Callely entitled to his opinion – just about

26th November 1999

“Hysterical”. That’s what the Irish Council for Civil Liberties called Ivor Callely’s latest grumblings on the refugee issue.

If anything, the reaction to Callely’s remarks has been hysterical. There has been an attempt to play the man instead of the ball. Is he not entitled to his opinions? What ever happened to freedom of speech?

Firstly, he is entitled to his opinions and also, he is entitled to represent the opinions of others. That’s what he is elected to do and I am sure that a great many people in this city agree with him.

He said the Government should “get tough” with bogus asylum seekers and “throw out” illegal immigrants. He called for strong leadership on the subject.

Many of Callely’s detractors clearly see him as an opportunist on this issue and can read all sorts of subliminal messages in his comments. Most of these people style themselves ‘liberal’ but their behaviour on this issue shows that their liberalism extends only to those they already agree with. They want to discredit Callely in order to shut him up and to deter others from following his line. They are engaging in jackboot politics.

But personalising the issue also takes away from the fact that Deputy Callely’s views are complete nonsense. If the Government wants to get rid of illegal asylum seekers, all it has to do is process their claims quicker. If they are not genuine then they can be deported.

I know people who were hunted out of the US and Australia for overstaying their welcome. It’s a fair cop – if you are illegal.

But this Government has been pursuing an immiseration policy. The hope is, apparently, that asylum seekers’ lives will be so miserable that others will be deterred from coming here. How else can you explain the Government’s failure to employ enough people to process the claims? Meanwhile people spend months and years in EHB accommodation while being denied the opportunity to work. It’s costing us millions to keep able bodied people doing nothing.

Incidentally, I’m impressed at how law abiding these immigrants are. Most people I know who went to work in New York hadn’t the slightest intention of complying with any immigration laws over there.

We should be honest about illegal migration. The stories emerging from Italy about trafficking are truly horrendous. The traffickers charge people from North Africa or the Middle East fortunes to ship them in appalling conditions to Europe. On occasion whole families have been thrown overboard and drowned. Many of the people who make it to the coast are caught and sent back only to try again and again. It is a desperate human tragedy.

There is no doubt that some of the people who are claiming asylum have paid passage to get to Ireland. Indeed, we do not have direct transport links with the two countries, Romania and Nigeria,from which many of the asylum seekers come.

If we accept these people are we not then encouraging the traffickers? On the other hand, why should individuals pay doubly for the chance of a new life?

In the meantime, fears of racism leads to the over-reaction we have seen to Ivor Callely’s comments. He needs to be listened to because he represents a lot of ordinary people. It’s no use thinking that there’s something wrong with Ivor Callely.

But asylum seekers cannot, in all humanity, be blamed in this situation. Even the illegal ones are only following the path that we have travelled for generations.