During the 1980s, up to 40,000 people, mainly young people, left Ireland every year, emigrating, most against their will, to America, Australia, Britain and other more affluent countries. They were economic exiles, asking only for an opportunity to make a decent living. Nevertheless, most of them were also viewed as illegal immigrants in the countries where they arrived, particularly the United States. Despute this, for the most part, they were accepted.
It was during this period that the now 26-County Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, pleaded with the United States government, which was and still is accepting massive numbers of immigrants, to grant an amnesty for all Irish illegals. The Dublin government, for its part, had encouraged young Irish people to emigrate and hoped that this might ease the unemployment rates at home.
Today we have an entirely transfigured situation. The fall in unemployment, and the rise of the `Celtic Tiger', has meant that young Irish people have the opportunity to live and work in their own country. We still have a sizeable gap between the rich and not-so-rich, but it is the Irish who have now become the hosts to people of other nationalities, creeds and cultures.
The same Bertie Ahern, now in charge of the 26 Counties, has decided to turn many immigrants back from our shores. It is now they who plead with him for asylum, for the chance of a decent life and freedom from persecution. Their pleas appear to be falling on deaf ears.
Gerry Adams calls for a ``total amnesty'' for refugees in this month's issue of the new Irish muticultural newspaper, Metro Éireann. He points out that we cannot deal with the history of racism and immigration in Ireland without looking at our own history first.
Colonisation, persecution, racism and emigration are all recurrent and prominent features of that history. ``How can I protest if Irish people are detained in the US as illegal immigrants or deported from the US as illegal immigrants, when people here experience exactly the same thing?'' he asked.
Bertie Ahern seems to have had few problems mastering that immeasurable feat of hypocrisy.