Monday, March 16, 2009

A social animal

There's a good article in the New York Times today on how EU member states are starting to get a touch of cold feet on the issue of taking in detainees from Guantanamo Bay, as many - including Ireland - initially said they would.

Now that the diplomatic euphoria of Barack Obama's election has receded, world powers are starting to realise that yes, the world is still in the toilet and no, international relations haven't gotten any less complicated because the US President now knows how to punctuate a sentence.

The European concerns about the details of possible prisoner release, from access to US intelligence on the men to what their status within the EU will be, are tangible and understandable.

Through Guantanamo Bay, CIA rendition and illegal detention, George W Bush has essentially created the most layered and complex foreign policy knot of our generation. It will not be undone quickly or easily.

Assuming that the Government does not renege on its offer to take one or more Gitmo prisoners into the country, it is only a matter of time before public opinion here and elsewhere begins to sway this debate to a potentially awkward conclusion.

How receptive can we expect the Irish public to be to the whole idea? Even if the Department of Justice's already messy web of immigration policy is negotiated and agreed status is afforded to a Gitmo prisoner, it will not make dealing with a ream of social problems any easier.

For instance, how well could one of the 17 Chinese Muslim Uighur minority currently detained in Cuba integrate into the Asian community in Dublin, or even Limerick?

How long would it take before the News of The World or some scaremongering Republican Sinn Fein mouthpiece track down and expose them?

To what extent would Garda monitoring undermine the individual's ability to assimilate into Irish society?

The upcoming meeting of the European Council will most likely see leaders spend most of their time arguing over Eastern bank bailouts and the explosive cost of our exports. But they would also do well to consider how they intend to handle the Gitmo issue as well.

Barack Obama has a 12-month timetable in place for the full closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and being the realist that he is it is one he will want to adhere to.

The attitude of the Irish public towards Gitmo prisoners living and working amongst us - be they hardened zealots or innocent victims of CIA brutality - will go a long way towards shaping the Government's overall stance on the issue.

The Government could certainly do with the political capital that will come from working with Washington on this.

But making it work on a social level will be far more complicated.

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