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Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Paper presented at the ‘Irish Prisons: incarceration, repression and control’ conference, Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast 26-27 October 2017.

Introduction

In September 2014 residents of several asylum centres in Ireland staged protests against their incarceration. Since April 2000 asylum seekers have been dispersed to ‘Direct Provision’ centres, managed by private for-profit companies under the supervision of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), an arm of the Department of Justice and Equality, costing the state around 50 million euro per annum. Residents, who get bed and board, are not allowed to work or access third level education, and until August 2017 were given a small weekly ‘residual income maintenance payment to cover personal requisites’ of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child, increased to €21.60 per adult and first to €15.60 and then to €21.60 per child per week (Bardon 2017). Steven Loyal (2011) describes the Direct Provision centres as Goffman’s (1991[1961]) ‘total institutions’, where residents are controlled as to what and when they eat, who they share rooms with, who can visit them, and what access they have to crèches, laundries, kitchen facilities and appliances, and argues that ‘the negatively socially valued category of “asylum-seeker” becomes their master status.’

Although the Direct Provision system was originally intended for no more than a six months stay, 19.5 per cent have stayed for over three years. The average length of stay was 38 months while 450 people had been living in Direct Provision for more than seven years, leading to people becoming de-skilled, bored, depressed, destitute, and institutionalised. By September 2017, there were 5,063 people in Direct Provision centres. Seven of the centres are State-owned, the others are operated by for profit companies (Gartland, 2016) – making the Direct Provision system part of what Angela Davis term the ‘prison industrial complex’.

Many asylum seekers live with deportation orders in a state of deportability (Lentin and Moreo 2015), arguably making them what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1995) calls ‘bare life’, at the mercy of the laws of the sovereign state, which exempts itself from these very laws. And as Eithne Luibhéid (2013: 91) argues, ‘Direct Provision institutionalized the construct of the “asylum-seeker” as a distinct, undesirable type of person who must be subjected to relations of governance that were intended to deter, control, and incapacitate’.

The Direct Provision protesters demanded that all asylum centres be closed, that all residents be given the right to remain and work in Ireland, and that all deportations end. These demands are articulated by MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, a platform for asylum seekers to join together in unity and purpose.

In October 2014, apparently in response to these protests, the government appointed a working group ‘to report to Government on improvements to the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports to asylum seekers.’ The Working Group was made up of representatives of migrant-support NGOs but had no significant representation of asylum seekers themselves. While the then deputy Justice Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin admitted that the Direct Provision system is ‘inhumane’, and that ‘the way we treat asylum seekers and people in the (Direct Provision) system says a lot about us as a country’, the Working Group was charged with reforming rather than closing the Direct Provision system (The Journal 2014).

The Working Group’s recommendations were largely not adopted by the government (although the Minister for Justice said in October at the Senead that 98 per cent were adopted), and the Direct Provision system remains in place. However, in 2016 the government increased the ‘comfort allowance’ paid to asylum seekers in Direct Provision centres by an insulting amount. In 2016 the government introduced the International Protection Act based on a Single Application Procedure. The new act raises serious concerns in relation to firstly, the erosion of refugee families’ reunification rights; secondly, the impact on the applicants already in the asylum process in relation to the availability of appropriate legal advice and sufficient time and resources to shorten the waiting time; and thirdly, the ease with which deportations could be effected. In May 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional (Carolan 2017), and in October 2017 the Minister for Justice announced the intention to give asylum seekers in Ireland the right to work after six months in Direct Provision, a problematic announcement as very few details have been worked out. Lucky Khambule will elaborate on these developments.

Against this background, this paper makes three interlinked propositions. Firstly, I propose that as Irish state and society managed to ignore Ireland’s system of ‘coercive confinement’: workhouses, mental health asylums, mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools (O’Sullivan and O’Donnell 2012), they also ‘manage not to know’ about the plight of asylum seekers in Direct Provision. The Direct Provision system isolates asylum applicants, makes them dependent on state handouts and carceral rules, and makes it difficult for them to organize on a national level. ‘Managing not to know,’ or disavowing, erases the Direct Provision system from Ireland’s collective consciousness, but I suggest that asylum seekers signify the return of Ireland’s repressed, confronting Irish people, themselves e/migrants par excellence.

Secondly, I propose that we must not theorize residents of the Direct Provision system as passive victims at the mercy of sovereign power, to whom everything is done, but rather as active agents of resistance.

Thirdly, and more broadly, the incarceration of asylum seekers must be seen as continuing the tradition of administrative detention of political prisoners in the north of Ireland and of the widespread Irish practice of incarceration. I therefore theorize the Direct Provision system as the current embodiment of the island of Ireland as two parallel carceral states, where the prison industrial complex has historically incarcerated one in every hundred people in the Republic and administratively detained political prisoners in the north. I conclude, following Angela Davis, by calling for the total abolition of imprisonment and incarceration. Read the rest of this entry »

The unspoken whiteness of Brexit

brexit-racismA couple of days after British referendum on exiting the EU I witnessed a disturbing altercation between two hard working Indian sub-continent migrant owners of a Dublin city centre Spar shop and a bunch of white Irish drunks who were kicking the shop’s door and harassing the owners in an attempt to steal booze. Without being there I was sure that the confrontation had racist undertones (as confirmed to me by the shop owners the following day). It lasted some twenty minutes and was only resolved when the gardai arrived, but it left me wondering whether the racism of the white marauders – like the Nazi graffiti sprayed in the last few days in Northern Ireland – had anything to do with the Brexit vote.

Social media have been abuzz with posts on the Brexit repercussions with much written about David Cameron’s resignation, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn failure to prevent the exit vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his fascist followers and the implications for Ireland. However, much more significant is the permission the vote has given to racists in Britain and elsewhere in Europe to express their anti-immigrant and anti-minorities toxic views. Read the rest of this entry »

When homophobia becomes Islamophobia

orlando-vigil-dublinWe are all still in deep shock after the brutal massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida where 49 people were slaughtered by Omar Mateen, a Muslim American citizen. Since the massacre, wrongly described by some media as the ‘deadliest’ attack on civilians in recent American history, we are trying to fathom Mateen’s motives in carrying out this atrocious anti-gay crime.

In the current climate, where Muslims and Islam are tagged with ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalism’, it is deeply worrying that two of the US presidential contenders compete in describing Mateen’s atrocity as ‘Islamic’. It is particularly unsettling that the Democratic contender Hillary Clinton has seen fit to say just a day after that the event that she was not afraid to say ‘radical’ Islam as she countered attacks from the Republican contender Donald Trump that she’s too politically correct to use the phrase. ‘From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say,’ Clinton said on CNN. ‘And it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. Whether you call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I’m happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing.’ Compare this outburst with President Obama’s reasoned argument that using the meaningless term ‘radical Islam’ tars millions of believers with a racist religious brush: ‘There is no magic to the phrase “radical Islam”. It is a political talking point. It is not a strategy’.

Apparently Mateen was not only a violent husband whose wife escaped his marital brutality by the skin of her teeth, but also a frequent user of the same gay nightclub he attacked and of gay dating websites, so clearly someone with a conflictual sexual orientation. Having also worked for the security firm G4S he was clearly a complex character, whose motives were anything but simply attributable to ‘radical Islam’, despite the rush by many racists, including representatives of the state of Israel, to use the massacre to further incite against Muslims and Islam.

Read the rest of this entry »

Increasing extreme right wing threat for Ireland

antipegida-rally2On February 6, a broad coalition of Irish anti-racist, migrant-support and political groupings, now calling ourselves Solidarity Alliance against Racism and Fascism (SARF), staged a peaceful anti-racism rally aiming to secure a safe space for anti-racism on the streets of Dublin against the rise of anti-Islam and anti-immigrant groupings. We managed to succeed in preventing the extreme right group Identity Ireland from launching the Irish branch of Pegida. Apparently undeterred, and having failed to launch Pegida Ireland, Identity Ireland is now planning to organise a conference of ‘Fortress Europe’, a coalition of anti-immigrant parties across Europe, whose main aim is to stop the so-called ‘Islamisation’ of Europe.

The intentions of Pegida, a German group, whose name stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’, are totally explicit: ‘We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe’s external borders as well as its internal borders once again,’ PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz has recently told a crowd in one of the group’s many German rallies, to the chants of ‘Merkel must go!’

Media and many mainstream politicians across Europe have recognised Pegida as an extremist right wing group that uses rhetoric reminiscent of National Socialism. Pegida has been demonstrating against what it calls ‘criminal asylum seekers’, and its leader Lutz Bachmann has had to resign after calling immigrants ‘vermin’ and ‘trash’. Together with other extreme right groupings across Europe, Pegida and its Irish allies – Identity Ireland, which had a very poor showing in the last general elections, receiving just 183 votes and clearly representing an insignificant minority – is using Europe’s current refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast their anti-immigrant and anti-Islam message. Read the rest of this entry »

No foothold for racists

antipegida-rally1I was thrilled to stand on O’Connell Street on Saturday 6 February as part of a large coalition of people, Irish and migrants, who congregated in front of the GPO to say no to racism and Islamophobia and to counter Pegida Ireland’s plans to hold its inaugural meeting. Pegida stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident’ (in German Patriotische Europaer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). It was established in October 2014 in Germany, where thousands of neo Nazi fascists have since marched in opposition to Muslim migrants, though the ‘Islamisation’ of the West is of course a figment of the racists’ imagination as Muslims remain a small persecuted minority throughout the West.

Like all far right groupings, including Identity Ireland, Pegida presents itself as defending European values and providing a legitimate opposition to migration. However, it’s worth remembering that the German term Abendlandes derives from The Downfall of the Occident, a 1918 book penned by one Oswald Spengler, whose racist ideas about the division of history into discrete cultures fed Nazi racial superiority that led to the extermination of millions. Read the rest of this entry »

10/23/2017 Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland

Edited by Ronit Lentin and Elena Moreo Palgrave MacMillan, 2012...read more
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