Anti-immigrant and more specifically anti-refugee rhetoric seems to be at an all time high, if you were to see the many videos being circulated online. Recent protests in Ballymun and Killarney outside Direct Provision centres have been met with mixed reactions. The majority of people are shocked and dismayed while the louder minority scream “get them out” and “Ireland is full”. The words economic migrants are being thrown around and, ironically, by many people who spent time living and working abroad.
People should be angry about our failing, two-tier health system, the housing crisis, and other socioeconomic issues facing the country. Instead of protesting outside of Direct Provision centres and punching down on some of the most vulnerable people in Ireland, people should be outside Dáil Éireann where those in power are.
Nothing done so blame others
Housing and health crises are nothing new. The neoliberal policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have led to so many of our citizens becoming disenfranchised and turning to the far right who then take advantage of their anger.
For example, €231m of the housing budget was unspent under Fianna Fáil’s Housing Minister, Darragh O’Brien. This is despite the government once again overseeing record homelessness, over 100,000 empty dwellings across the island, and 70,000 Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter. According to Minister O’Brien, he will deal with questions around this scandal in March, again kicking the can down the road.
Under the government’s Housing for All plan they projected 9,000 social homes would be built in 2022. By the end of September just 2,706 were built. The government will blame the war in Ukraine, Brexit, and COVID for their shortcomings. They’ll even deflect by pointing the finger at opposition parties but you’ll never see them put their hands up and accept responsibility.
Then, there are some politicians with no party affiliations who will stoke the flames of racism and bigotry by spreading misinformation. One very recent example was West Cork TD, Michael Collins. Deputy Collins was quoted in Gript saying:
Conditions have been put on these suspects before sending them to the asylum centre in Clonakilty, but this is an outrageous decision by the State to move highly dangerous people from one area to another when they know many could well be involved in serious crimes.
The Deputy was referring to an incident in Killarney where four people were stabbed eight people were arrested at a Direct Provision centre. One man was detained while the other is out on bail.
What Deputy Collins failed to mention is that the people who were moved to Clonakilty were a husband and wife. The woman is six months pregnant and was allegedly attacked. Over ten days later she still has bruises. Her husband allegedly stepped in to defend his wife and was subsequently arrested. The management and residents have no issue with this couple and do not feel unsafe.
On C103, Deputy Collins suggested that these asylum seekers should be detained until they are proven guilty or not guilty. He also said the people who were attacked were “very seriously injured” when media reports show that nobody was seriously injured. This kind of misinformation leads to what we have seen over the last number of weeks in terms of the racist and bigoted rhetoric.
I do not believe Deputy Collins has seen the conditions asylum seekers live. Because if he had, he would show far more empathy. For a man so concerned about violence, it is interesting to note that under his Dáil record, Deputy Collins has only spoken about violence once, despite domestic violence and Femicide increasing. His question was about how many people have been coerced into having an abortion.
Learning to not forget
My family and I waited 13 years for our home, six of which were spent on the transfer for medical reasons list. I have been waiting six years to see a pain management consultant. I am angry but I could never be angry or punch down on those stuck in a single room with their whole family. Before the pandemic hit I volunteered with the children in Direct Provision, helping them with their homework. Let me tell you something, those children are going to make this country a better place and enrich our culture. They love Irish and are exceptionally good at it. I became very fond of these children and so when one of them came in and announced they got their papers, I was beyond delighted for them.
But then you’d look and see some of the other children putting on happy faces for their friend to be supportive. And when they thought no one was looking they were so sad and defeated. Because rents are so high in West Cork, many families move nearer to the city where there are more job opportunities. This means those children left in Direct Provision may not see their friends again for a long time. Some families are split up altogether, father and one child could be in Dublin while the mother and her other children would be down in Cork.
Shockingly, asylum seekers who have come to escape war, rape and persecution do not receive any ongoing psychological support to help them with their trauma. Then their trauma is further affected by being in legal limbo, another long-time failure of past and present governments. Nobody comes to Ireland to live in a room with their entire family or strangers for years on end. Nobody comes to “scam the system” that pays them €38.80 a week.
Some may ask, why do people come to Ireland at all? Many of them don’t know where they are going. They’ll pay someone to get them out of their home country, often risking being trafficked or dying in the water. They’ll get off a boat often not knowing where they are. If you are unsure of how our asylum system works, read about it from official sources and not random posts on Facebook.
Many Irish people forget our own history. We fled from famine, religious persecution, and war. We were met with similar bigotry and hatred, we would be illustrated in literature as monsters, signs would be hung outside stores “NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO IRISH”. Let’s be better than that.
To quote the poem Home by Warsan Shire, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”.
Evie Nevin is a disability and political activist living in West Cork.
Featured image via Flickr – Bernard Goldbach