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30 September 2004 Edition

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Primetime flagship of hypocrisy

Tuesday night's Primetime programme on RTÉ One, which dealt with the issue of the undocumented Irish in America, was a journalistic disgrace. The self-proclaimed flagship of Irish current affairs reporting relayed pitiful tales of Irish emigrants living illegally in the US and facing deportation, without making even the smallest reference to the situation faced by asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in Ireland.

Irish emigrants were interviewed, one of whom owns a construction company and is looking at a one-million dollar turnover this year, and discussed with them their fears of being sent back to Ireland, or even to jail for a month or two while they face deportation.

An angry looking Brian Cowen spoke of how he was doing his best for these people, who, he claimed, take the jobs American citizens don't want.

Now compare the situation of the undocumented Irish in America with the situation faced by undocumented immigrants to this country. People who come here are generally not looking for a slice of the 'Irish' dream. They are coming here to escape persecution, torture and death or to escape a life of grinding poverty. Their numbers are not significant in terms of the total scale of refugee movement throughout the world.

Once here, thanks in part to people like Brian Cowen's colleague Michael McDowell, economic immigrants and asylum seekers are dehumanised and portrayed as spongers, criminals and welfare cheats.

Dispersal and direct provision policies strip them of their dignity and deprive Irish society of their potential contributions to our economy. People who come to this country and have children cannot claim citizenship, despite their children being Irish. A bill ratifying this decision was published on Wednesday and was lauded by McDowell as the "final nail in the coffin of the passports for sale issue".

More often than not these people, who do the jobs Irish citizens don't want, are deported. Sometimes they are kept in prisons like Mountjoy or Maghaberry while their cases are heard.

It was an indictment of RTÉ's current affairs journalism that no mention was made of this double standard — how we treat our immigrants compared to how we want our emigrants treated.


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