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THE QUESTION of asylum seekers has come to the top of the political agenda in southern Ireland. Meanwhile, racist attacks, particularly against African asylum seekers and refugees, are on the increase, especially in Dublin. TOM CREAN from the Socialist Party (our sister party in Ireland) reports.
Irish politicians scapegoat refugees
IT SHOULD come as no surprise that a layer of reactionary politicians, primarily but not only from Fianna Fail, have seized the opportunity to play the 'race card'.
Their statements always begin with: "I'm not a racist but..." and then go on to say something utterly racist. The comments of Councillor Michael Healy Rae who claimed that the vast majority of asylum-seekers were "free-loaders, blackguards and hoodlums" is a typical example.
The government's 'dispersal' policy of placing asylum seekers in small pockets around the country has been attacked at large, angry meetings from Rosslare, County Waterford to Clogheen, County Tipperary.
Despite the rantings of bigots playing on people's worst fears, residents of small towns and villages with few facilities often have legitimate concerns. Anger with the Department of Justice, who notify them a few days in advance of the arrival of the asylum seekers, is entirely understandable.
In Corofin, County Clare, for example, the only local hostel has been bought by the Department to house asylum seekers, thus taking away a major source of tourism income for the village.
Nor are the policies of 'dispersal' and 'direct provision' in the interest of asylum seekers. With only a £15 a week allowance above room and board, refugees placed in remote areas will be barely able to afford the price of a bus ticket to visit a major town to obtain legal and other services that are unavailable in small villages. And, asylum seekers still don't have the right to work during their first year in Ireland.
The government hopes to put as many asylum seekers 'out of sight, out of mind' while stepping up plans for mass deportations.
THE NOTION that there is a 'flood' of refugees is utterly false, deliberately whipped up by politicians and sections of the media
There are currently 11,400 asylum seekers in Ireland whose applications are being processed. There are a further 4,000 whose applications have been rejected and who are thus liable to be deported.
It is true that the number of asylum seekers is growing. Last year there were 7,000 applications but this compares with net immigration of nearly 20,000. In fact, the government is actively promoting immigration with FAS [government employment agency] currently organising jobs fairs across North America. The government's message is: 'If you're white and skilled you're wanted; if you're black and fleeing repression or economic destitution, stay away!'
Those sections of the establishment which are playing the race card are doing so in order to divert the attention of ordinary people from the stench of corruption in politics; the wholesale defrauding of the tax system by the rich; and the utter failure to tackle poverty and deprivation.
Ireland, unlike most countries, has experienced a booming economy recently whose main product has been a staggering increase in social inequality. Massive wealth has been created but we have a health care system in crisis, no prospect of resolving transport gridlock and, worst of all, skyrocketing house prices which have now put a home beyond the reach of large sections of the working class.
In this situation it is understandable that there is anger that the government seems to be prepared to spend millions to buy hotels around the country to house asylum seekers while 100,000 languish on the housing list. But in reality paltry sums are being spent on refugees while spending on public housing has plummeted in recent years.
This year, Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy expects to get more than £2 billion in surplus tax revenue into the Exchequer. This would be enough to build 40,000 homes and eliminate the housing list backlog.
It is not refugees, fleeing the same sorts of problems Irish people fled for 150 years, who are to blame for the housing crisis but rather the profiteering speculators and builders and the politicians they have bribed for years.
Workers are beginning to demand their share of the 'Tiger economy' and it's time to demand decent accommodation for all as a basic human right. It is also time that the anger of ordinary people be directed against their real enemies and that the poison of racism - which can only serve the interests of the rich elite by keeping us divided - be firmly rejected.
The truth about the housing crisis
WHILE WORKERS kept bosses' profits up in the 1990s through low wages and funded services through PAYE taxes, billions were siphoned off by the rich to offshore accounts.
£950 million may have been lost to the Exchequer in unpaid DIRT (Direct Interest Retention Tax) tax alone since the late 1980s.
Above and beyond this, £2 billion in unpaid tax is owed after two tax amnesties of the 1990s.
The government budget surplus for 1999 was £5 billion which means, regardless of money spent on refugees, they have enough resources to resolve the housing problem twice over.
Big business tax evasion in the 1990s robbed the state of £3 billion which could also have been used to resolve the housing problem and provide much needed services for communities. If the state went after the rich fraudsters and used the resources that exist to build homes for all, they would also save the millions they give in subsides to landlords through rent allowance.
Average price of house in Dublin:
1993 = £55,125
1999 = £113,299
Cost of building that house:
1993 = £44,100 (estimate, assuming 20% profit)
1999 = £49,613
Developers, speculators, builders and the banks are sharing a staggering 128% profit.
Cost of building 40,000 units = £1.98 billion; far less than unpaid taxes of last decade.
In The Socialist 9 June 2000: