Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’
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 »
On July 9 1943, during the Holocaust, when, though Jewish people were cremated in their millions by Nazi Germany, the Irish state allowed only a tiny number of Jewish refugees into Ireland, Oliver J Flanagan TD made his maiden speech in the Dáil: ‘There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money‘. The House, shamefully, did not react.
Seventy years later, his son, Charlie Flanagan TD pens an article in the Irish Times arguing against the campaign to grant Travellers the status of an ethnic group. Travellers, he claims, are just like other groups in Irish society: farmers, Gaeltacht people, Kerry people and, yes, Jewish people, the same Jewish people his father wanted to rout out of Ireland. While acknowledging Travellers’ disadvantage, and while ‘significant progress has been made’ in improving their condition, designating them as a separate ethnic group is dangerous, he insists, as this will weaken their position and – heaven forbid – lead to members not regarding themselves as ‘being Irish at all’.
The article met with a wall of silence. No letters to the paper, very little on social networks, until Brigid Quilligan’s excellent article a week later. The ethnic group debate has been raging for a long time now, particularly since Justice Minister Michael McDowell withdrew funding from the Citizen Traveller project, declaring Travellers are not a separate ethnic group. Read the rest of this entry »
A woman died. A day after Diwali, when the Irish Times had a front page image of a lovely little Indian boy lighting Diwali candles, it had another beautiful Indian face on its front cover, this time of a woman who died in an Irish hospital. Savita Halapanavar has since become a household face, even if we are not entirely certain on how to pronounce her surname, and a symbol of the oppression of women, whose lives and health are put at risk in Ireland’s maternity hospitals.
The minute details of the circumstances of Savita Halapanavar’s death are yet to be ascertained. Savita was in her 17th week of pregnancy, presented at Galway University Hospital with severe pain in her lower back, sent home because the foetus’s heartbeat was sound, came back to hospital with her waters broken, told the foetus’s heartbeat was still sound. When she was still having pains, Savita, clearly aware she was miscarrying, asked for a termination to be told her foetus’s heartbeat was still sound, and, as ‘this is a Catholic country’, she could not have a termination. Her reply that she was not a Catholic, not even Irish, was of little help. Savita suffered until her foetus’s heartbeat was no more, at which stage septicaemia set in and Savita died along with her foetus. And a day after Diwali her picture adorned our screens and newspapers and we held vigils and demonstrations, saying ‘we are all Savita’, declaring ‘never again’ and demanding that the government enacts the long-promised legislation, 20 years after the Supreme Court ruling in the x case, to protect the life of birthing mothers. Abortion was again big news as the ‘Pro Life’ and ‘pro choice’ camps battled it out over Savita’s dead body.
A conversation with close friends turned to new Irish citizens. My friends said the people recently conferred with Irish citizenship in the mass ceremonies organised by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter (some 16,000 to date) should be, and were, grateful. Shatter is to be congratulated for dealing with the backlog and, according to Metro Eireann, the majority of the new citizens were pleased with the process. Being granted citizenship is no doubt a bonus for people hitherto unable to travel freely. However, citizenship is entirely at the discretion of the Minister, there are no clear qualification criteria and no obligation to provide reasons for refusals. When I argued against the high cost of citizenship in Ireland – of which more later – I failed to persuade them, because citizenship, my friends insisted, is something valuable ‘we’ bestow upon ‘them’. Read the rest of this entry »
The death a couple of weeks ago of Immanuel Marcel Landa, an elderly Congolese man, in Mosney, the 49th person to die in the direct provision system since 2000, focused my mind, yet again, on the invisible plight of Ireland’s asylum seekers. Ireland’s impetus to control asylum seekers rarely links the conflict zones which produce asylum seekers with their human consequences. Instead, the racial state demonises asylum seekers, stems their flow, often preventing them from landing to present their applications, all in order to regain control.
Asylum applications in Ireland have been going down ever since their peak in 2002 at 11,634; the number of applications received in 2011, 1,250, represented a 28% decrease on the corresponding figure of 1,939 in 2010. In 2012 (by June) only 458 asylum applications were made. The government seems delighted with the decrease in asylum applications. In 2010 Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern commended ‘the ongoing work within INIS, including the asylum agencies, to combat abuse while at the same time ensuring fairness and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of procedures in this area’. At 1.5% at first instance and 6% on appeal, Ireland is distinguished by the lowest acceptance rate in the EU, where the average is 27%. Read the rest of this entry »