On Bulgaria and Romania

First of all, let's make something clear. The Irish Government's decision to deny Bulgarians and Romanians the right to work here was not necessary to preserve our common travel area with Britain. From 1 January, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to travel freely throughout the EU, a consequence of their status as EU citizens. Their labour market status has nothing to do with this. Sweden, as a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, shares a common travel area with nearly every other country in the EEA and that didn't prevent them granting employment rights to the accession states in 2004, nor will it keep Finland and Slovakia from opening their labour markets to the 2007 states. It's a complete red herring and I suspect deliberate disingenuity on the part of some of those propagating it.

Now then. It's reported today in the Sindo (free registration required) that the decision was in fact motivated by fears of a "growing black market" in Ireland. If true, and given the source the odds are only about even, it demonstrates a Government thinking that borders on the moronic. Denying employment rights to people that you cannot deny entrance to - yes, that's the way to put a stop to the black market all right. Jesus. How much do we pay these people to decide public policy for us?

While first year logic ought to tell you that such a move will most likely encourage rather than discourage the underground economy, there's evidence for this as well. The European Commission released two reports this year which examined the effects of the transitional arrangements imposed by most EU countries in 2004. Sure enough, the black economy increased in those countries as did the number of low-skilled migrants, while Ireland, Britain and Sweden got most of the migrants at the higher end of the skills spectrum. Ireland and Britain more so than Sweden, which suggests that our increase was influenced by factors other than the lack of labour restrictions here, language and the availability of jobs in key sectors being identified as the two most important. The implication of all this is that Ireland and Britain will continue to be disproportionately attractive compared to other countries with similar labour laws - only now the migrants we'll be competing for will be those who aren't skilled enough to get legitimate work.

It's a recipe for trouble.

The issue that underlies all of this is one that migration analysts have long known but that xenophobes and governments continue against all reason to try to deny: immigration happens. It happens whether the receiving countries want it or not and it happens in spite of all their attempts to limit it. The Irish of all people ought to know this. Legal barriers do have some deterrent effect, but they also have the inevitable consequence of encouraging irregular migration. Indeed, the recent NESC reports on migration theorised that the relative lack of an underground economy in Ireland, compared to Britain and the US, is due in significant part to the relatively open work permit system that existed in this country up until a few years ago. And see where that Sindo article comments on the "growing black market" in Ireland? Is it any coincidence that that growth has occurred since the work permit requirements were tightened? Of course it isn't (and nor is it coincidental that human trafficking to Ireland has increased over the same period, but that's a subject for another day).

Now I'm not saying that there isn't a need for restrictions of some kind. Although I'm ideologically in favour of open borders, based upon my strong belief in the fundamental right of workers to control their own labour, as a practical matter I recognise the impossibility of Ireland or any other country making such a move unilaterally. But the point here is that the borders will be open anyway to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. The reason that border controls are so strict for nationals of third world and Eastern European countries is precisely because governments know that the only way to keep those people from working here is by preventing them coming here in the first place and once they've achieved the right to unrestricted entry, as is guaranteed to all EU citizens, that's most of the battle lost. If the European nations are genuinely committed to the right to free movement of persons, they must acknowledge that the movement of labour goes hand in hand with it, and it's of no benefit to anyone to pretend the two can be separated by silly transitional arrangements.

St Andrews (2)

I've been noticing that a lot of people, including a lot of panicked Shinners (and a lot of gleeful dissidents), seem to think that the St Andrews proposals were agreed amongst all the participants at the St Andrews negotiations.

They weren't.

As I understand it, this is what happened. The negotiations were about to collapse and everyone was going home. The governments then pulled out this document and offered it to the parties. The parties said Very well, we'll bring this back and think about it.

Personally my preference would have been to tell the governments where they could stick their document but then, I'm not on the negotiating team and there's probably a reason for that!!

Having read the thing thoroughly, I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. Quite apart from my concerns about signing up to policing under any circumstances, and particularly under circumstances where it is clear to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex that we are under the cosh, the details of this particular proposal should rule it out. Party policy, as agreed at our last Ard Fheis, includes a prerequisite for devolution of criminal justice and policing. This document says only that if everything goes according to plan there should be enough cross-community confidence for the Assembly to "request" devolution by May 2008.

That's a DUP wrecker's charter if I've ever seen one.

There's simply no way we can sign up to an agreement which would have us take seats on the policing board well in advance of this devolution and with only the vague promise that we ought to be able to "request" it in 18 months' time.

I also believe that if we're going to take a step of this magnitude we need to get more out of it than the measly morsels on offer. OASA, the remaining POWs, the OTRs ... none of these matters are dealt with in the proposals. The civil rights advances on offer don't seem to me to be much more than what the GFA already calls for. Why should we make more concessions just to get what we're already supposed to be entitled to?

So for all these reasons, I'll be strongly opposing our signing up to these proposals. And I'll stick my neck out and say that we won't. Depth of feeling on this issue is too strong and these proposals are too far from fulfilling the criteria previously agreed upon. Much, much, much too far.

St Andrews

I haven't had a chance yet to look in detail at the "agreement" reached at St Andrews, so I'll reserve comment on it for the time being.

For now I'll just note that I stand 100% by my previous posts on the PSNI, and on the Assembly.

More later.

On Bertiegate (2)

The PDs are in a right mess, aren't they? Pull out of government, and they won't be back in it for years - if not decades. Stay, as they're ostensibly planning to do, and they'll lose all credibility in their role as "Fianna Fáil watchdog" because it will be patently obvious to everyone that they're only doing it for the sake of their own Cabinet seats. Either way they've been seriously damaged - and given the damage they've done to this country over the past nine years, it couldn't happen to a nicer party.

I have to admit, though, I'd really rather see them go.

The IMC report

I had a read through it today and most of it's the usual load of predictable, unsubstantiated, factually sloppy rubbish. But if the Dublin Government is going to treat its assessments as definitive, it must be consistent in the actions it takes on foot of them. Specifically I'm talking about the continued imprisonment of republicans on the charge of "membership of an illegal organisation".

The 1937 Constitution and the ECHR both guarantee the right to form associations, subject only to "necessary" restrictions in the interests of public safety or national security. The new IMC report can only be interpreted as stating that there is no such basis for outlawing the IRA. The report describes the IRA as

firmly set on a political strategy, eschewing terrorism and other forms of crime

Hence there can be no justification for the continued proscription of the IRA nor for the continued imprisonment of these men. They should be released immediately.
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