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This transcript has been typed at speed, and therefore may contain mistakes. Newsnight accepts no responsibility for these. However, we will be happy to correct serious errors.

The changing face of Ireland 5/2/01

UNNAMED WOMAN:
So adieu, my dear father, Adieu, my dear father, Farewell to my sister, Farewell to my brother. I am bound for America, My fortune to try, When I think on Bunclody, I'm ready to die.

LIZ MACKEAN:
Irish history echoes with sad farewells, but for the first time more people are arriving in Ireland than leaving. Tradition is being turned on its head. Dun Laoghaire - until recently one of the main embarkation points for Irish workers. They set off to try their luck elsewhere. But not any more. The traffic is going the other way. This is a new experience for Ireland, as for the first time its ports are seeing a huge influx of foreign workers. Here are some new arrivals, fresh from the heat of the Philippines. They're being welcomed at St Michael's Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, where staffing levels are on the critical list.

UNNAMED WOMAN 2:
Believe it or not, we're not so different. 50 years ago my parents would have emigrated to Britain and a lot of my relatives would have gone to the United States.

MACKEAN:
Just five years ago, Ireland was sending nurses abroad, but they're now in such short supply that Irish hospitals travel the globe in search of recruits. In Dublin alone, there are 1,200 vacancies. These two will be in Ireland for the next two years. Both will sell their money home to help their families. For Guadalina, the pain of parting from her young daughter is almost too much to bear.

GUADALINA DAKANAY:
It's really difficult, especially when I saw my daughter saying bye-bye to me.

MACKEAN:
How old is your daughter?

DAKANAY:
Going four this April. It's really difficult to be far from them, but I really have to face the fact, the truth of life.

MACKEAN:
Which is that you need this money?

DAKANAY:
Yes, really, really.

MACKEAN:
The population of Ireland is visibly changing as the roar of its tiger economy reverberates. In 1999, 6,000 people from outside the EU came in on special permits. Last year that multiplied to 18,000. This year 30,000 are expected. The rate of change is breath-taking.

BRENDAN BUTLER:
IRISH BUSINESS & EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION
We do need people to come here, with high, medium and low skills. In society generally, this is a new issue. I'd be very concerned that Ireland would not be open and tolerant, as one would expect. We have a history of being a very open and tolerant society. There is a view emerging and there is some evidence emerging that there are quite a degree of racist tensions beginning to develop in Ireland. From a business perspective, that could be extremely damaging.

GABRIEL OKENLA:
I was just coming in this direction and I saw three men...

MACKEAN:
There are no official figures, but the experience of Gabriel Okenla on this Dublin street isn't isolated.

OKENLA:
They dragged me by my shirt - "Hey come here, nigger! What the hell do you want in this country? We don't want any black people here. What are you looking for? You're not supposed to be here." They started pushing me, kicking me and trying to make some punches into my face.

MACKEAN:
Gabriel is a student from London. He also works for a group that supports Africans living in Ireland.

OKENLA:
In every ten black people, you will see six who have been racially attacked or been the victim of racially motivated incidents. We don't feel comfortable to walk on the streets. We don't feel comfortable to do anything. We are being denied the opportunity of even going to the club or the pub, on the basis of our colour.

MACKEAN:
The attacks that are being reported have a common theme. The victims are accused of being illegal immigrants, in Ireland to ride the economic tiger. In the last few years, Ireland has seen a surge in asylum applications, from just nine a decade ago, to nearly 11,000 last year. The debate about how to respond has been fierce, perhaps even more so than in Britain. While every effort is being made to get foreign workers over here, asylum seekers are being met with tough new legislation designed to put them off. In November, the rules for asylum seekers were tightened considerably. They are now banned from working, they are housed in hostels and journalists can only interview them with written permission from the government. Ireland's indigenous travellers have long complained that they are the victims of racism, but many asylum seekers see themselves as the new focus of resentment. Jackie Healy-Rae is a member of the Irish Parliament. He's an Independent and part of the ruling coalition. He says his constituents in the rural west of Ireland feel the country can't cope with so many asylum seekers.

JACKIE HEALY-RAE:
INDEPENDENT
From outside of Ireland, they know now that we are were a soft touch. The big problem is that we're all afraid the system will be overcrowded. Just take the county where I come from - County Kerry. In the town of Killarney alone we have a housing list with 300 people waiting to be housed. If 50 or 100 refugees move in, they will also go on the list, so in a year's time we could have 400 or 500 of these people in Killarney looking for a house. The country accepted all these people up to a point. Now we realise we have gone overboard and we have too many people accepted. We're not going to continue down the road of having an open door all the time.

MACKEAN:
But Ireland is changing and schools are to be the focus of a new initiative to broaden minds.

MOHAMMED HADJI:
Why do you want to seek asylum here?

MACKEAN:
Mohammed, a refugee from Somalia, has been invited here to teach these sixth-formers about immigration and asylum.

UNNAMED GIRL:
I've come to your country to seek security.

HADJI:
Is this really you?

UNNAMED GIRL:
Yes, it is me.

HADJI:
How can I believe that? It doesn't look like you?

MACKEAN:
Most of these teenagers, who will be leaving school this summer, have never met a black person before.

UNNAMED GIRL:
I have seen them on television and maybe in the street, but never approached them.

UNNAMED GIRL 2:
It's happening fast all right. But when people come and talk to you and explain what's going on... There is a lot about the whole issue in the media and newspapers, and we're seeing what's happening. People are coming to terms with it. We just have to come to terms with it quicker.

UNNAMED BOY:
If you introduce the idea of multi-culture at a young age - if you have a black person - half black, half white - in a classroom at a very young age, they'll get to see that as normal, and they won't be nearly as racist in their remarks or in their ideas.

MACKEAN:
To help ensure that all new arrivals get the warmest welcome, the government has passed new equal rights legislation. It's being followed up with a campaign to raise awareness.

JOHN O'DONOGHUE TD:
IRISH JUSTICE MINISTER
I want people to learn the benefits of diversity, and appreciate the advantages of inter-culturalism. I want to see a smooth integration of people who are found to be refugees into Irish society.

MACKEAN:
Personally, what do you think about this change that's going on in Irish society?

O'DONOGHUE:
It is a change which we are going to have to learn to live with and a change which we are going to have to learn to appreciate. But I don't believe that anybody can expect the Irish people, no more than they would expect any other state, to accept people on an open border policy.

MACKEAN:
The border's certainly been wide open for Dun Laoghaire's Filipino nurses and for the others on foreign work permits, but the rest are finding it increasingly hard to cross. The new Celtic prosperity is coming at a price - sweeping cultural and social changes, which people here are only just beginning to come to terms with.

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