Welcome to Free Radikal... a blog by Dr Ronit Lentin
Following the screening, on Tuesday 28 May 2013, of RTE’s investigative programme ‘Breach of Trust’, which raised serious concerns about the standards of childcare in Ireland, based on evidence gathered from HSE Inspection reports, internal HSE documentation and undercover filming in three crèches, people in Ireland felt shock and horror. Staff were shoving toddlers to sleep, forcing them to eat, leaving babies to cry for long periods, strapping children to their chairs for up to two hours… The programme that demonstrated that standards in three crèches were in breach of HSE regulations and childcare guidelines, was followed by an investigation by the Health Services Executive and the Garda, upon complaints by parents about the mistreatment of their young children.
I went back to Who’s Minding the Children?, a book I co-wrote with Geraldine Niland (and Stella McMahon on Northern Ireland), published by Attic Press in 1980. Many of the issues highlighted by RTE were covered in our 1980 book. Here I quote from the final chapter, ‘The future and what needs to be done’ to demonstrate that while our demand to introduce day care has been met, largely by private operators, some things have not changed in relation to childcare in Ireland, a country obsessed with protecting unborn children, but apparently less concerned with children after they are born. Some things have changed, of course. In 1980 crèches were few and far between, today there clearly is a wide supply; our demand for a Department for Children has been met; finally, today I would not insist that childcare is a women’s issue – it’s clearly a parents’ issue. However, some things have not changed, particularly in relation to standards, training, inspection, and fair wages to staff; and reading the 1980 conclusion is interesting : Read the rest of this entry »
On 14-15 May a Diaspora Forum conference was held in Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dublin. It aimed to celebrate migration, migrants and the contribution the diaspora makes to home countries. Keynote speaker, the Economist business editor Robert Guest celebrated mass migration, which, he said, makes the world brainier. If a century ago, migrants crossed the ocean and never saw their homeland again, today they phone or Skype home the moment their plane lands. Thanks to cheap travel and easy communications, immigrants stay in contact with home, creating powerful cross-border networks that create wealth, spread ideas and foster innovation.
Diaspora, contributors to the conference emphasised, is mostly about economics: through remittances, philanthropy and direct diaspora investment, members of the diaspora are primarily seen as alumni who their original state needs to touch for contributions – a discourse all too familiar to anyone working in today’s neoliberal universities. Workshops debated the role of governments in engaging their diasporas across multiple sectors and constructing strategies aimed to create partnerships between government and diaspora. To copper fasten such engagements, the conference also discussed the payback in terms of granting migrants voting rights, and working for ‘host country integration and return migration platforms’. Read the rest of this entry »
In the wake of the UK and Ireland tour by Israeli peace activist Miko Peled, I want to write about an email exchange I had with him and reflect on left wing Israelis profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Though troubling, the dialogue was straightforward enough. Miko posted his plans for his UK and Ireland lecture tour on his Facebook page. After I heard he was charging for his Irish leg of the tour, I asked him on Facebook how much he was charging. He asked me to email him – he clearly did not want his fees disclosed in the public Facebook space. This was the email exchange, on March 31.
Miko: “I usually ask for $1500-$2500. During my UK tour coming up I asked 500-1000 pounds. Why do you ask?”
Me: “I am asking because it rankles with me that you are making a living from the oppression of Palestinians, I suppose”.
Miko: “This is a cynical thing to say, and quite foolish, and considering my work it is totally uncalled for. Still, you can be rankled all you like, I am not the one oppressing the Palestinians, nor am I the one making a living off of their oppression.
I have a message that people want to hear, many people and I think it is an important one. I had to decide whether to sell my business and spread the message or stay home. I opted for the former I cannot afford to do it for free. Unlike others, I am independent, self employed and there is no institution or government that will pay to spread the message that I convey. It is excruciatingly hard work, to constantly travel and speak, there is plenty of money out there and I don’t see why it has to be done for free”.
On April 6, Miko published his UK and Ireland itinerary, enabling me to do a quick calculation, giving him the benefit of the doubt and allowing £500 (rather than £1,000) for each UK lecture and €500 for the Irish leg of the tour: Read the rest of this entry »
Talk given at an Anti Deportation Ireland public meeting, 11 April 2013
Culture of incarceration
According to a recent book on coercive confinement in Ireland, Ireland locked up one in 100 of its citizens in Magdalene laundries, industrial schools, mental hospitals and ‘mother and baby’ homes, where women pregnant out of wedlock were locked up and forced to give their babies for adoption. At any given time between 1926 and 1951 there were about 31,000 people in these institutions – only a small fraction of whom had committed any crime. This also applied to children – one child in every hundred was enslaved in an industrial school. Children in industrial schools, run by female and male Catholic orders, were treated with cruelty, not given proper food or education, made to work for the nuns or the brothers and were often physically and sexually abused. Their sole ‘crime’ was belonging to what would now be called ‘problem families’.
This history of incarceration, Fintan O’Toole writes, was Ireland’s way of establishing religious, social and moral “purity” by locking up and “correcting” potential deviants. This level of “coercive confinement” is extreme for any democratic society. In 1931, the Soviet gulags held about 200,000 prisoners – from a population of 165 million. The Irish system held 31,000 people – from a population of three million.
And this continues today. Between 2000 and 2012 Ireland locked up in direct provision hostels 51,000 asylum seekers, whose sole ‘crime’ was legally applying for Geneva Convention refugee status. In total, between 1991 and 2012 there were 68,847 asylum applications, of which only 4,130 or 6 per cent received positive answers. In November 2012, the last month for which figures are available, 4,822 people were incarcerated in these hostels, 75 per cent from Africa. Although intended to hold people for a maximum of six months, the average length of stay in these ‘holding camps’ is 44 months – almost four years, and many have been incarcerated for up to six years. Read the rest of this entry »
What did President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East actually achieve? Although many people dared expect him to express stronger views on the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, Obama used his ‘charm offensive’ to assure Israelis that the United States remains on their side.
As helicopters circled the skies, and Jerusalem and Ramallah were closed off to all non residents, Obama’s speech in Ramallah played down the Jewish-only settlements by saying that the US does not see them as ‘constructive’ or ‘appropriate’ for peace, but stopping short of calling for their dismantling, which prompted the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to uncharacteristically interject in describing them as illegitimate and more than an obstacle to peace.
In Israel Obama did all the usual things, including the obligatory visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. But attention was focused on his speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre to thousands of Israeli students and academics. One of the phrases he used, in Hebrew, was ‘you are not alone’ – though using no similar phrase in Arabic when he spoke in Ramallah. Israeli Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy saw in this speech much hope because, after assuring Israel that the US is still on its side, Obama insisted that the only way forward is peace and a two states solution. Obama also stressed that the Iran threat is not only Israel’s problem, insisting that Israel must not go it alone and attack Iran without US approval. Read the rest of this entry »