Direct provision is wrong, but it does not justify racism

Dunnes Stores AA plaqueBrendan Ogle: On Saturday,  I was to speak at the 35th Anniversary of a stellar event when we Irish stood up against racism. It was when eleven young Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin refused to handle South African goods to highlight the then system of apartheid in that country. They ended up being on strike for two years and nine months, gaining both national and international attention for this great cause. Nelson Mandela praised the workers for their actions stating that their action, in far-away Ireland, kept him going through many of his difficult days in prison. The workers won their strike, eventually forcing the Irish government to ban all South African produce from entering Ireland. What an achievement it was.

As I considered these events on Thursday a debate was taking place on RTE radio’s ‘Liveline’ about race. Some of those taking part were at pains to describe it as being about something else – direct provision – but it was about race alright. We were told that the Government wanted to move twelve (that’s 12, not 12,000) asylum seekers or refugees to Achill, temporarily, and the island had awakened from its autumnal slumber. There was ‘a vigil’ at 2:30 in the afternoon. We Irish love our vigils. The candles at this one would want to be made of good stuff though, because the point of this vigil was ‘to get information’ about the plans to house the twelve needy people. We were told that there were ‘no amenities’ by a few of the people who live there, presumably with amenities. Some also made the point that in the original proposal that among the twelve there would be ‘too many men’, but nobody made the case for what particular bit of ‘men’ might be an issue.

To be fair Joe Duffy was having none of it. He questioned the right of the callers to make these decisions for other vulnerable and needy people, he asked the Irish migrant caller who had moved to Achill from Dublin years ago why other people couldn’t migrate too, and he wanted to know how – if the nearest hospital being off in Castlebar wasn’t a problem for Achill residents before now – it would it be a problem for another twelve new ones. Finally, he asked a man fulminating about the evils of direct provision had he ever protested about direct provision before now? Guess what? He hadn’t. The rest of the answers were just as unconvincing and spoke to thin end of the wedge racism.

That evening I heard that the Government had abandoned their plans for the twelve to move to lovely Achill. I was glad for them. It sounds like they have had a lucky escape.

Asylum seekers and refugees are housed in direct provision while waiting, usually many years, for their full asylum cases to be heard. Direct provision was initially introduced as an emergency measure in 1999. As of March 2019, adults in direct provision receive €38.80 per week. Some centres have cooking facilities but the majority have canteen style eating halls. Children are everywhere and many child asylum seekers have arrived here in Ireland alone. Just think about that for a second.

Still more children are actually born into direct provision.

Through the ‘Unite the union Champions Cup’ we are doing some work with the residents, particularly the children and young adults, in Mosney which has Ireland’s largest direct provision centre. On arrival at the centre the first thing you notice are the high fences and the security gate but the place is clean, the management hospitable and on the surface there is a real community there. But it is very much a community that needs support. A community that needs integration, not isolation. Nothing that was introduced as an emergency measure 20 years ago should still exist.

In a 2014 court case (CA v. Minister for Justice and Equality and others) the state argued that at a time of competing calls for finite resources it was not feasible for the state to grant residents of direct provision the right to work, among other things. But that was five years ago and since then our tax haven status has seen us be the beneficiary of literally billions of Euro in laundered corporation taxes. Moreover, we are constantly told that we have almost achieved statistical full employment and that many employers cannot find workers for certain jobs (maybe they should try paying enough for people to live on, but that’s for another blog). Any civilised society would be addressing these issues. We need a system where refugees and asylum seekers have their cases processed in a timely fashion, we need a Court system equipped to do just that, and we need access to work and integration for these vulnerable people in the meantime.

Before I finish let me put this in some numerical context. In 2002 there were almost 12,000 applications for asylum in Ireland. In 2018 there were 3,673 for that year, and a total of 5,660 outstanding. About 30% of these people will eventually have their application for residency approved. Does that sound like ‘the great replacement’ to you?

Maybe the next time we Irish get our candles out for a vigil we might seek not ‘information’, but a little bit of humanity, compassion and generosity. Per capita we have sent more of our people around the world seeking new lives than any other nation on earth. We even made up a word for it, and we loudly celebrate our beloved ‘diaspora’. We have done this through famine, through war and strife, and from 2008-2010 we sent 300,000 economic migrants out into the world seeking new lives and new starts when Irish builders, bankers and dodgy politicians wrecked our economy and our country.

If creating migrants was a business, ‘Ireland inc.’ would be the most successful business at it in the world.

And while I’m on that point, we aren’t a bit shy about wrapping the Green flag around us and loudly seeking special status for our own illegal migrants in the United States and elsewhere. I have no issue with any of this, but in all of those circumstances, could we just stop with the racism? It’s absolutely mortifying.

‘Ireland of the welcomes’ was a much better look.

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