LIKE THOUSANDS OF OTHERS listening to national radio in Ireland last week, I was amazed by the ideas of Jimmy Mulroy, the Fianna Fail chairman of Louth county council (at left). Mulroy had a plan to tackle the abuse of unskilled migrant workers who were being screwed by unscrupulous employment agencies. Liam Fay picks up the story in The Sunday Times. "Rather than tolerating a situation in which some immigrants are underpaid, Mulroy argued, we should level the playing pitch by reducing the wages of all immigrants. The councillor had clearly given his proposal considerable thought, drawing upon his unrivalled understanding of the immigrant mind. Unskilled migrants shouldn't be paid the same wage as their Irish counterparts, he contended, because most foreign workers come from poor countries with much lower costs of living than ours."
Irish workers, Mulroy continued, "need €12.50 an hour; people from Lithuanian are doing very well on €8.50 an hour." Far from being exploited, most immigrants would be "very happy with €10 an hour" which could amount to a month's wages in their homeland.
This is not an unusual attitude to hear around some parts of County Tipperary. In semi-detached homes that house up to four Polish guys, some with girlfriends in the same house, people on the street have commented that since their expenses are less, it would not be inequitable to have them do nixers for less than an Irish lad.
Fay reports about Mulroy that when "confronted with charges that his suggestion was absurd and inequitable, not to mention illegal under EU labour law, Mulroy insisted that his intention was to help immigrants by making them more employable. Later, after Fianna Fail headquarters had disassociated itself from his remarks, Mulroy announced he was withdrawing his proposal 'in the interests of equality.' At all times, it seems, the migrant's welfare was his main concern."
I expect to hear more of this kind of thinking because many of the elected councillors in Ireland are a generation removed from the migrant workers scraping by in Ireland. These politicians simply do not grasp the significance of Ireland's transformation into an immigration nation. They still see sons of friends who are considering emigration to building sites in England, now that Ireland's building boom has passed. These parochial councillors do not comprehend that some of the votes cast for them might have come from dozens of immigrants now living in their local areas and that these immigrants are as entitled to State benefits and services as they are.
In the meantime, I expect to hear local radio give some of its spectrum over to ignorant attitudes about people who don't have Irish surnames. It would not be local radio if that kind of misplaced thought didn't express itself on air.
Liam Fay -- "Immigrants, be most wary of the ones who say they care for you" in The Sunday Times Comment section, 24 February 2008.
Previously -- "Racism in Irleand".