One of the advantages of us having recently acquired a fairly big immigrant population is that it doesn’t fit neatly into the received bipolar division of society in the north. Some of you may remember, for instance, how a year or so ago Martina Anderson called for Catholic migrant workers – and the bulk of our migrant workers are from Poland, Portugal and Lithuania and thus at least nominally Catholic – to be counted as “other” rather than “Catholic” for the purposes of fair employment monitoring, lest immigration work to the disadvantage of local Catholics who were already playing catch-up in the labour market.
Thing is, I can sort of see what Martina was getting at, especially as this was first raised in the context of police reform. The theory was, as I understand it, that some sleekit employers might hire a bunch of Poles and count them towards their “Catholic” quota. But it isn’t as if our whole battery of employment monitoring statistics are too blunt to pick up what’s going on in the workforce. Anyway, to come out and say this, and to say it in the manner that Martina did, just made her look like the xenophobe she isn’t. Not least because the north has a high and rising level of racially aggravated crime, which places an onus on our leaders to be sensitive in what they say.
That was in the boom period. Nowadays, with unemployment rising rapidly, there’s obviously even more potential for resentment to express itself in ugly way. This would, you think, push our leaders to be even more sensitive in their utterances. Then again, look at who you’re talking about. Step forward, Sammy the Streaker:
Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has said firms should give jobs to locals ahead of foreign nationals in the current economic downturn.
He said it made sense to give preference to people “with roots here”.
“A lot of people moved in because of opportunities that there were,” said Mr Wilson, who is also a DUP MP.
Sammy’s position was also backed by OFMDFM junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP, Lagan Valley), whose ministerial brief includes equality issues. Now, we all know the DUP have never quite reconciled themselves to the Fair Employment Act. But you would expect government ministers to have some rudimentary knowledge of the law. As was pointed out on Slugger, it is extremely illegal to discriminate against a job applicant on grounds of their ethnic background. Moreover, European law states that any citizen of an EU country – such as Poland, Lithuania or Portugal – can live and work in any other EU country. It’s a cornerstone of the Single Market.
And would Sammy care to explain to the farming wing of the DUP exactly how our poultry industry is supposed to stay afloat if all the Portuguese suddenly go home?