Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Sad Day for Northern Ireland

Yesterday, a number of Romanians decided to take the option of flying back home rather than staying in Northern Ireland after the racist attacks. The Northern Ireland executive offered its support to them if they stayed - and indeed they paid for the flights when they did not - but only two Romanians among the affected decided to stay. The Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie felt that this was a sad day for Northern Ireland, and indeed it was - as the public display of xenophobia came precisely at the wrong time.

For the political correctness, it will not be last time that a migrant community will feel threatened in Northern Ireland. The sectarian violence has subsided, but the recent recession needed its own demons and the immigrants were the easy ones. Romanians bore the brunt - they were indeed one of the most hated immigrant communities in Northern Ireland [and possibly across the UK] - but it will soon be other communities. Polish, for example, who has a large presence in Northern Ireland, and have been involved in a number of conflicts both in Northern Ireland and also in Poland. There are a number of Indians settling in Belfast, Derry and other areas, and it would not be too long before the attention is shone on them as well.

Indeed, the Northern Ireland Executive is penitent [unlike the Australians after the recent attack on Indian students, who seemed to be in denial] and did act to provide the Romanians with safe shelters during the trouble and then paid for their flight back home. It is difficult to say how much of that came from political correctness, and the concern of offending a fellow EU state. Indeed, the economic benefits of migration is hotly disputed and there is no political consensus in the Western World about it. Northern Ireland, in particular, is a false economy anyway, where the lifestyle is mostly funded by British government subsidies and where a disproportionate number of people work for the government. This cosy life makes the people more disconnected than their compatriots on the British Isles regarding the need, and the economic benefits, of migration. With a fixed number of government jobs to queue for, less is indeed better.

And, indeed, do they really have to pay for this racial violence at all? Romanians are not the wealthiest people on earth. And, Northern Irelanders are not exactly expecting a lot of investment from Romania and not investing back there as well. [The Polish will be a different ball game though] I watched with interest the BBC street interviews after the attacks on the Romanians, and the usual British political correctness was completely missing. On camera, the street folks were saying that the attacks were provoked by the Romanians themselves and 'they should not be here in the first place'.

One can also look at the effect this is going to have on other communities. Like Indians, who are now going in relatively large numbers to Northern Ireland, as this is an attractive near-shore destination for outsourced services and many financial service organizations are shifting their back-offices there. Besides, the Northern Irish universities are trying to take advantage of Australian troubles and trying to recruit Indian students, and it will be interesting to see how the Indian community takes this and react to it. [Indeed, some Indians are very successful in Northern Ireland and they are unlikely to be affected. The rich rarely get affected till things have turned very bad and reached war-like proportion. And, for that reason, they are not the real role models to follow.]

Whatever the reaction, however, this will be recorded as yet another example of a community failing to adjust to the effects of globalization. Of migration, and of recession - at the same time. I, for one, believe that we can not achieve a flat world unless we have allowed free mobility of labour - like capital and trade flows - but events like this will show that the nationalism is far from dead. It is in fact increasingly likely that this recession will bring back the demons of the past [indeed, quotes from Mein Kampf were posted through letterboxes in Belfast] and set us back many years yet again.

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