Ireland has not learned from past mistakes

Emma Nevin

In his state apology to the victims of Mother and Baby Homes, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “It is the duty of a republic to be willing to hold itself to account. To be willing to confront hard truths – and accept parts of our history which are deeply uncomfortable.” 

But the question is, what about the parts of our present that make us deeply uncomfortable? The parts of our present that are shameful?

Is the Government as ashamed of the “hard truths” they are directly facilitating, as they are of the atrocities committed against Irish women and babies in our past? Are we really holding ourselves to account when over 7,000 people reside in Direct Provision centres in this country today?

The most vulnerable people in Irish society continue to be locked away in a State-funded, systematic way.

Consecutive governments, since 1999 when Direct Provision was first established, have facilitated the dehumanization and human rights  violations of thousands of asylum seekers who come to Ireland seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

An open letter from Psychologists for Social Change Ireland to the Taoiseach and Minister O´Gorman said: “We observe that the Direct Provision system has barely met the basic physiological needs of these individuals and families, while causing untold psychological harm.”

Over thirty percent of current Direct Provision residents are children, and it’s common for residents to remain stuck in the system for years. Children developing in such a harsh environment will undoubtedly result in massive psychological harm impacting them for the remainder of their lives.

Various United Nations (UN) committees have criticised and condemned Ireland’s Direct Provision system over the past decade.

On March 10th, 2011, the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination said  “[Ireland] should take all necessary measures to improve the living conditions of asylum seekers by providing them with adequate food, medical care and other social amenities including also a review of the direct provision system.”

Despite these concerns expressed a decade ago, the same inhumane system has prevailed here. The current Government has committed to abolishing Direct Provision within its lifetime. A White Paper on replacing the system was supposed to be submitted to Cabinet last December, but has been delayed until next month.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman explained the delay, saying: “We want to get this right. We’re not just tinkering around with the Direct Provision system. What we’ll be bringing with the White Paper will be transformative.”

For the sake of the seven thousand individuals suffering in Direct Provision on this island, I do hope it is transformative.

As a country who possesses an extensive history of its people emigrating, it is beyond disappointing that asylum seekers in this country have been hidden away like this for the past two decades.

I hope that better days lie ahead for them, and that this country finally puts an end to cruel treatment of its vulnerable.

Emma Nevin

Image Credit: Grace O’Sullivan