The following is an extract of a debate as reported by Arthur Griffith in his nationalist periodical ‘Éire’ from November 19th, 1914 chronicling a discussion at the Dublin Trade’s Council about the issue of Belgian refugees arriving into Ireland following the commencement of war. Among those speaking and presenting a nuanced and humanistic argument against the acceptance of refugees is the future republican insurrectionist James Connolly. The full text of the debate is available here with kudos going to South Dublin Libraries for their digitisation efforts.

At the meeting of the Dublin Trades’s Council this week a discussion took place on the questions of “Belgian Refugees and Fair Labour”

Mr Simmons remarked that if anyone said anything against Belgian refugees nowadays he was liable to martyrdom (laughter), Charity however began at home. He had no objection to the Belgians themselves. They were a fine industrious people-a brave race. 

But as it appeared they wanted soldiers at the front -in Ypres and other places- and if it was a fact they were so concerned about their own country they ought to be out fighting beside their fellow countrymen instead of coming here looking for charity.

A lot of crocodile tears had been shed about the sufferings of the Belgians but had not the people in this country suffered in the past? If as Sir John French said there was only a handful of British soldiers fighting, surely these Belgians were needed at the front.

They in Ireland had enough to do minding their own business. He had heard that a number of these refugees already taken the jobs of Irish tradesmen and that a number of servant girls had been dismissed to make room for the Belgians. He protested against the Belgians coming to supplant the workers of this country.

Mr T Farren said that if these people did get employment here they should at least get the conditions that applied amongst the trades. They should be made to communicate with the different trade societies. He moved to this effect.

Mr {James} Connolly thought Mr Farren’s resolution a very dangerous one, as it involved that if the refugees compiled with what was laid down in the resolution that they the Council had nothing more to complain of. Provided the position was an ordinary one with no war in question and these people came to this country they ought to be welcomed no matter what their nationality might be.

But the present situation was an extraordinary one. It was not a case of a man or two men but a possible case of a whole army being dumped down here.

He was opposed to the resolution because it implied that no matter that no matter what number was dumped down they accepted them and undertook to work harmoniously along with them.

This was no war of theirs and the people of this country had no interest in it or in the Allies. He believed the Belgian people had been dragged into it by the machinations of their Government and the Government having brought them into it should look after them. 

The British had called on them to preserve their neutrality which was not threatened for a moment-and said they would stand behind them. They did stand behind them-so much so that the Belgians did not know they were there. 

The Belgians people he believed had been sold by their Government for something which they could only guess at. While careful avoiding saying anything against the Belgians they ought not to do anything that would give the employers in this country a chance to ‘sack’ Irish workers and take on Belgian employees. They ought not to give any loophole to the employers. If it was true these Belgians had fought for their own neutrality they should not be brought here to supplant the workers of Ireland but as a charge on the British Empire.

Posted by Arthur Griffith

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