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Dublin - Event Notice
Thursday January 01 1970

Talk on the Immigration Bill at Seomra Spraoi

category dublin | racism & migration related issues | event notice author Tuesday November 18, 2008 14:20author by Mick - Seomra Spraoiauthor email seomraspraoi at gmail dot comauthor address 10/11 Belvedere Court, Off Mount Joy Square Report this post to the editors

Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill dicussion at Seomra Spraoi, Tue, 2nd of December

On Tuseday the 2nd of December, David Landy will give a talk at Seomra Spraoi on the new Immigration Residency and protection Bill. The IRP bill will bring some key changes to the 'management' of migration, including a number of draconian elements with some very important political implications. David will talk about some of these elements but also talk about the problems with NGO sectors opposition to the Bill.

On Tuseday the 2nd of December, David Landy will give a talk at Seomra Spraoi on the new Immigration Residency and protection Bill. The IRP bill will bring some key changes to the 'management' of migration, including a number of draconian elements with some very important political implications. David will talk about some of these elements but also talk about the problems with NGO sectors opposition to the Bill.

author by Mick - Seomra Sparoipublication date Wed Nov 19, 2008 14:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

David Landy's talk on the Immigration Bill has been postponed till the Tuesday , 2nd of December. The talk will get started at 7pm and take place in Seomra Spraoi as planned.

author by Up the Republicpublication date Wed Nov 19, 2008 16:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This bill was ready, at the start of the year, what is taking it so long to be passed through the house. Speed Ahern Speed. The Irish people want this bill passed now.

author by Emma -RARpublication date Fri Nov 28, 2008 04:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Where is Seomra Spraoi located now?

author by beckypublication date Fri Nov 28, 2008 09:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Check it here-

author by David Landypublication date Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi, some folks at the meeting asked me to send the text of the talk to indymedia. So here it is. I gather there'll be an audio link too, for anyone interested. I thik more interesting than the talk was the discussion that followed, where we were asking ourselves, what we should do now.

There'll be more discussions to come in SS - should be interesting.


IRP Talk for Seomra Spraoi

I’ll be doing a lot with this talk – first a lot of description – I’ll be describing the IRP bill, which is not yet law, and its provisions – explaining why I see this to be an important assault on our rights and democracy. Then I’ll describe those who opposed the bill – mainly Irish-led NGOs – and what elements they opposed, and how they did so.

Then I’ll be asking what their actions tell us. I’m arguing that there’s been a very basic failure of all parties – migrant groups, political activists, NGOs in the field – to properly oppose. I don’t want to point fingers here, because basically I’m pointing to a deeper process – the idea that we have no sense anymore that we can alter the dynamics of racialisation and exclusion by which our state operates. This is partly because we’ve all been playing the government’s game even while opposing it

This talk is based on an academic paper I gave last month. It’s very much work in progress. – partly because it is still incomplete, and partly because the processes its talking about are also incomplete. The IRP bill has not yet been passed, the opposition to it is ongoing.

Part 1 The bill
It is a monster of a bill - 160 pages long; it was formally published on 29 January 2008, and since then has gone through various committees. So we aren’t 100% sure about its final form – there are many amendments - but we are fairly confident about its basic provisions.

There are three main aspects I want to concentrate on in discussing the bill.

1. Separates non-EU citizens from the rest of us
2. Continues and expands the securitisation/criminalisation agenda
3. Extends the state of exception under which they are governed.

1. Separating non-EU citizens
This is the first comprehensive codification of immigration law. It’s landmark legislation. However, importantly it will not apply to EU citizens. Under the provisions of the bill they are excluded from the category ‘foreign nationals’. Thus, non-EU citizens are to be separated away from the rest of the people on this island.

Indeed MRCI (Migrant Rights Council of Ireland) claims that the bill is a ‘blueprint for segregation’. (MRCI submission to the scheme for an Immigration Residence and Protection Bill December 2006 p.3). One example of how this segregation will operate is that all foreign (i.e. non-EU) nationals must carry an identity document with biometric data and must produce it on demand. We have no identity cards.

So non-EU citizens are to be made legible through a host of provisions – ranging from restrictive terms of employment to specially regulated family and marriage conditions.

We can talk of non-EU citizens being placed under the category of mobile, flexile, insecure labour. Funnily enough, Irish capitalists, who view labour more in terms of the skill-sets they possess rather than in terms of their racial origins have strenuously objected to this means of categorisation – worried that such unfavourable terms for migrants will ensure that they won’t come to Ireland, and so these employers will lose out in the international competition for skilled migrant workers (submissions to government: DCC and IBEC).

2. Continues the securitisation/criminalisation agenda
The use of migration law to vastly increase the powers of the state to regulate and to undertake surveillance and control the lives of denizens has been noted elsewhere (Kundnani 2007). So if we ask are immigrants to be governed – increasingly the answer is: by the police. This is reflected in this bill – especially in relation to asylum seekers. Asylum Seekers especially are considered the property of the security state – kept away from everyone else in dispersal centres, living on €19.20 a week, not to be integrated, but treated as ‘bare life’.

However it is not merely asylum-seekers who face increased regulation. As Piarais McEinri among others pointed out (Mac Éinrí 2007) we face:

 The spectre of identity checks based on skin colour and a de facto requirement that anyone who is Black would have to carry ID to prove that they are not ‘foreign nationals’

• In matters of expulsion wide and ill-defined powers are given to immigration officials.

• Criminalisation of all who act in loco parentis who are considered to have refused to have cooperated with officials. This is a way of ensuring agencies can’t ‘get at’ migrants and asylum seekers, something that Conor Lenihan openly admitted was a result.

3. Extends the state of exception
There has always been a strong tradition of extensive ministerial discretion over foreigners, enabling Oireachtas scrutiny and debate to be bypassed (Mac Éinrí 2007) This bill codifies the extraordinary powers of the ministry over foreigners. In theoretical terms we can say that it’s main effects is to create a permanent state of exception in Ireland – whereby people’s lives are not governed by law, but by executive decree (Agamben 1998, 2005).

In the state of exception, the key issue is the discretionary power of the executive, it can do what it wants and can bypass the legislature. This is something which Agamben sees as an encroaching dynamic in modern societies – he uses the US Patriot Act as example.

While it is not acceptable in Ireland yet to govern the lives of citizens based on arbitrary ‘security concerns’ as defined secretly by the executive, it is increasingly the way that non-citizens in Ireland are governed. One example of this was the 2004 citizenship referendum. This decision that Irish-born does not necessarily mean Irish, allowed the Minister of Justice and Equality to decide whether Irish-born children would be granted citizenship or not, depending simply on internal Department of Justice criteria (Lentin and McVeigh 2006: 51-4)

It is the discretionary power that needs to be emphasised, the fact that this power to decide how foreigners are to be treated has deliberately not been encoded in legislation. It gives vast unaccountable powers over the lives of ‘foreign nationals’ to the Ministry of Justice.

For instance (and these may change)

• The Minister may revoke a visa or residence permit if they think the person who has it is not’ conducive to the common good.’

• A refugees residence status in Ireland might be revoked at any time even if s/he had been granted full status. If the minister decides their home country is ‘safe’.

• The provision on marriage has caused greatest outcry, (such as there is) though this provision is likely to be changed. Asylum seekers and holders of non-renewable residence permits do not have the right to marry. Non-nationals may not marry without first notifying the Minister. The Minister may refuse to allow the marriage for a variety of reasons, including public security and public policy. And of course anyone who solemnizes such a marriage is committing an offence.

What this means for migrants is permanent uncertainty. There is no provision for permanent residence (other than citizenship) only ‘long-term residence’ renewable every five years and granted according to whether the minsitry thinks they’ve ‘integrated’ (a dodgy term, made even dodgier by the fact that it’s decided arbitrarily by the ministry). This doesn’t mean that refugees or foreigners are going to be deported, but that they will live in permanent conditions of uncertainty – will they be eligible for mortgages?

This is not merely a matter for refugees – we will have the situation that the lives of tens of thousands of people in Ireland will be lived at the minister’s whim, and subjected to constant security concerns. We have the codification of previously unseen executive control. It is in other words a radical redefinition of Ireland, a challenge to our fundamental sense of being a democracy. And one which has received next to no interest.

Part 2 The opponents and the opposition
This is not strictly true. There has been some interest in the bill. In this section I’m dividing its opponents into 3 parts – the agencies, the migrant associations, and the political parties – and examine what each sector has said and how it has opposed the bill.

Firstly there are the migrant support agencies - groups such as MRCI, RIS etc – who have largely co-ordinated their opposition to the bill. I label them agencies, since it is a misnomer to call them NGOs; they are all partly or wholly funded by the government and thus are severely constrained by what they can say and how they can say it. This is part of the partnership governance of this country, the funding is given for them to provide service to migrants – advice on integration, legal aid and so on. Thus, importantly, they are not constructed as oppositional organisations, though they do engage indirectly and occasionally directly in advocacy.

Secondly and relatedly – there are migrant-led groups, which advertises the facts that the agencies are not migrant-led. These groups are primarily there to provide interlocutors for the government to address the ‘Romanian community’ or the ‘African community’ and so on.

They are also dependent on the government for funds - in return for which they engage in cultural activities and also provide services for the migrants they purport to represent. I say ‘purport to’, because despite being (unlike the agencies) membership based – they suffer the usual faults of multicultural organisations – being weak and divided, thoroughly unrepresentative, dominated by older conservative males and fundraisers, and overly dependent on and answerable to funders rather than to the frequently mythical communities whose associations they claim to be. (Amit and Rapport 2002; Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992)

Thirdly and barely related to migrants (Fanning and Mutwarasibo 2007) – there are the political parties. By this I include the mainstream parties as well as the more radical leftist organisations, which one might expect to oppose the bill.

Political groups
In asking what argument each grouping has made I’ll start with the political groupings as that’ll be the easiest to deal with. They’ve said nothing, as far as I know. This bill has not significantly entered mainstream political discussion – the government’s doctrine of being firm but fair on migrants is unquestioned orthodoxy. Of course there are arguments raised as to how technically competent the government is at this, and an understanding on the merely human, that is, the ‘non-political’ level, as to the injustice suffered by migrants over issues such as family reunion. However such understanding has no political expression, or else has been diverted by what will probably prove to be the red herring of the marriage proposal

Perhaps more interesting is the extent to which the issue has been ignored by the left in Ireland – indicating their distance from migrants as well as the extent to which migrant affairs are considered outside politics. As far as I know, there has been no protests, no discussion, and I’ve even failed to find any articles in the various magazines produced by the left about this bill. Nor has there been any representation to the government. Only one political body made a submission to the plan – the Immigration Control Platform which unsurprisingly ‘is generally welcoming of the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill.’

Migrant groups
One might expect no better from migrant associations in view of their successful depoliticisation. In general it appears that there has been no major opposition. (though this is a preliminary report only). There has been one major exception to this quiescence - the case of New Communities Partnership (NCP), an association of migrant-led groups. Their submission to the government was very impressive. They focussed on 6 main issues

1. Long term residency – where they called for permanent residency
2. Family re-unification – where they want firm rules and the ombudsman to have the right to intervene
3. Procedures for visas and residency – the largest section – here they asked for requirements to be eased, costs reduced, and conditions to be simplified and clarified, as well as an independent appeals mechanism.
4. Documentation and biometric data – here they demanded the right to be treated the same as everyone else.
5. The protection section – here there were no suggestions, just complaints that this was in the wrong place, and that there was a criminalisation of immigrants going on.
6. Unlawful presence of migrants – the demand was to have bridging visas and restrictions to be eased.

Yet, importantly, they haven’t DONE anything AFAIK besides make this submission. Indeed I would argue that their most effective intervention has been to confirm, IBECs and the chamber of commerce’s arguments that the lack of clarity and restrictions on reunification are affecting Ireland’s capacity to attract skilled migrants – in other words they might be successful when inscribing migrants as pure economic units whose operationalisation and deployment might be adversely affected by the Bill.

Agencies have offered the best argued opposition to the bill. Like NCP they urge clarity and transparency, and independent appeals process - wishing the system to be open to the likes of them as well as to migrants. There are similar concerns about ministerial discretion, residency and reunification. However, unlike NCP they concentrate on the issue of protection - trafficking and child protection and so on. This is no shock. Of course NGOs would worry about how this bill will disturb and disrupt their relationships with their present and anticipated clients – migrants seen as victims.

Similarly Barnardos worries about the effect on children, the churches about the effect on marriage and so on. One of the geniuses of social partnership has been to depoliticise and atomise agencies and groups so that each one is tracked along the narrowest form of contention. In fact, one has to step back to the Trade Union submissions to find any joined up political criticism of these proposals.

But more important than the arguments used and the difference between them was how narrowly tracked the actions of agencies and migrant groups were. AFAIK (though I might find out more) they did little more than issue press releases and submissions to the government. They’ve called a few public meetings, but even these have been less to organise a campaign than to prepare submissions for the government or even worse, simply to inform migrants about what this bill means to them – a microcosm of how the agencies and multicultural groups treat migrants as clients.

While virtually all these submissions to the government about the bill – from IBEC to ICTU - argued against the huge discretionary powers been given to the ministry, they were curiously arguing the case to the ministry itself. Reading these submissions, one is caught up into a strange alternative universe. That there’s a bizarre fiction being maintained that somehow the government isn’t aware that the main features and aim of this bill it has designed is to increase its arbitrary power – and once it has been made aware of this, it will change it!

Part 3 Analysis of the opposition – beyond institutionalisation
Talking to agency people, no-one seriously thought the bill would be radically changed by the government. So here’s the conundrum: why appeal to the government when you know such appeals to be basically futile? Why not do something else?

There are two main reasons for this institutional channelling – firstly dependence on the government. The use of partnership funding and the threat of exclusion – not simply from funding, but from political consideration – has been used to depoliticise the whole voluntary sector in Ireland – not simply those relating to migrants. The slow withdrawal of partnership money now is partly because the money has run out, but also because partnership has done its job of conferring legitimacy upon a system which over a decade ago was badly in need of it

But it is not simply that organisations are dependent on state funding at the moment – it is that they are path dependent. For these organisations exist fundamentally as service providers that work within the channels the government has set for it. Even to do press releases and a joint statement was a major step for some groups. These are not organisations working on the basis of contention and their repertories of action have not extended to forms of opposition.

Yet that’s not all. Groups like ICCL which accepts no government funding, or the ICTU, have adopted more robust language that strains the ‘advising the minister’ repertoire. But they still don’t seem able to break through it. So simple dependence is not the reason for inneffectivity.

This points to the flaw of just concentrating on organisation co-option. We talk too much about the organisations involved, as if it is somehow their fault that there has been no opposition to the bill. But its the evacuation of the field by political parties, or the depoliticisation of immigrant groups, as co-option of NGOs that has led to the relative non-controversiality of this bill.

I want to make sense of these three processes – NGO co-option, political lack of interest, immigrant depoliticisation - by using Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of fields and in particular his insight that all those who take part in a field of contention need to use the dominant language, even when they oppose it.

The idea of field conveys the notion that we can view social life in terms of struggle between the various agents that make up a field. The struggle is over field-dependent capital (for instance academic capital or even activist capital – reputations are important. This capital is somewhat autonomous, your reputation and position in one field isn’t directly transferable to other fields).

Thus I’m arguing that we have a semi-autonomous migrant field – what Kevin Myers would call the race relations industry. Which is fair enough, except that he is also part of this industry. And also it’s too crude, calling this an industry, since this gives too much of a directionality to it. Fields are fundamentally fields of contention.

This migrant field has its own field-specific doxa (unquestioned opinions) –which people have to respect in order to be heard within the field. There were some submissions from asylum seekers asking, pleading should I say, for the right to work, so that they could build up their lives. However, so far away from the doxa is this, that their pleas to be treated like anyone else in this country sound merely poignant, irrelevant.

So despite the contention that exists there is ‘an objective complicity which underlies all the antagonisms’ (Bourdieu 1993: 73). This complicity can be summed up by the idea that a fight presupposes agreement about what is worth fighting about.

It is not simply the language of the field that is reproduced, it is also the silences which are transmitted, however unwillingly or unknowingly, by participants.

There are various doxa in this field. But the primary doxa is that immigrants are different to us, and what they are – or what they should be (and they’ll be rejected if not) – is economic units. From this all else flows. If ‘they’ are different, ‘We’ - being then defined as the national collective - can exclude them from political consideration (bye bye political parties).

Also we need to treat them differently, so that it is acceptable to consider placing them under a state of exception, or less radically it is acceptable to control and exclude migrants for our own benefits. For they have been inscribed as economic bodies - useful when producing for us – and needing to be excluded or rigorously controlled when not. This is the central unchallenged philosophy of the IRP bill. And importantly, this philosophy isn’t simply the government telling ‘us’ to treat migrants this way. It is a philosophy that both the government and others in the field are governed by – the ironic thing is that if any liberalisation happens to the bill it’ll be because migrants are treated as economic units.

Migrants being different, what agencies do is place all their energies into the ‘us’ integrating and protecting ‘them’, and relatedly it leads to the multicultural ghetto into which migrant groups have been shunted.

This doxa is not simply imposed from above – from the government. It is also generated from below; there is a productive channelling of NGO and immigrant association energies towards maintaining the field. One can see this in how some arguments from submitters were taken on board, once they had agreed to deploy the image of immigrants as economic bodies. One can also see the strength of the doxa by the ease with which alternative viewpoints or challenges to it – for instance from RAR – have been shrugged off.

In conclusion, I’d like to connect this bill with recent changes in the migrant field – namely how the state in its last budget signalled a partial withdrawal from the field – with grants for integration bodies slashed by a quarter.

This does not mean that it is possible to fashion an alternative just like that – fields are amazingly difficult to dismantle and the state will retain its dominance in this one. But what this and the certain passing of the IRP bill may do is to allow people in the agencies, in migrant groups and those of us who didn’t get involved in this field at all to recognise the failures – not of this or that strategy, but larger than this, the failure that comes from playing these games with the state. And thus there may be the chance of creating the space and desire for new counter-hegemonic discourses. They’re desperately needed.

Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
———. 2005. State of exception. Chicago, Ill. ; London: University of Chicago Press.
Amit, Vered, and Nigel Rapport. 2002. The trouble with community: Anthropological reflections on movement, identity and collectivity. London: Pluto.
Anthias, Floyd , and Nira Yuval-Davis. 1992. Resisting Racism: Multiculturalism, Equal Opportunities and the Politics of the “Community”. In Racialized Boundaries: Race, Nation, Gender, Colour and Class and the Anti-racist Struggle, edited by F. Anthias and N. Yuval-Davis. London: Routledge.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. Sociology in Question, Theory, culture & society. London: Sage.
Fanning, Bryan, and Fidele Mutwarasibo. 2007. Nationals/non-nationals: Immigration, citizenship and politics in the Republic of Ireland. Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (3):439-460.
Kundnani, Arun. 2007. The end of tolerance : racism in 21st century Britain. London: Pluto Press.
Lentin, Ronit, and Robbie McVeigh. 2006. After Optimism?: Ireland, racism and globalisation. Dublin: Metro Éireann Publications.
Mac Éinrí, Piaras. 2007. Scheme for an Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill: Some Preliminary Comments. In Integrating Ireland National Forum Saturday 21 October.

author by ESpublication date Fri Dec 05, 2008 19:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

One of the more level headed and clearer analyses on indymedia in the last while, unfortunately it would appear to be a discussion you will have to repeat again. You should think of reformatting and submitting it as a potential newswire piece, IMHO.

author by David Lpublication date Tue Dec 09, 2008 11:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks ES, if I have time I'll do it. Myself I found the discussion afterwards the interesting thing and I'm looking forward to further ones in SS about migration, equality and what on earth we can do about it!


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