Did I ever in my most fevered dreams imagine that I might agree with Rónán Mullen about anything? And yet, here we are on the same side, united in our detestation for the despicable holding tanks into which we drop those who throw themselves on our mercy.
The Direct Provision system is an echo of the vile, hard-hearted attitudes that pervaded official Ireland from the foundation of the state right up to the present day. Attitudes that in the past were used to crush and degrade Irish citizens now find new victims in the shape of desperate people fleeing war, oppression and intolerance.
It hasn’t gone away, you know. Not too long ago, the same cold officiousness forced ninety-seven terrified women to assemble in one town before revealing to them whether or not they had breast cancer. That was done for administrative convenience and it happened in Ireland seven years ago.
This is the same outlook that generations of public officials have displayed. This is the attitude that gave us the industrial school scandal, the Magdalene laundry disgrace and now the Direct Provision shame.
Such a narrow, unthinking bureaucratic mindset has bedevilled Ireland since the start and it’s no accident, since in this country, we seem to promote the kind of limited, suspicious-minded unimaginative jobsworths that carry out orders and implement policy without regard to humanity, their own or that of others. The Dog-Licence People are still in control and the Dog-Licence People care nothing for a child trapped in a soulless hostel without recourse to proper educational facilities or social contact. Such people care nothing for those who lose their minds in the Kafka-like netherworld that is the Irish asylum system, a place where nobody tells you anything, where you never know how long you’ll have to be in this limbo, where you can’t find out how your case is doing, how far it’s progressed or who is dealing with it.
You can’t set up a home for your children, you can’t work, you have to eat whatever slop is served up to you by the grasping sub-contractor who runs your containment tank, and if you complain you’re punished by being transferred without notice to another city, disrupting whatever tenuous relationships you might have cobbled together. You can’t even work to supplement the miserable €19 they hand you once a week. You have no dignity and no hope because this system is specifically designed to crush you, pour encourager les autres.
Is it any wonder that the rate of mental illness in these places is so high?
Can it really take eight, nine or ten years to assess an application for asylum? Is that not a monument to incompetence on a spectacular scale? Alternatively, is it not evidence of a nasty, vindictive mindset, bent on deterring those who have the temerity to seek help from the most smug and self-righteous nation on earth? How proud we are of our donations to worthy causes across the globe. Even when our economy was in meltdown, we still donated the guts of a billion euros every year to foreign aid, but somehow we can’t find it in our hearts to accommodate those who seek shelter in a humane, decent and respectful manner while we process their applications.
We can’t manage to do the paperwork, sort out who the genuine cases are, identify the economic migrants, isolate any criminals and give comfort to those who have been genuinely oppressed and who now find a new oppression here in this Christian little country.
Instead, we throw the whole lot into a holding centre — the genuinely oppressed, the economic migrants and the criminals. We force young children to live in the same place as people who may well be abusers, because we don’t bother to find out. We prefer to let them rot in these disgusting conditions where nobody benefits except the owners of the buildings, who grow fat on the misery of those who must live there.
And while we’re at it, let’s not be so quick to dismiss the economic migrants as scammers, while we walk around in the cheap clothes they and their families made in Bangla Deshi sweatshops, while we enjoy the technology made possible by the minerals ruthlessly exploited in Africa for the benefit of Europeans, while we pop the question to our beloved and whip out a fancy ring with a big sparkling blood diamond.
Let’s look at ourselves before pointing fingers.
It’s always been a great Irish cop-out to blame the system, but of course, the fault lies with flesh-and-blood people who don’t care what becomes of those they treat with Kafka-like indifference. They have names, these Dog-Licence People. Tommy and Mike, Jim, David. Katie, Sarah, Margaret and Sinead. They have homes just like you and me. They have money problems like us. They go to the same matches as us, they wear the jerseys and they put their little ones on their shoulders for a better view just like you and me. But somehow, when it comes to implementing public policy, they become callous automatons.
Of course, since this is Ireland, there are always people who get rich out of it. Before the Asylum Appeals Tribunal was set up, there was a panel of assessors who were paid handsomely for their services. One of these individuals never approved a single appeal but was more than happy to collect the substantial fee for being an impartial judge in the cases of desperate and frightened refugees. This is also a flesh-and-blood human being who presumably has children and possibly grandchildren.
What’s lacking here?
Do I really need to tell anyone?
Of course not. For all our vaunted generosity, what we seem to be missing is that essential organ of compassion: a heart.
Simon Coveney has spoken of the need for a conversation on the reasons why asylum seekers are protesting, as if this all comes as a huge surprise to him. I’d imagine that Simon Coveney, well-brought-up, privileged, decent, urbane individual that he is, would never personally treat anyone the way people in Direct Provision are handled, but his shock seems a little on the faux side, unless this government minister doesn’t possess a radio, hasn’t read a single newspaper or watched a single news report on tv for a decade or more. And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we be looking for better-informed government ministers?
It’s all guff, of course, which is why I find myself in bed with Rónán Mullen, something few if any can boast. I’m not sure which of us is more uncomfortable but I hope he’s not a duvet-stealer.
Simon Coveney and his boss Enda Kenny – a man more than ready to shed a tear for injustice when the occasion suits – are well aware of this problem and they know full well how to fix it, so instead of having a national conversation about anything they should just go ahead and do precisely that.