Muslim Community Lobby Ireland is an independent organization established 1st May 2007. Its motto is TO USE THE VOTE RIGHTLY AND TO RAISE THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AWARNESS WITH THEIR RIGHTS AND TO PROMOTE TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING OF OTHER EXISTING GROUPS. لترشيد استعمال الصوت الانتخابي ولتوعية وتعريف المسلمين بحقوقهم في ايرلندا وان يعيشوا بتفهم للواقع وللجماعات الاخرى الموجودة على الساحة
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Immigration system to tighten for non-EU workers
Guardian (6 May 2008)
From this autumn British employers will have to prove that no British workers are able to fill a vacancy before offering a job to an immigrant worker from outside Europe, the Home Office has said.
The measures are part of the second stage in the new points-based immigration system under which only those immigrants with the skills that Britain needs will be given permission to work in the UK.
Under the new guidelines, workers entering the country from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will have to accrue the required number of points and show evidence of a job offer before they can enter Britain.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said that the new system would give British job-seekers "the first crack of the whip" and that only the skilled immigrants the country needed would be granted access to the UK.
Speaking on GMTV, Byrne said that the system would be flexible; the number of points needed in certain professions could "move up or down" in response to the needs of business and the country as a whole.
"When we set the points pass mark, we will listen to independent advice - the Migration Advisory Committee on the needs of the economy, and the Migration Impacts Forum on the effect of migration on society."
Points will be awarded according to the applicant's qualifications, salary prospects and age.
The first stage of the new system, which was put in place in February, applies to highly skilled workers residing in the country who wish to extend their stay.
The second stage, to be announced today, will focus on skilled workers and on identifying gaps in the labour market.
A similar scheme covering temporary workers, young people and students will be rolled out later this year.
Details of the points requirement of entertainers and sportsmen and women on short-term contracts will also be laid out today.
The proposed new schemes will replace a number of routes to working in the UK, including the old work permit system.
Byrne stressed that the rules would not affect the movement of people from the EEA but would create "a much tighter regime" for non-EU immigrants.He said: "I think there is a political consensus that free movement within Europe is here to stay but that's not to say we shouldn't be looking at the rules again."
A Home Office spokesperson said that the objective of the new system was to manage migration "in the national interest", adding that the right balance had to be struck between safeguarding the interests of the British workforce and enabling UK employers to recruit or transfer skilled people from abroad.
According to the Home Office, 65,000 skilled workers entered Britain from outside the EEA in the 12 months to last September, but under the new points-based scheme that figure would fall to 57,000.
Greek Islands, Overwhelmed by Refugees, Seek Help
New York Times (07/05/2008)
ATHENS — A rash of refugees from Africa, southern Asia and the Middle East has been crossing the Aegean Sea and besieging a cluster of craggy Greek islands.
Local officials have called for the central government to declare a state of emergency on the tiny island of Leros, after the Greek coast guard picked up more than 200 refugees, half of them minors, over the weekend.
The immigrants, Pakistanis, Ethiopians, Iraqis and Somalis, said they had reached Greece by boat from Turkey.
Some were sent to reception centers across the country, while others were released after requesting political asylum, the authorities said.
“The problem now is who takes care of the minors,” said Chrysoula Sifouniou, deputy prefect of the Dodecanese, a group of islands dotting the Aegean’s southeast flank near the Turkish coast. “We don’t have the infrastructure to cope with them, not even a single reception center for them. There’s no state plan or strategy in place to deal with these cases.”
Many immigrants use Greece as a transit point to other European countries. Greece, as one of the European Union’s easternmost countries, has increasingly become a gateway for people fleeing conflict in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The authorities in Greece detained 112,364 illegal immigrants in 2007, three times the number in 2004.
The Greek coast guard stepped up patrols in the Aegean last weekend, while local officials expressed concern about the number of minors being ferried illegally to Greek shores.
“This is a new trend we’ve noticed in recent months,” Ms. Sifouniou said. “It has left us baffled and confused, because we neither have the expertise nor the infrastructure to deal with this problem on a local level.”
Concerned islanders and church officials have offered to aid the children, and some hotel owners have offered to house them.
But with the first wave of tourists expected in the region by early June, hoteliers are expected to evict the minors to take in paying guests.
“It’s pathetic,” Ms. Sifouniou said. “The state has to step in and take control of this situation.”
Criticism of Greece was already mounting for its treatment of immigrants and for turning down applicants for political asylum. Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the Greek system was so flawed that other European countries should not return asylum seekers to Greece.
Officials in Athens have denied the United Nations accusations, contending that Greece, one of the European Union’s smallest and poorest nations, should not be saddled with the union’s immigration responsibilities.
PRESS RELEASE No 29/08
Judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-133/06
Parliament v Council
The Court of Justice annuls certain provisions of the directive on procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status
By making the future adoption of common lists of safe countries subject to mere consultation of the Parliament instead of the co-decision procedure, the Council exceeded the powers conferred on it by the Treaty in relation to asylum.
On 1 December 2005, the Council adopted a directive on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status. The directive states that the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after consultation of the European Parliament, is to adopt a minimum common list of third countries which are to be regarded by Member States as safe countries of origin, and a common list of European safe third countries. The amendment of those two lists is also subject to the Council acting by a qualified majority after consultation of the Parliament.
The Parliament brought an action for annulment in respect of the provisions of the directive which provide for the Parliament merely to be consulted. It takes the view that those provisions should have provided for the lists to be adopted by the co-decision procedure, under which the Parliament acts as co-legislator. According to the Parliament, the Council unlawfully made use, in an act of secondary legislation (the directive), of legal bases enabling it to adopt those lists, thereby ‘reserving to itself a right to legislate’.
The Council, conversely, submits that the use of secondary legal bases is an established legislative technique and that nothing in the EC Treaty precludes it. The Council refers also to the sensitivity of this area, which requires quick and effective reactions to changes in the situation of the third countries in question. Finally, it takes the view that the conditions laid down for transition to the co-decision procedure have not been fulfilled.
In essence, the question before the Court is whether the Council could lawfully provide in the directive for the adoption and amendment of the lists of safe countries by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the Parliament.
The Court observes that each institution is to act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by the Treaty. The procedure for the adoption of the lists introduced by the directive differs from that which is laid down in the Treaty. However, the rules regarding the manner in which the Community institutions arrive at their decisions are laid down in the Treaty and are not at the disposal of the Member States or of the institutions themselves. The Court goes on to say that to acknowledge that an institution can establish secondary legal bases is tantamount to according that institution a legislative power which exceeds that provided for by the Treaty.
Therefore, the Council exceeded the powers conferred on it by the Treaty by including secondary legal bases in the directive. In those circumstances, the Court annuls the contested provisions.
The Court adds that, as regards the future adoption of the lists of safe countries and their amendment, the Council will have to comply with the procedures established by the Treaty. The Court holds that the co-decision procedure is applicable both to the adoption and amendment of the lists of safe countries through legislation and to any decision to apply the third indent of Article 202 EC concerning implementing powers.
Ethiopian man can appeal on status
Irish Times (08/05/2008)
AN ETHIOPIAN man who claims he fled to Ireland after he was arrested and tortured by the authorities in his native country has secured leave from the High Court to challenge the refusal to grant him refugee status here.
Mr Justice Brian McGovern noted yesterday that medical reports put before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal when it considered the man's application for refugee status appeared to support the man's claims of ill-treatment.
Doctors had reported the man suffered anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder and that scars on his legs were consistent with this.
In those circumstances, the judge said it was "incumbent" on the tribunal member, Mr Desmond Zaiden - who had said he had considered the medical reports "in full and in detail" - to state why he did not accept their contents. The medical evidence was "significantly supportive" of the claims and Mr Zaiden had failed to advance cogent reasons for rejecting it, he said.
On that basis, the judge ruled the 35-year-old man had established the "substantial grounds" required under the Immigration Act to bring a judicial review challenge to Mr Zaiden's decision.
The judge noted the man, married with two children, arrived in Ireland in September 2004, claiming to be a member of the Oromo Liberation Front, a group seeking independence from Ethiopia. In seeking refugee status, he claimed fear of persecution on grounds of religion and nationality. The man claimed he served with the OLF as a propagandist from 1994 to 2004, that his wife was imprisoned, his elder brother killed and that he himself was imprisoned and tortured.
Time to take an integrated approach to cultural diversity
Irish Times (08/05/2008)
ANALYSIS: Different ethnic groups live side by side successfully when there is engagement, mutual comprehension and respect, writes Robin Wilson
'THE TASK of living together amid growing cultural diversity while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms has become one of the major demands of our times and is set to remain relevant for many years to come."
That is the ringing conclusion of a document launched this week in Strasbourg by foreign ministers from 47 governments across Europe.
Living Together as Equals in Dignity, the Council of Europe White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, has been in gestation for three years. It follows extensive consultation with the council's member states and non-governmental organisations, and it answers their concern for guidance on policy and good practice on the democratic management of cultural diversity.
This item has moved up and up the political agenda: 2008 is the EU Year of Intercultural Dialogue. First there were the wars of the Yugoslav succession in the 1990s, then came the al-Qaeda attacks in the US and the American-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the ethnic riots in northern England in 2001 and urban France in 2005 and the Islamist bombs in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. Not to mention the killing by an Islamist of the film-maker Theo van Gogh in 2004 and the uproar over the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad in 2005.
Ireland, north and south, has had a crash course in cultural diversity, on top of much experience over the decades - often violent - in dealing with its traditional divisions. Northern Ireland has recently been found to top a bigotry index of general intolerance, when set against 18 western democracies.
The Republic has latterly had a better story to tell. A national action plan against racism has been in place, a Minister of Integration, Conor Lenihan, has been appointed and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism acts as a constructive critic. But there has been survey evidence of abuse of members of visible minorities, and the needs of schoolchildren for whom English is not their first language run well ahead of the finances available. In particular, the apartheid effects in Balbriggan of a church-dominated education system have posed stark questions.
The Council of Europe (which is not part of the EU structures) was established in 1949 to embody the universal norms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law which alone could say never again to the totalitarianism and nationalistic war that had ravaged the continent. On this foundation, the White Paper defines intercultural dialogue as "an open and respectful exchange of views" among bearers of diverse identities, and it charts a way forward, at once philosophical, political and practical.
Philosophically, the White Paper argues that two conventional ways of dealing with cultural diversity have had their day. On the one hand, an older idea that members of minority communities should assimilate to a predominant ethos - at the heart of traditional Irish republicanism and Ulster unionism, and oddly enjoying a revival in the UK under Gordon Brown with his stress on Britishness - has come up against the reality of not just diversity but a diversity of diversity.
On the other hand, the notion that different communities should be given official recognition as if they were collective entities, under the banner of multiculturalism, is now seen as having inadvertently fostered mutual incomprehension, while undermining human rights within communities.
Intercultural dialogue, the White Paper argues, "requires a democratic architecture characterised by the respect of the individual as a human being, reciprocal recognition (in which this status of equal worth is recognised by all), and impartial treatment (where all claims arising are subject to rules that all can share)".
Reciprocal recognition certainly favours the inter-religious dialogue the former taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, launched with the principal faith communities. But whether migrant agency workers always enjoy respect as individual human beings remains a moot issue in the coming social-partnership talks. And impartial treatment jars with the continued association of mainstream public services, in health and education, with the ethos of a particular predominant religion, rather than a neutral professionalism.
Ironically, the North's former policy framework on community relations, A Shared Future, was on all fours with the White Paper philosophy in these regards. But it was ditched by the new devolved administration.
Politically, intercultural dialogue is ideally embodied in a national integration plan. This can establish a positive framework for dialogue, via strong leadership at the heart of government, a joined-up approach which crosses departmental boundaries and full involvement of NGOs, particularly minority associations.
At local level, best practice (as developed in Germany and Denmark) is to establish integration councils, which bring representatives of minority communities together with local authority leaders. Practically, intercultural dialogue is a challenge to which everyone can contribute.
Journalists must enjoy editorial freedom, but with that comes responsibilities in impartial reporting - not always evident in tabloid coverage of immigration, asylum and crime. Teachers now all need to be competent in intercultural education, particularly with regard to history, religion and languages. This in turn entails investing in training and resources. Planners are obliged to ensure that public spaces provide opportunities for dialogue, rather than ghettoised anonymity amid social segregation.
Among many examples of good practice it highlights, the White Paper notes the intercultural plan developed last year by the Football Association of Ireland.
It is through allying intercultural dialogue to such day-to-day activities as sport that the warp and weft of an integrated society is ultimately woven.
Stabbing horror outside city bar Waterford News (09/05/2008)A MAN was stabbed five times in broad daylight yesterday during a row outside a Waterford city bar.
The 23-year-old victim was taken to hospital but his attacker fled and was last night being hunted.
Shocked on-lookers watched as the victim was knifed following a verbal altercation between him and an older man thought to be in his 50s outside Revolution on John St.
“They were shouting at each other and then one of them pulled a knife on the other,” said one eyewitness.
It is believed the men are of Turkish or Kurdish nationality and the victim is an asylum seeker who has been living in Waterford for the past six months.
At the time of going to press, a garda spokesperson said the man had been removed to Waterford Regional Hospital.
He was undergoing exploratory surgery to determine the exact number of stab wounds.
“He’s in a comfortable condition at the moment and it is thought he’ll make a full recovery,” explained Sgt. Larry Langton
By the time the ambulance and garda car reached the scene, the man responsible for the injuries was no longer there.
As yet nobody has been arrested, but gardaí are viewing CCTV footage taken by cameras outside the bar to piece together what exactly happened.
They will also try to identify the person responsible from the tapes. It is believed that the two were in a group of about six men when the incident happened. There was a lot of commotion and noise as the injured man was taken away by ambulance to receive life saving treatment.
Shortly afterwards gardaí cordoned off the scene, denying access to the bar.
€10,000 bogus marriage offer for Latvian girls
From The Irish Independent
Sunday, 11th May, 2008
Immigrants in cash-for-wedding licence scam
POOR, young Latvian women are being lured to Ireland with promises of up to €10,000 to "marry" illegal immigrants here, men mainly from Pakistan, most of whom are believed to have wives back in their home countries.
Adverts have been placed in Latvia and, it is believed other Baltic states, seeking women to come to Ireland to marry illegal immigrants over the past two years.
One advert in Latvia stated: "Young unmarried women wanted. Women who would agree to help Indian guys in Dublin with registering marriage on paper (fictitious marriage, popular in Dublin nowadays).
"Everything will be covered, plus you get €1,000, plus room rent covered, plus work offered, plus pocket money, plus course (professional, language) plus other benefits. Also plane ticket costs will be covered. All this is legal!."
Although the advert claimed that "Indian" men were involved, investigations into such marriages by the Garda National Bureau of Investigation (GNIB) found that those involved are all from Pakistan.
A journalist from Latvian newspaper Diena who posed as a possible bride, replied by email to the advert and received a reply stating: "When arriving in Ireland this marriage is not registered right away but only after 3-6 months not earlier, because in Ireland all 'paper formalities' take very long time and after you have submitted an application you must wait for another 3-6 months until that marriage.
"A fictitious marriage is registered, it is a marriage on paper. With this the Indian guy may stay in the territory of Ireland legally because he has registered his marriage with EU citizen. This allows him to stay in Ireland permanently.
"It does not cost anything for the person who is helping, also stamps are not put in passports any more, passport stays clean. Then this marriage is registered in local Irish computer, not in Latvian register. Marriage agreement/ contract is signed and cancelled after a year. No obligations from both sides. This is just a formality. And it is legal process. At present it is a rather popular thing in Ireland (also in other countries eg England, Switzerland and others." the reply said.
"Living conditions are the following -- living in apartments that are shared with other workers. Salary is around €1,500 to €2,000 per month, besides all money stays in your pocket as you do not have to pay for anything (unlike other workers who spend about half of their salary on room, rent, transport etc)," the replying email stated. Last year GNIB found that 500 of 3,000 applications by non-Irish married couples to live here were from failed asylum seekers and that a significant number of others involved arranged marriages with young women from the Baltic states who had replied to the adverts. Gardai also found that 400 of the applications to reside in Ireland based on marriage to an EU citizen were from Pakistanis.
The Department of Justice's Immigration department last year refused 279 of these applicants leave to remain here despite their claims of rights of residence because of marriage to an EU citizen. Immigration "rights" groups last year criticised the Department's decision to refuse leave to some of these men to remain here.
The Latvian authorities are apparently amazed at Ireland's lax controls over arranged or bogus marriages.
Last month, Latvian police said that they have been informed by the garda that such "marriages" are "not a crime" in Ireland.
The Head of the State Police Organised Crime Enforcement Department, Arturs Vaisla, told the Diena newspaper: "There are countries that treat such cases irresponsibly. If it had happened here we could have put them in prison."
Quarter of asylum seekers 'disappear' after lodging claims with authorities
Irish Independent (May 12 2008)
ALMOST one in four asylum seekers who came here since the beginning of the year has "disappeared".
An estimated 1,100 asylum claims have been lodged here in the first three months of the year.
But 250 of the claimants then "disappeared" and did not process their case further.
A senior immigration official said last night : "This is a massive number and it continues the trend that was evident throughout 2007 when 689 cases, or 17pc, were officially deemed withdrawn.
"It suggests that these claims were not genuine but were made only as a back-up by people who had other options.
"Apart from abusing the process and wasting time, this practice also slows down the development of genuine claims."
A Dail committee examining the new immigration bill to be piloted through the Oireachtas by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern will hear details of other abuses which result in nine out of 10 claims being rejected as unfounded.
Since January last, 8pc of the applicants had already featured on the Eurodac system, which meant they had lodged asylum claims elsewhere in Europe; 14pc were lodged by people who had been in the country for more than three months; 12pc were put made on behalf of children aged under three years.
In more than half of children's cases, the child had a parent who had been turned down for refugee status.
Measures in the bill are aimed at closing off some of the perceived loopholes, which the authorities believe are being exploited by bogus claimants.
The top five countries of origin of asylum applications so far this year are Nigeria (26pc or 237 cases), Iraq (7pc), Congo (5pc), Somalia (4pc) and Pakistan (4pc).
The overall number of applications from January to March is down by 13pc on the corresponding period last year, when the lowest annual total for 10 years was recorded. The 2007 total of 3,985 represented a drop of 66pc on the 2002 figure.
Majority say society now at immigration ‘limit’
Irish Times (12/05/2008)
CONTRADICTORY ATTITUDES towards immigration are revealed in a new study which has found that a majority of Irish people believe society has “reached its limits” in accepting other races, religions and cultures.
“Problems” could arise if there was further immigration from people within these minority groupings, preliminary results of the survey indicate.
The analysis by sociologists from Mary Immaculate College (Mary I) and University of Limerick (UL) is based on a survey carried out late last year of people living in the west, midwest and south. It was presented at this weekend’s annual Sociological Association of Ireland conference in Galway.
Significantly, a majority of respondents had also agreed that it was a “good thing” for any society to be made up of people from different cultures and religions, the study by Amanda Haynes and Eoin Devereux (UL) and Michael Breen (Mary I) noted.
Some 86.6 per cent agreed with this thesis, compared with 74.4 per cent in a Eurobarometer study of 2003.
Almost 70 per cent questioned also felt that diversity added to Ireland’s strengths – a rise of over 10 per cent from a similar Eurobarometer question in 2003. However, almost 79 per cent felt that there was a “limit” to this, and just over 67 per cent felt that this limit had been reached.
This suggested that people may be giving “politically correct” answers to certain questions, the conference heard.
In an analysis of questions relating to myths and misinformation, the study found extreme “lack of clarity” among respondents about the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee.
Only 15.4 per cent of the sample cited “safety” as a reason why people seek asylum here, with more than twice as many believing it was related to “employment or social welfare”.
Most respondents overestimated the number of asylum seekers who had come to Ireland the previous year, and nearly 40 per cent thought that the direct provision allowance was over €100 a week.
Over 90 per cent of respondents believed reports about immigrants in the media, and the negativity of much of this coverage is reflected in reports of which respondents remembered details.
Also speaking at the conference, Claire Dorrity of University College Cork (UCC) said there was an urgent need for an “ethnic-led” umbrella group at national level to help influence policy. Minorities also needed to be represented by members of their own ethnic group at political level to avoid misrepresentation.
Research on the Brazilian community in the south Galway town of Gort by Brian McGrath of NUI Galway found that a lot of people with undocumented status lived in fear and an “informal economy” worked on the basis of trust. However, this can allow for exploitation.
Up to a third of the town’s population is Brazilian, since the first small group arrived to work in the former Duffy meat plant almost 10 years ago. A number of those interviewed in Portuguese for the research said that while strong family networks made it easier for more recent migrants to settle, a “dominant majority” from Goias in south central Brazil is seen as “closed” to those from other parts.
“They don’t pass the jobs . . . nobody wants to help the others,” one interviewee said.
The arrival of more Brazilians in later years had eroded a sense of obligation to compatriots, and there were instances where jobs were being “sold” and where people were paying compatriots for basic language services and assistance.
Children of Brazilian migrants provided a key towards integration, and national policy should include far greater support for the school network in facilitating integration, said Mr McGrath.
Call for focus on ethnic tensions
Dominic Casciani BBC News (11/05/2008)Councils must work harder to target "hot spots" caused by rising migration and diversity, the government will say.
The Department for Communities, which will launch guidance on monitoring local tensions, says more work needs to be done to prevent local disturbances.
The guidance comes a year after a major report urged ministers to do more to improve community cohesion.
Some experts have already called on councils to set up early warning systems to prevent race riot repeats.
Last summer the Commission on Integration and Cohesion said areas that had never before experienced change caused by new immigration were on a frontline of tensions between different communities.
That warning is partly borne out by official figures which have measured how people from different backgrounds get on with each other.
Things can be done to address problems at the earliest opportunity and stop things escalating Hazel Blears, communities secretary
Some areas which have recently experienced rapid immigration-led changes score lowest, although the national picture is generally more positive.
The Department for Communities and Local Government, responsible for integration, is publishing guidance which it says will help councils act before it is too late.
It calls on local officials to plan against tensions by:
Properly understanding who is living in the local area
Working with a wider range of people to better monitor local trends
Making better use of local intelligence, including warning signs from community workers
Learning how to counter rumours of scaremongering which lead to violent clashes
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said: "The overwhelming majority of people in this country live successfully side by side but we cannot take this for granted.
"Challenges to cohesion do exist - this might be between different ethnic or faith groups or new migrants and longer-term residents - but things can be done to address problems at the earliest opportunity and stop things escalating."
Last year Professor Ted Cantle, a senior government advisor on community cohesion, said the UK needed an "early warning" network to predict and prevent racial tensions and disturbances.
He said some recent clashes could have been avoided if councils had worked out how to pick up on signs of potential trouble.
However, local authorities in some areas at the forefront of the Eastern European migration boom have attacked the government - they say this work is being hampered by the lack of official information on demographic patterns.
These councils say their job has become harder as people struggle to understand how or why their communities are changing.
Indian Christians in Galway celebrate in a service that beats the language barrier
Betwa Sharma and Zachary Goelman
Irish Times (13/05/2008)
Many Christians among immigrants to Ireland have formed their own congregations outside of the mainstream churches
THE GROUND floor entrance of the Westwood House Hotel entices passers-by with rock music and drink specials. It is a popular haunt in Galway and people mill around the bar. But upstairs a different event is unfolding.
A spiral staircase leads to a dark landing with a big door. The music from the floor below is soon drowned on the other side of the door by people singing about Jesus Christ. This is a congregation of Indian Christians from Kerala, a state in South India. They gather at the hotel every Sunday and pray in Malayalam, their own regional language.
Congregation members estimate there are 300 to 400 Indian Christians in Galway, and the number has been rising steadily these past few years. They come to Ireland to study, work and make a better life. Children of these immigrants learn Malayalam at home and Irish at school.
While a constellation of churches of various Christian denominations exists in Galway, the Malayalam-speaking Indians prefer to pray together. Many of them don’t find the native Irish religious enough.
And while the Indian congregation’s service is Pentecostal, it welcomes Christians of all denominations.
Light bounces off the red carpets and walls, giving the room where the faithful gather a robust glow. The prayer leader is Shinil Matthew (34). He is not a priest or a pastor, but a lay leader.
A tall man, he wears a check shirt that stretches across his broad shoulders. His prominent nose and thick eyebrows give him an air of authority.
He stands facing the congregation and sets a vigorous pace for the two-hour service, singing aloud and keeping time by clapping and swaying from side to side. His eyes are closed and face wrinkled in concentration.
As the momentum builds, every person in the congregation rises up from the chairs, singing and tapping their shoes to the lively beat. “Halleluiah, halleluiah, praise the Lord,” shouts Shinil.
These are the only words in English.
“We had to worship in our own language,” he says, over a cup of tea after the service. Many of the Indians present at the service do not speak English. Another member of the congregation, John Mathew (30) is an immigrant from Kerala. He sits in the front row with one hand raised, palm open.
At a verse that is particularly moving for him, he clenches his palm into a fist and punches the air with an accompanying “Halleluiah”.
It started with a few friends gathering at John’s house to pray. But the number of people from Kerala has increased in the past few years. The house wasn’t big enough. “We had all Christians, not just Pentecostals, so everyone could not fit,” says John, through a translator.
John, a Pentecostal, approached the Assembly of God, a loose order of Pentecostal churches, and it took the Indian congregation under its wing.The assembly’s branch in Galway, called the Discovery Church, is led by Pastor Paul Cullen, and also rents space in the Westwood House Hotel.
Pastor Cullen said that “many Indians come to our regular Sunday services, but some of the men felt that they couldn’t participate because of the language barrier”.
The women generally speak English, which is required of those who work as nurses in the Galway University Hospital.
Many Indian nurses have been recruited by the university hospital, which provides them with work visas. In many cases, their husbands follow and find simple jobs, or take courses at the university.
Many Malayalam-speaking Christians living in Galway say that in Ireland religion doesn’t enjoy the same primacy of place as in India, and that the power of faith flows more vibrantly in their small congregation than in Irish Catholic churches.
Alice Ninin (28) is a nurse by training. She says she “came here for better opportunities”. She belongs to the Mar Thorma Church and feels that the Christians in Ireland, particularly among the younger generation, are not religious. “In India, the churches are packed,” she says.
“The young people here prefer going to pubs,” she adds. Many others at the congregation echo her sentiment.
Next door to the prayer room, the children of the congregants are playing. Nine-year-old Irin Sajupaula and eight-year-old Silin Varghese hunch over sheets of white paper, drawing with coloured crayons thicker than their fingers.
These children have lived in Galway since their parents left India over a year-and-a-half ago. Sajupaula can converse in Malayalam, Hindi, English, and began learning Irish this year in school.
“Bán is white, she says, holding up the white crayon, and displaying her knowledge of Irish. “And dearg is red. Bándearg is pink.”
Nine children between the ages of two and 10, all of them born in southern India, play around the tables and chairs. The older ones know they belong to different Christian denominations.
“I’m Jacobite,” says Sajupaula. “And I’m Mar Thoma,” says Varghese, matter-of-factly, like explaining the different crayon colours.
Attending the service are 25 people. About half are Pentecostals and the remainder are from other denominations.
Sam Verghese (27) is a Pentecostal who moved to Galway 10 months ago to be with his wife, who is a nurse. He believes that Christians of all denominations can pray together because “Jesus is the same for everyone”. This commonality, he believes, lets them pray together even if prayers are fashioned differently. “There is no tension at all,” says Sam. “Everyone is free to practise in their own way.”
Rajesh Verghese (38), a salesman, is a Roman Catholic. He says that even in a Pentecostal service he maintains his Catholic identity. There are certain things he will and won’t do. “There is nothing wrong with singing and praying, Catholics can do that,” he says.
But Rajesh says that he will not dance at the service. “Catholics don’t dance,” he says, smiling.
Betwa Sharma and Zachary Goelman are students at the graduate school of journalism in Columbia University New York. They and colleagues visited Ireland last March to study the growing diversity of religion here