Up until the 1990s Irish migration history seemed first and foremost a history of emigration. Events such as the great famines in the 19th century or the economic crisis in the 1980s triggered the outmigration of considerable parts of the Irish population, contributing to the growth of an Irish diaspora. However, in the mid-1990s, and as a result of its economic boom in the Celtic Tiger period, Ireland developed from a longstanding labour migrant-sending country to a labour migrant-receiving country. As Stephen Castles notes in his foreword to the volume: “The speed of the transformation was almost without parallel: in just 15 years Ireland moved from Britain’s ex-colony on the European periphery to the epitome of neo-liberal globalization. It drew in large numbers of workers – and prospective settlers – from Western and Central Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America” (p. xix).
Even if the crisis of the neo-liberal financial system beginning in mid-2008 brought the country’s economic miracle to an end and growing unemployment promted some of the many migrants to leave again, the boom days have not passed without an impact on the Irish nation: “Ireland will not, whatever the outcome of the present crisis, be returning to the largely mono-ethnic order of the past. Migrants have transformed Ireland utterly in terms of economic development, political debate, cultural pluralism and social diversity” (Munck, p. 9). It is these economic, political, social, demographic and cultural transformations Ireland has experienced over the past one and a half decades as a result of mass (im)migration which “Globalization, Migration and Social Transformation: Ireland in Europe and the World” looks into in more depth.
The 15 contributions in this edited volume, which takes a multi-disciplinary approach, address a range of issues that affect contemporary Ireland with regard to migration and integration. The essays discuss Ireland’s abrupt shift from being a country of emigration to one of immigration, the social transformations which have accompanied this process as well as the political, social and cultural implications and challenges for both, the Irish society and the ‘newcomers’.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section, “Global and Diasporic Settings”, includes five essays. In his introductory chapter Ronaldo Munck provides the historical background and global context of the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger and its import of skilled foreign labourers. In addition, the chapter addresses how the ‘new globalised Ireland’ (the state as well as the broader civil society) has responded to the changing migration dynamics and the issue of immigration over the past decade.
Although returning migrants are usually considered ‘homecomers’, not migrants, the narratives of Irish return migrants in Caitríona Ní’s essay suggest that they often find themselves in between the binary categories of ‘native’ and ‘migrant’. By highlighting the “liminal and fluid nature of return migrant identities” (p. 30), Ní calls attention to “the blurred nature of boundaries between host and newcomer” (p. 21) and argues that return migration challenges this dualism.
Nicola Yeates critically discusses the country’s import of skilled health and care workers over the past two decades. Focussing on nurse migrations, Yeates argues that Ireland’s policy of actively recruiting nurses from abroad has contributed not only to the dependence of the country’s health system on foreign medical and nursing labour but also to the global nursing and health care crisis, seriously affecting some poorer countries.
Diane Sabenacio Nititham deals with Filipino migration to Ireland and shows that Sunday gatherings are important social spaces for Filipino migrants to share their language and food and to foster social relations with other Filipinos in Ireland. These gatherings, which contribute to strengthening a sense of community, help migrants to deal with the many challenges that come with being a migrant (including difficulties related to immigration status and family separation).
By comparing the cases of Ireland and Italy, Irial Glynn analyses how the memory of these two countries’ own emigration past has shaped the reception of immigrants and has influenced immigration debates in these two host societies.
The second section entitled “European Settings” includes four essays which place Ireland’s immigration experience and policy into a broader European context and perspective. Jo Shaw discusses the issue of resident non-citizens’ electoral rights and political participation in the EU and calls attention to problems related to migration and political inclusion and exclusion as well as to the disjuncture of free movement and political participation and citizenship rights.
Breda Gray discusses how Irish integration policy is influenced by the contradictory concerns of immigration as a necessity for economic growth and as a security threat. Bryan Fanning then analyses Ireland’s immigration and integration policies and debates by placing them into a comparative perspective with EU-wide responses to (im)migration. The findings reveal that “[b]y European standard the Irish system is strongly laissez faire; neo-liberal integration goals pertain” (p. 122). However, critically analysing official discourses on managing migration in Ireland, Gerard Boucher observes a strong contradiction between Ireland’s “neo-liberal internationalism” with regard to economic globalisation and European integration and an “at times illiberal nationalism of official discourses on managed migration” (p. 135).
The third section of the book deals with “Immigrant Experiences in Ireland” and contains six contributions. Theophilus Ejorh presents the everyday struggles of African migrants with racial discrimination, anti-immigration sentiments and the immigration/asylum system. He argues that these hostilities and challenges hamper adaptation, participation and integration of these migrants, making them “an exploited and vulnerable group of today’s Ireland” (p. 142). Bryan Fanning, Kevin Howard and Neil O’Boyle then examine the political and civil society participation of African and East European immigrants in Ireland in a comparative perspective.
This is then followed by Kevin Howard’s discussion of Irish responses to the ‘illegal and immoral practice’ of eastern European migrants of catching and eating coarse fish. Instead of ‘catching and releasing’ fish as Irish anglers do, the fishing practices of ‘non-nationals’ (taking fish for food) have been perceived as a transgression of Irish norms and a threat to Ireland’s coarse fishing stock. The author describes how this criminalisation has caused legislative and administrative actions “to compel cultural compliance from foreigners” (p. 181).
Taking the example of Brazilian migrants in the town of Gort, Brian McGrath and Frank Murray investigate how social and communal networks and ties influence adaptation and adjustment among new immigrants. While such networks can provide support, the authors also identify co-ethnic opportunism and exploitative relationships, which especially those migrants who are disadvantaged linguistically are prone to, as problems.
The last two essays deal with migrant groups and their use of (new) media. Gavan Titley and Aphra Kerr examine the development of Polish media in Ireland and the media practices and engagements of Polish migrants. Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain finally discusses the portrayal of Chinese migrants in the Irish media as hardworking model minority “who are contributing and deserving to be here” (p. 211). However, her findings reveal that the migrants do not view themselves as ‘New Irish’ and that “their identity, orientation and social actions are not focused primarily upon integrating in Ireland” (p. 213). This is reflected in their media practice and use of digital media which the author describes as “social technology, which enables a fluid, diasporic connection and identity to be maintained” (p. 216).
The book makes a valuable contribution to the study of contemporary Irish migration history and EU migration research more generally. The individual chapters and case studies provide new insights into how and with which social, cultural, economic and political consequences a European country with a strong history of emigration but with comparatively little historical experience of immigration has been transformed by a rapid shift in migration patterns. The book sheds light not only on how the Irish state and society has responded to immigration – also in comparison to other European states and societies – but also on the experiences of a range of migrant groups in Ireland.
However, the book is not free of shortcomings. One concerns the structure of the book. While section 2 and 3 have a relatively clear focus, the aim of section 1 remains unclear. One wonders, for instance, why the experience of Filipino migrants are placed into section 1 instead of 3 or why the comparison of Ireland’s and Italy’s emigration past and its influence on migrant reception and immigration debates in these two host societies has been part of section 1 instead of 2. The other shortcoming concerns the résumé (or the lack thereof). As an edited volume, the book would have greatly benefited from a concluding chapter that could offer not only a final discussion on the main findings and insights of the many different contributions, but also an outlook on possible future research, given the current developments in Ireland with regard to migration patterns, which once again have started to change as a result of the economic decline starting in 2008. All in all, however, the book is an enriching and important contribution to the study of ‘Ireland in the world’ and ‘the world in Ireland’.