Editorial: Welcome the Irish

Last updated 05:00 06/09/2012

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OPINION: The makeup of our city is changing. We need to change with it.

Over the coming years, thousands of workers from around the world will descend on Christchurch for the rebuild. Hundreds of Irish have already arrived, driven from their home by devastating economic collapse.

This is nothing new for the Irish. For centuries, famine, economic depression, and a lack of opportunity have forced many to leave home for the promise of somewhere better.

Today, for some, that place is Christchurch.

Between 1995 and 2007, Ireland enjoyed unprecedented economic growth. But the "Celtic Tiger" economy, which flourished on a rampant construction industry, fell flat in 2008. Now, unemployment stands at a staggering 15 per cent. Ireland is a bleak place. Skilled plumbers, carpenters, blocklayers and engineers have no work, or future.

Mass emigration may not be new for the Irish. Neither is an inhospitable reception in their new home. Signs reading "Irish need not apply" have greeted the Irish in New York; "No dogs, no blacks, no Irish" in London.

Yes, the country has well-documented problems with alcohol, yet thousands of extremely hard-working, and often highly skilled men and women are tainted by stereotypes.

After the All Blacks-Ireland test in June a Christchurch police officer, Senior Sergeant Scott Banfield, blamed Irish fans for causing trouble at the game. The Irish fans, he said, "demonstrated they can't handle alcohol".

"I think they just have to understand . . . if they're in Rome do as the Romans do. We don't drink to a point where we fall over so much in our country."

Quite a claim given what you see every weekend on the streets of New Zealand's major cities.

In response, an Irish woman claimed Banfield's comments gave people an opportunity to "tarnish us all with the same tired old ‘drunken Paddy' brush."

In August, an Irish man was awarded $13,000 by the Employment Relations Authority after suffering abuse because of his nationality. He was called a "thieving Irish b......, a f...... Irish and a dumb Irish b......". The authority ruled the abuse and bullying was not "acceptable banter".

Only last week, Irish workers told The Press they felt unfairly labelled as drunks, with some asked to recite irritating catchphrases like "fiddle-dee-dee potatoes" and "to be sure, to be sure" to amuse locals. Granted, there have only been a handful of such incidents, but they hint at something more unpleasant.

Some believe "banter" is always acceptable. It is not. It's one thing for good friends to jokingly poke at each other's nationality. It's another for strangers to irritate newcomers with rude cliches and hackneyed catchphrases. Many New Zealanders who live across the Tasman will be aware of this, often subjected to crude jibes. The vast majority of Christchurch people are hospitable and welcoming but some are not.

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The Irish are here for a reason. They're not here to drink. They want to work, to make a living, to make a better life, to build a future.

They will help build our future. They will play a huge part in the new Christchurch.

Everyone has a responsibility to make them feel welcome.

- The Press

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