Apart from revitalising the parade industry in Ireland in the last ten years – Bangor Easter parade pictured here – what does the ‘new Ireland’ look like? The Census for the Republic earlier this month told us that 87% of the population still believe ourselves to be Catholic and 88% of the population are ‘White’ (at least by the CSO’s poor definition). So with 12% not ‘White’ and a hefty minority not Catholic, where (or what) is the new multicultural, feelgood, all-together-now, rainbow Ireland?
I’m not at all questioning the basis upon which people arrive, stay and live here in the country. Neither is this post a veiled attempt at an Enda Kenny-style anti-immigration tirade. And yes, before you say it, some degree of heterogeneity is better than none at all in this inward-looking island. But in the early 1970s, when the first major survey of Catholic practice was undertaken, just over 90% of the population were self-defined (in as much as this was possible) as Catholic. At the same time, possibly 2 or 3% of the resident population would have claimed some nationality other than Irish. So what’s the story with this ‘new Ireland / Irish’ thing at all?
The CSO data for recent years suggest that many of those claiming a nationality other than Irish resident here are actually British – probably returning migrants. Those, and their sons and daughters who left Ireland when the economy was up shit street and it was easier to be alternative in Kilburn than Kildare town, who left Ireland to seek employment and a better life abroad. When the people who never left took the reins of power in the civil and public services, those who returned in the 1990s found themselves in a changed Ireland but what kind of change? The people who stayed had taken all the good, safe and above all powerful jobs through nepotism and various other means. Returned migrants and the people who came to Ireland in greater numbers since the mid-1990s found themselves shouting at a monolith looking for something other than the same old bacon and cabbage.
Nowadays when we congratulate ourselves for becoming all pluralist and rainbow-like we refer to ‘newcomers’ and the ‘new Irish’. But what do these mean? Is it only a means by which the settled majority can happily incorporate the returned, mostly White, emigrant of the 1960s and 1970s? And while I am at it, are Irish Travellers part of this new Ireland at all? Based on the life expectancy of the Irish Travellers, I think not. They’re just too white really. Their profile doesn’t fit the picture of the new Ireland where every second child photographed for press releases is of African origin or looks slightly Slavic.