Aodhan Ó Ríordáin jets off to the States this week to try and crack America with his unique brand of hypocritical liberalism, trumpeting himself as an anti-racist icon in contrast to Trump’s policies of detention and deportation of undocumented migrants. Tómas Lynch takes a look at his record on the homefront.
Now, after being appointed as a Senator despite losing his seat in the Dáil in the last election, his denunciation of Trump’s policies as racist has gone viral. As a result he’s been invited to take part in Irish Stand, a St Patrick’s Day demonstration against Trump which is being organized by such serious activist campaigns as Waking The Feminists and Black Lives Matter.
But once you take a moment to look past the grandstanding viral videos and the narcissistic self-congratulation, at his record in government as Minister of State for the Department of Justice, his position as migrant justice campaigner and anti-racist starts to look a hell of a lot less solid.
As a minister in the Department responsible for immigration and the notorious system of Direct Provision in which people seeking protection and security in this country are kept, he did little to change the situation. Ireland, along with Lithuania, remains one of only two countries that do not allow asylum seekers to work while their asylum case is being processed.
Up until recently people living in Direct Provision weren’t able to cook, and are generally barred from accessing third-level education. Some people have been languishing in this system for up to ten years, their lives cut off while government ministers do nothing and then recast themselves as heroes of #TheResistance.
The centres in which people seeking asylum are confined are still run by profiteering companies that continue to make millions of euro of profit a year, just like the for-profit deportation and detention centres of the US immigration system that Ó Ríordáin is such a vocal critic of. And while companies like East Coast Catering rake in the profits, residents scrape by on €19.10 a week, trapped in isolated centres in rural areas around the country.
And just like Trump’s America, the Irish system Ó Ríordáin presided over was and is a system of mass deportation. Last year nearly 4,500 people were deported from the state, back to countries where their lives were at risk.
With regard to the Travelling community, the ethnic group most discriminated against in Ireland, Ó Ríordáin delivered a blistering oration on their right to be recognized as an ethnicity back in 2015, and then failed to show up the next day to vote on the subject. All talk, and not a great deal of action.
When challenged on his inaction Ó Ríordáin gesticulates at a report that was published criticising the Direct Provision system. If only Trump would just publish a report, while leaving all his immigration policies intact, we could clap him on the back too as a great anti-racist.
Out of that report did come some changes, mainly the 2015 International Protection Act. That Act has been criticized by MASI, a movement of current and former asylum seekers living in Direct Provision, as only increasing the web of Kafkaesque bureaucracy they are immersed in.
This new act came into force in January this year and has already had an affect on the lives of people living in Direct Provision. Under this new act the reunification of families split up by conflict is made yet more difficult, and asylum applicants, many of whom have already filled out several such documents, have to fill out a 60-page questionnaire – the Single Application Procedure.
When residents received the questionnaire they were given an impossible 20 day deadline and told that failure to meet the deadline would jeopardize their claim. After a fuss was kicked up, the Department contradicted itself and said that the deadline date was a guideline only.
With these impossible deadlines and contradictory statements the system seems designed to manufacture crisis, forcing people to rush through their forms and make simple clerical errors that could jeopardize their asylum cases and have them deported back to countries where their lives may be at risk.
The forms are filled with questions that immigration lawyers say are irrelevant to the asylum application, and seem to be aimed at catching people out. This bureaucratic chaos is the legacy of Ó Ríordáin’s vaunted reform.
While Trump’s policies are racist and should be condemned, it is too easy to do as Ó Ríordáin has done, making a self-congratulatory viral video and washing his hands of the grim situation of migrants and refugees here in Ireland.
As has been so often pointed out in recent days, the mistreatment and institutionalisation of people in Direct Provision is something that future generations will be apologising for, just as this generation apologises for how their parents confined and institutionalised unmarried mothers and children.
We can, like Ó Ríordáin, remain passively acquiescent, or we can join with the growing campaigns both within and outside the Direct Provision centres to change the way we treat migrants in our own country.
Check out our recent short doc Ireland’s direct provision system here.