Shifting tides: the impact of Michelle O’Neill’s premiership on Northern Ireland’s immigration


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First nationalist Prime Minister Sinn Féin’s election is likely to influence migration patterns, as she symbolizes a shift towards a more nationalist perspective. Nationalist parties traditionally advocate for a united Ireland, which could imply a more open stance towards immigration, particularly from the Republic of Ireland and other EU countries. Additionally, in a wide-ranging interview on RTÉ’s This Week programme, McDonald criticized the Government’s handling of the recent upsurge in people claiming asylum and International Protection in Ireland. This suggests a potential alignment with more liberal immigration policies, although specifics would need to be clarified. 

Secondly, the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland means that decisions on immigration will likely need to be made in cooperation with other parties. This could lead to a more balanced approach to immigration, taking into account both nationalist and unionist perspectives. 

Thirdly, the context of Brexit is crucial. Post-Brexit, there has been growing concern about Northern Ireland becoming the most heavily enforced part of the UK in terms of immigration control. How O’Neill navigates this issue could significantly impact immigration policies and practices. Given Sinn Féin’s general stance on Brexit and its potential impact on Northern Ireland, it’s conceivable that O’Neill may lean towards policies that ensure the rights of immigrants, especially in the context of the Common Travel Area (CTA) with Ireland. Lastly, O’Neill’s leadership could influence the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, particularly in terms of the Common Travel Area (CTA). The CTA allows for free movement of people between the UK and Ireland, and any changes to this agreement could have significant implications for immigration. 

Fourth, the impact of new immigrants hit by the latest ongoing armed conflicts across the globe. In the past year, nearly 13,000 individuals sought refuge in Ireland, marking a slight decrease from the figures of 2022, yet representing more than triple the number recorded in 2019. Concurrently, the influx of over 100,000 Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in Ireland following the Russian invasion of their homeland in 2022 has exacerbated the situation. Although some of these individuals have since departed, the cumulative effect has placed significant strain on Ireland’s infrastructure for accommodating new arrivals.

This surge in numbers has overwhelmed Ireland’s capacity to process asylum applications promptly, resulting in the utilization of a considerable number of vacant private properties, including hotels, to provide temporary housing. Consequently, the use of such facilities has sparked protests within certain communities, highlighting concerns over the appropriateness of their use for housing asylum seekers. As a consequence of these challenges, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of asylum seekers left without adequate shelter, further underscoring the pressing need for effective and sustainable solutions to address Ireland’s evolving immigration landscape.

While it’s too early to predict specific policy changes, the election of Michelle O’Neill as Northern Ireland’s PM could signal a shift in immigration issues. Her leadership, the power-sharing government, the context of Brexit, and the relationship with the Republic of Ireland are all factors that could influence future immigration policies and practices in Northern Ireland.

Written by: Nenad Stekić


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