Minister defends post-Nice Treaty 'open door' policy
THE GOVERNMENT has defended its decision to give 75 million Eastern Europeans the right to live and work in Ireland.
People from countries including Poland will be allowed to come here from January 2004 if the Nice Treaty is passed.
But the vast majority of EU member states have already placed severe restrictions on the amount of immigrants they will accept. Only Ireland, Holland, Denmark and Sweden are to operate an "open door" policy for citizens from the potential 10 new member countries.
European Affairs Minister Dick Roche, however, has described the open door policy as "the right thing to do".
"Ireland is not out of step with the other 15 member states. Four members states have made it public that we are not going to be required by xenophobic policies to adopt a policy which is dramatically different than the basic freedoms that were in the original treaty," said Mr Roche.
Anti-Nice campaigners have claimed that Ireland, as the only English-speaking country amongst these, will become a magnet for economic migrants.
Anthony Coughlan of the National Platform insisted yesterday that if only 1pc of those entitled to come exercised their right, it would result in 750,000 extra foreign immigrants to Ireland.
Some of those opposed to the Nice Treaty have hit out at the two-tier Europe approach in the new immigration laws.
Mr Coughlan said a potential mass influx of foreign nationals could have a "depressing effect" on Irish wage rates.
"No one here is against immigration. No one here is against the same rules applying to all 15 EU states from day one if that is agreed in the treaties," he said.
"What is objectionable, and is in my opinion irresponsible, is for one rule for Ireland, when most of the other EU member states including our next-door neighbour Britain and the North of Ireland reserve the right to retain controls."
Immigrants who try to use Ireland as a "stepping stone" to get into the UK will have to run the gauntlet of British immigration.
An Irish Government source said last night that British restrictions would be applied "evenly", no matter what the country of departure of the new Eastern European EU citizens.
Sinn Fein also accused Minister Roche of smear tactics for attempting to suggest that the No to Nice campaign was based on xenophobia.
"The suggestion by Dick Roche that Sinn Fein is somehow ambivalent in its attitude to the introduction of immigration as an issue is absolutely without foundation and a pathetic attempt to escape debating the real issues surrounding the Nice Treaty," said European Affairs spokesman Aengus O'Snodaigh TD.