Ireland has a xenophobia problem. I believe that there is something in the national conscience that makes us think we are above this truth, partially or entirely. Perhaps it is because we are a former colony that experienced oppression at the hands of an empire ourselves. Perhaps it is because our country was, until recently, relatively sheltered and homogenous. Perhaps it is just the standard ignorance of a Western European nation that imagines itself to be tolerant, even in the face of all evidence. Whatever it may be, it is inherently wrong.
The most famous example of this is direct provision. It was initially designed to be an “interim” system, with the purpose of housing people for no more than six months, while their asylum application was considered. The concept in itself is not the issue. Asylum seekers need to be and should be housed by the state. Yet, people are spending an average of two years in the system, and are frequently and routinely treated badly throughout this time. They are given an allowance that amounts to less than €1,200 a year per adult, extremely poor quality of food and accommodation, alongside seemingly random restrictions on what residents are allowed to do in the centres – their de facto homes – including a ban on the use of electronic devices at night.
Asylum seekers were only granted permission to work while their applications are under review this year, and even then the process remains Byzantine. Permission to work only covers a six month period, employment in dozens of sectors is off-limits, and any slight hiccup in any of the numerous administrative processes of the asylum application leads to the work permit to be revoked.
Treating anyone in state care this way would be unconscionable, and to treat asylum seekers this way, being people who have fled to Ireland out of fear of persecution and violence, is nothing short of criminal. These issues are not complex and without solutions. They remain in place because successive governments don’t want to change them. The government does not care.
However, this is just the beginning of the problem. The cases of Eric Xue and Shepherd Machaya last month hint at something more systemic. Both have been living in Ireland for nine years, the former since he was born here, the latter after fleeing torture in Zimbabwe. Similarly, an asylum seeker on his second third level degree – an incredible achievement given those in direct provision are not entitled to free fees – who has lived in this country for a third of his life, has as much right to stay here as anyone. And yet, both should have been removed under the law.
“Deportation orders are routine, with approximately a thousand made each year.”
Both of these individuals were lucky enough to have their cases become high profile and attract public support. However, this is very much the exception. Deportation orders are routine, with approximately a thousand made each year. Just a week before these cases, an Offaly teenager, who had lived in Ireland since he was two, narrowly avoided being sent to Nigeria; only because he had support from his community.
This is not the cultural persona of a hundred thousand welcomes that Ireland would like to imagine for itself. This is something somewhere between callousness and active hatred for those not lucky enough to have Irish parents. When considered in the context of Ireland’s centuries of history as a nation of emigrants, it is also almost laughably hypocritical.
One can arrive at this conclusion, without even going into detail about the pitifully small number of refugees Ireland agreed to host in 2015 – one for every 1,200 Irish people, of whom less than a third had been resettled by mid 2017 – or the record-high numbers of racist incidents being reported in recent years.
All this considered, several solutions become clear. Firstly, the 27th Amendment needs to be repealed as soon as possible. If nothing else, a recent poll indicates that over 70% of the population would support its repeal, and that should be reason enough. On top of this, it is ridiculous that someone born in Ireland, and having lived their whole life in Ireland, should have no inherent right to stay in the country. Eric Xue should be the last person we have to save from exile to a place he may have never have been to.
“We should be aggressively resisting efforts to enforce unjust deportation orders.”
Opponents of such a move argue that birthright citizenship incentivises people to come to Ireland exclusively to give birth. In my opinion, this view comes from a xenophobic assumption that migrants must be in some way underhanded or opportunistic. Either way, if a person is desperate enough to secure a better life for their child that they will cross borders, sometimes illegally at great personal risk, while heavily pregnant, then we, as a ludicrously well-off country, have no excuse not to give their child that life.
Secondly, the direct provision system, as we know it, must be ended. It is an egregious stain on our national conscience and has been for 18 years now. Responsible citizens should be aggressively lobbying their representatives to take a stand, and heavily punishing those who refuse at the next election.
Thirdly, in the meantime, we should be aggressively resisting efforts to enforce unjust deportation orders. Anyone with a clear right to live here or who is being sent to a place where they face significant danger should be protected from removal by any reasonable means. Successful public campaigns, as we saw in October, are ideal. Yet, direct action to stop deportations aboard aircraft is absolutely justified too. The leaflet, handed out in Trinity some weeks ago, with information on taking such direct action was a wonderful piece of activism. It caused a significant stir among some commentators online. They were horrified that people would endorse “illegal” forms of protest, but this is the point. When the law fails to protect the vulnerable, it is the right and the duty of citizens to act outside that law. It should shock and appall people that such things are necessary.
“Successive referenda have shown us the resilience and the selflessness that Irish activists are capable of in the face of injustice. It is time to make use of this again.”
As a country, we have made incredible progress in the last few decades. The marriage referendum, Repeal, and our wholehearted embrace of the EU are examples of this. Nonetheless, there is still so much to be done. Do not to diminish the importance of past activism and social change, but make clear that it is time to turn that same energy towards issues like migration and homelessness, as many people already have.
Successive referenda have shown us the resilience and the selflessness that Irish activists are capable of in the face of injustice. It is time to make use of this again.