Pic: Galway Against Racism Network march against Direct Provision
Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin
Although the worst of the hatred has been confined to social media, we are also beginning to see a small number of racists operating out in the open.
Last month, Councillor Donal Grady led a protest against a proposed new Direct Provision centre in Killarney under the slogan “Our Own Must Come First”. Although less than 30 people attended the demonstration, it received nationwide coverage in the media. This is in s contrast to the many anti-racist actions over the last number of years that have been largely ignored. Only when hundreds of people mobilise, as they did against Direct Provision in Galway on 20 Januar, is there any media coverage.
The demonstration in Killarney tried to use the housing crisis to launch a vicious attack on the most vulnerable people in society. As far as we know, this is the first housing protest Donal Grady has ever organised. A look through his website reveals that the last motion he put to Killarney Town Council that had anything to do with providing affordable housing was back in April 2013, when he put forward the tame motion, “That we Killarney Town Council would urgently examine the requirements for the RAS Scheme as it seems that the rule of taking applicants off the housing list is unfair and could be illegal.”
This is revealing. The severity of the housing crisis has created huge anger that people like Grady are attempting to redirect towards asylum seekers and refugees. This is done to cover up for their own failure to provide affordable public housing to people who are in desperate need of it. Grady’s action chime with the wider divide and rule strategy of the national government.
Last year both Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney dealt with a question about Direct Provision by connecting the system to housing, with Coveney saying that a change in the system would put “more pressure” on him as housing minister.
Varadkar likewise stated that “there actually are people who have status, who’ve been given leave to remain, who’ve been given refugee status, but are still living in Direct Provision because there is no housing available for them.”
This is an effort to pit homeless people against asylum seekers.
The top brass of Fine Gael do not use outright racist language, but these kinds of statements, cloaked in the language of concern, are an attempt to spread the idea that there are limited resources in Ireland and that helping asylum seekers will hit the homeless..
We need only look at the government’s housing policies to see that they have no intention of alleviating the suffering of ordinary people.
With public land being sold off to private developers, NAMA buildings being sold at slashed prices to the wealthy, sky-rocketing rents and tens of thousands of houses lying empty all over the country, the government’s intentions are clear. They will continue to look after landlords and developers to the cost of everybody else.
The “family hubs” touted by Eoghan Murphy and Simon Coveney demonstrate that homeless families have much more in common with asylum seekers stuck in Direct Provision than they do with the wealthy elites of this country.
Placing the blame for the problems in our society on asylum seekers is misguided and dangerous. If we look at the major crises in Ireland at the moment – housing, healthcare, the denial of women’s bodily autonomy, mental health – it is often the case that asylum seekers are the worst affected.
As the list of horror stories to do with lack of access to healthcare continues to grow, it emerged last week that a Nigerian asylum seeker had to resort to prostitution to pay for her son’s treatment for a severe form of sickle cell disease.
While women in Ireland are forced to travel to the UK to access abortions, there are women who cannot even do this – those who cannot afford to travel, and those who are in Direct Provision.
As we experience a mental health crisis among the general population, depression, anxiety and PTSD are at extraordinarily high levels among those in Direct Provision.
The consequences of this were borne out in the most tragic fashion in August 2016, when a Korean woman, You Jung Han, committed suicide in a direct provision centre.
The vast levels of suffering being experienced by people in Ireland are not caused by the most powerless people in society, but by a system that prioritises profits of the few at the expense of the many. Fine Gael, propped up by Fianna Fáil, will use every possible tactic to divide us and direct our anger away from themselves and their class.
Falling for their lies will weaken us in every single struggle we seek to undertake.
We must therefore build solidarity between all oppressed people in order to take them on.
Despite the surge of racism, there have also been many positive actions on this front of late. A petition against Donal Grady’s protest launched by five O’Donohue sisters from Barraduff in Kerry has amassed over 1,500 signatures so far.
The launch of a United Against Racism activist group in Kerry demonstrates that people there are taking up the fight against xenophobia. A recent documentary on the Syrian refugees who were resettled in Ballaghadereen showed how these people have been accepted into the community and have injected their own energy and joy into the town.
A packed United Against Racism evening with Ibrahim Halawa in December saw People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny read out a letter of solidarity from Vera Twomey to Ibrahim. Racists had attempted to use the hashtag #BringAvaHome to suggest that we ought to be helping “real” Irish people, i.e. white Irish people. Vera’s letter confronted this racism and welcomed Ibrahim home.
Most significantly, demonstrations against Direct Provision in Dublin and Galway in November and January saw hundreds of people come out to demand equal rights for asylum seekers and an end to deportations.
This is solidarity we need to confront the racism in our society and to help us build for a better world. The elites will look after their own.
We must therefore do likewise, and look after our own: workers, the homeless, asylum seekers, travellers, LGBT+ people, pensioners, and anybody who faces the brutality of this state.