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[15/12/2005] ICTU’S David Begg, Morning Ireland and “racist” comments on immigration

Open Letter from Anthony Coughlan



Ms Aine Lawlor
Morning Ireland,
Dublin 4

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Dear Aine Lawlor,

I was amused to hear you interview ICTU's David Begg on "Morning Ireland"
today re the Irish Ferries dispute and to hear him expatiating on what he
termed the problems that arise from merging an Irish labour force of 2
million with an East European labour force of 70 million.

The thought crossed my mind that maybe you would suggest that David Begg
was encouraging "racism" and "racist" sentiment by drawing attention to
such problems.  I remember well your putting this suggestion to me when I
tried to draw attention to exactly this situation in an interview with you
on the same programme at the time of the second Nice Treaty referendum in

I sought to point out on that occasion that merging a labour market of 2
million with one of 70 million would lead to significant immigration to
Ireland from the poorer countries of Eastern Europe, that this would
inevitably have a downward effect on Irish workers' wage-rates and working
conditions, and would make it difficult to maintain even the minimum wage
rate for many people working here.

During the Nice referendum I also remember David Begg implying that it was
encouraging "racism" to suggest that it would be difficult to maintain
high-quality wage and working conditions in face of significant
immigration, when he and I spoke together at the Magill Summer School in
Donegal.  Mr Begg and such other Yes-side worthies as Proinsias de Rossa
and Minister for Europe Dick Roche produced ludicrously low estimates at
that time of how many workers would come to this country if we were one of
only a handful of EU States to operate an "open door" policy from Day One
of EU enlargement.  See some of their estimates below. They threw insults
about "racism" and "racist" at anyone who questioned their dogmatic
assurance that no serious problems could arise.

The problems arising from Gama, Irish Ferries, the widespread violation of
our minimum wage laws in the construction and some service trades etc., are
occurring  in a context where Ireland has an economic boom and there are
plenty of jobs available.  Can you imagine  how hard it would be to
maintain Irish workers' wages and standards in the event of an economic

Being unable to prevent downward pressure on Irish workers' wages and
working conditions due to their uncritical embrace of uncontrolled EU
immigration, David Begg and others will now fall back on seeking to
maintain  the Irish minimum wage level, even though many immigrants are
willing to work for less than that. Trying to maintain different national
minimum wage-levels in a 25-Member EU in which there is total free movement
of labour is a bit like trying to enforce one minimum wage rate in Kerry,
but a different one in Limerick next door, and a different one again in
Tipperary and the other Irish counties. One can attempt it with an army of
Labour Inspectors, but widespread evasion is inevitable.

I can imagine the day will come when some attractive Czech and Polish radio
presenters, as articulate as your good self but willing to work for less
money, will appear on RTE's current affairs programmes as a result of the
station being affected by "the bracing winds of competition"  in the labour
market which David Begg and others have helped let Irish workers in for.

In late 2002 I was present at the National Forum in Europe in Dublin Castle
when David Begg told those present that he supported the proposed EU
Constitution. This was before that Constitution had even been signed and
when its final provisions were not yet publicly known.  Mr Begg's
commitment of support was given without any policy discussion on the matter
in  ICTU's affiliated trade unions. If the French had voted Yes to the EU
Constitution last summer and we had had the referendum on it that was
planned for here in October, one can be confident that Mr Begg would have
been urging Irish workers to vote for it, with much fatuous talk about the
"European social model", only for them to regret bitterly doing that later
when it was too late.

I am sending copies of this letter for their information to David Begg,
Cathal Goan, the producer of "Morning Ireland"  and various other trade
union and media people who will remember the shameful way some elements of
the Yes-side behaved  in discussing migration during the 2002 Nice Treaty

Yours sincerely

Anthony Coughlan

P.S. In today's "Irish Independent"(p.14) economics correspondent Brendan
Keenan, writing under the heading "Amazing immigration flow poses
challenge",  states that 66,000 foreigners applied for Personal Public
Service Numbers to work in this State between May and October this year, an
average of 11,000 per month, nearly all of them citizens of the new EU



" There is no reason to believe ... that large numbers of workers will
wish to come" [Minister for Europe Dick Roche, I.T. Letters,  12/7/2002 ]


"Mr. X also repeats the line propagated by the No to Nice campaign that
only four countries are to permit immigration after enlargement. This
statement grossly misrepresents the position of the other member states."
[Dick Roche,   I.T.Letters, Aug/Sept. 2002]


"Ireland will be in precisely the same position as all other member states
on the question of free movement following any enlargement of the
Community." [Dick Roche, as reported in the Irish Times, September 2002)


"It is the view of the Irish Government and a number of other governments
that this idea that there is going to be a huge influx of immigrants is
just  not supported. The evidence is just not there for it. They are not
going to  flood to the west. The same rules are going to apply in all 15
states. There  is no evidence to suggest that the people of the Czech
Republic or Poland  are less anxious to stay in their home as (sic) we are.
[ Dick Roche, transcript of interview with The Irish Catholic, 19/9/2002.]


" It is a deliberate misrepresentation to suggest that tens of thousands
will suddenly descend en masse on Ireland." [Proinsias De Rossa, I.T.
Letters,  20/8/2002 ]


" The expected trickle of immigration to Ireland will on balance benefit the
Irish economy." [P. De Rossa, I.T. Letters,20/8/2002


" I estimate that fewer than 2,000 will choose our distant shores each
year."   [P.De Rossa, I.T. Letters, 20/8/2002 ]


"There is no evidence there would be a problem with free movement of
workers on accession." [Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Dail Eireann,10/9/2002 ]


"Efforts have been made to foment fears that migrants from the new member
states could flock to Ireland. This is not only unpleasant but plainly
wrong." [Brian Cowen, Sunday Business Post, 7/7/2002 ]


"Ireland is already benefiting from the skills and energy of workers from
the applicant states, about 7,000 of whom  received work permits last year.
There is no basis whatever for expecting a huge upsurge  in these numbers."
[Brian Cowen, Sunday Business Post, 7/7/2002 ]


" The second myth is that the Nice Treaty will mean mass immigration from
the new EU member countries in Eastern Europe. This is probably the most
odious of the myths propagated by some in the "No" campaign." [Minister
Willie O'Dea, Sunday Independent,Summer 2002]

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