From top: Mosney Direct Provision centre; Gary Gannon
it is time to open up Direct Provision institutions, give people facilities to cook their own meals and let the adults work.
We won’t be sorry.
In the first of a new Friday column, Gary Gannon writes:
February 19th 2013 was a unique day in my political lifetime. On this particular evening, Taoiseach Enda Kenny rose to his feet in Dail Eireann and spoke not only on my behalf, but on behalf of the entire nation.
His words were perfect and his passion in the delivery of each single syllable was matched only by the dignified courage that was emanating from the public gallery where twenty survivors of state sanctioned abuse sat gazing over that evenings proceedings.
It was two weeks on from the release of the McAleese report into the State’s involvement in the Magdelene Laundries and our Taoiseach was at long last, in the process of recognising the State’s role in that horror.
I felt personally that he was apologising for not only the State’s role in the institutionalising of women throughout our short history, but that he was apologising for us all through our societal complicity in what he rightfully described as ‘our nation’s shame.’
We will never truly understand the barbarity of these religious work-houses where women who had ‘fallen’ in the eyes of an ever moralising society where sent so that moral Ireland could maintain the veneer of purity.
The dark shadow of these laundries, mother & baby homes or the variety of other institutions where we banished the poor and the different should hang around our necks like an albatross but yet, does the existence of Ireland’s system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers show that old habits are indeed hard to kill?
The Taoiseach, in making that apology which I felt spoke for me and the society I wished to be part of said rightfully;
‘In a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries.’
I completely agree but I have to ask why then, in a society which claims now to be guided by those same values is there a need for 679 people* to kept in what are effectively privately run detention centres?
Why are adults who live in this country prohibited from cooking their own meals?
Why is Ireland, with our emphasis on compassion and social justice, one of only two European Union countries who restrict asylum applicants from the labour market for the entirety of their process?
A more important question, with our history of inhumane cruelty in regards the forced institutionalising of those we consider to be different to the mainstream, what arrogance is it that makes us think that this time it will be any different?
Many, giving the extreme depravity of the laundries or the mother and baby homes, will argue that there is no comparison between these institutions and the current Direct Provision centres.
Of course, there is no expectation on people in direct provision to clean laundry as a physical (profitable) embodiment of their sins being washed away, but rather, we expect children and adults to sit without opportunity for life progression for periods exceeding eight years in some cases while an unidentified official of the State makes a decision on their fate.
That is a cruel practice.
It is not to our credit either that we no longer charge religious institutions with the responsibility of caring (said very loosely) with the needs of those we consider unfit for inclusion in the agora of Irish society; instead we hand over that responsibility to our new gods, the private sector.
The post-apocalyptic Disneyland that is Mosney Irish Holidays plc, earned almost 9 million euros in 2009 after converting into a Direct Provision centre.
While we continue to prohibit many of our asylum seekers the facilities by which they can cook and prepare their food in accordance with their cultural preferences, East Coast Catering has received some 90 million euros from the State for services rendered in regards Direct Provision.
We have always been good at turning poverty into profit but at the same we ask adult asylum seekers to live off E19.10 a week!
This is not only State sanctioned poverty it is also a prime example of the State making millionaires out of those they consider worthy of catching the tears of the suffering.
Make no mistake about it, in these Direct Provision Centres there is an abundance of suffering that has been well documented and poorly acted upon.
The Irish Times ‘Lives in Limbo’ series captured the voices and stories of those in Direct Provision in a manner that hadn’t emerged previously.
It was from that project that I first learned that an asylum seeker in Ireland was up to five times more likely to suffer from depression or mental health related illness than in the wider community.
It was here again that I got a snapshot into the conditions present inside where overcrowding, sub-standards of hygiene and families living in single-room accommodation that was infantilising adults while restricting the development of children were all described.
It was in this series too where I first read of the damning prediction that was made by Former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness who predicted that a future government will be publicly apologising for the damage done by the direct provision system.
That is terrifying and with our past transgressions in this regard so closely wrapped around us still, we, as in all of us must be quicker to respond.
The issue is of asylum is undoubtedly complex but our values, humanity and past experiences should always be to the fore-front of our considerations.
In that regard, open-up these institutions, give people the facilities and the means by which they can provide meals to their own families. Allow adults to work and the dignity that comes with this primal need.
Allow asylum seeks who have gone through the first two stages of our education system to compete for places in 3rd level universities on the same terms as their classmates.
As the children of Direct Provision become adults and more stories start to emerge, we may still have to apologise for this degrading system, but we can act now to prevent having to apologise for tomorrow.
* Number of people still in Direct Provision centres who have received citizenship here.