reasons but using the asylum process."

He admitted there were ambivalent attitudes to immigration, which had transformed the make-up of the country in a decade.

Immigration experts have warned that the country has a window of opportunity to put integration policies in place, or face the problems that have seen riots in Paris and bombings in London.

Welcome

Mr Lenihan said he wanted to introduce citizenship ceremonies which would allow local communities to welcome migrants.

He also said he favoured citizenship tests to ensure that migrants had basic language skills, as well as a knowledge of Irish culture and history.

In 2005, Mr Lenihan was criticised for telling Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins during a Dail debate to 'stick to the kebabs'. However, he had apologised for the remark and did not feel it was an issue in his current job, given his work with the immigrant community in his Dublin South West constituency.

"The people who leaped to my defence on the phone rage shows were predominantly non-Irish, people in the Dublin Muslim community and the African community, who said 'This fellow is OK'."

Mr Lenihan has a desk at the Department of Education, which has set up an integration unit. He said the battle of integration would be won or lost in the schools and spoke of the importance of ensuring that schools accepted their fair share of immigrants.

He said the State had moved aggressively to tackle the problems of wages and conditions being under-cut by immigrants. However, he said there was no large-scale evidence it was a major problem.

"Before the May accession of 2004, huge premiums were being paid to craft workers such as carpenters and plumbers. They were getting way above the normal rate because there were skills shortages. All that's happened since is that the market rate has re-established itself."

He denied this meant the Government wanted to see wages driven down.

He said the country wanted to avoid the "absolute nightmare" experienced by the Dutch, who had seen their liberal, permissive society torn to pieces by a failure of integration policy.

"This is an enormous trauma for the people of Holland.

"I remember meeting a Dutch minister who was almost in tears, talking about third generation immigrants who were still drawing the dole and not speaking Dutch. That's zero progression."

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