Tuesday 22 October 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Oh dear, one of our dirty little secrets is out'

As we greeted the Trumps, an American magazine was disclosing some hard truths about this country, writes Gene Kerrigan

Cartoon by Tom Halliday
Cartoon by Tom Halliday

The Trumps came, we grovelled, they did a bit of marketing for their Doonbeg resort, then they buggered off.

RTE took the opportunity to ask one of the Trump sons what must be the most ridiculous question in the history of journalism.

Meanwhile, we got a mention in The New Yorker magazine. In fact, we got a 4,000-word article, thoroughly researched and written by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen.

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The New Yorker is a venerable magazine, to which attention is paid. Gessen is a highly regarded writer.

Long after the drool has dried on the chins of the Irish grovellers, copies of that article will rest in the files of countless politicians and journalists, American and otherwise. It gives a devastating insight into how this country goes about its duties.

American politicians who are constantly implored to help the "undocumented Irish" will find in it much to ponder.

It's a tenet of this column that the Irish establishment kisses up to those with power, and kicks down at those who lack power.

The events of last week were just a small episode in the long-running practice of grovelling in one direction - to those who can do us favours - and snarling in the other direction, at those we can push around.

Gessen's article is titled "Ireland's Strange, Cruel System for Asylum Seekers".

Irish journalists have written about the notorious "direct provision" system, and interviewed people caged by it. Gessen's article is aimed at alerting those outside this country to the psychological damage we're inflicting on those vulnerable people we isolate, hinder and humiliate.

She documents the cruelties we take as normal. They are major and they are petty.

Gessen is fair. "There are worse places than Ireland to be a person in need of international protection. The US is one such place.

"Ireland grants people in need of international protection shelter, food and public assistance, as do many other countries... But Ireland, in effect, does not allow them to live in the community. It has created a system that is perhaps unique in its daily cruelty."

That is the essence of direct provision. Isolate them, keep them waiting. Deprive them of contact with us, seek to prevent them establishing communities among themselves. Make them wait, for hours and days and months and years, with no schedule, so the wait may end 10 minutes from now or 10 years.

Among people already stressed, depression grows, and despair. The State now keeps to itself the figures for suicide and self-harm.

Of late, Ireland has had a reputation as a liberal paradise. "Openly gay" Taoiseach, and all that lark. We're proud of the planeloads of idealistic young Irish people who came from abroad to vote away our intolerance.

But, what's the difference between the Ireland of the Magdalene laundries and the Ireland of direct provision?

Back then, it was the Church and the State cooperating in cruelty. Today, the State is in partnership with entrepreneurial forces, which run and profit from the cages.

It's not surprising they do this - it's how they deal with the thousands of homeless people, trapped in one-room refuges.

Neither migrants nor those driven out of the housing market are seen as a responsibility, they are a nuisance for the State and a source of immense profit for the State's entrepreneurial partners.

Migrants are isolated and prohibited from doing the things that make us social beings - earning, cooking, collaborating with our neighbours. Direct provision, Gessen writes, is "a system designed to separate people in need of international protection from the country in which they live".

It's a system that might have been designed to cause depression and alienation.

We persist in seeing people from other countries - unless they're tourists spending money - as chancers, devious, on the make. Just as elements within the State dismiss the homeless as "gaming the system".

We have yet to catch up with the fact that we live on a globe; and that events - many of them with their origins in the west - force huge numbers of people to move, to escape the effects of climate change, war, oppression and economic devastation.

We either deal with this calmly and tolerantly, or we'll end up building extermination camps.

Because this is the future. If we make it even worse for those who seek our protection, they won't stop coming. We'll just become more cruel.

As we continued to kick down at those for whom we have a responsibility, last week we had a great time kissing up to power.

Highlight of the visit for the Trump sons was their friendship with the local Catholic priest, who declared that he's saved a spot in Heaven for all the Trumps.

Now, it's been a while since I consulted my copy of the Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, but I don't remember priests having the power to reserve thrones in Paradise.

Perhaps this is one of Pope Francis's innovations.

RTE, from which I learned this, did not inform us if the priest has done the same favour for anyone else. Perhaps the Fast-track to Heaven programme is reserved for three-time married billionaire philanderers, who boast that they grab women by their genitals, and pay hush money to the ladies with whom they were relieving their urges while their wives recovered from providing an heir.

Ideal material for sitting at the right hand of God, if God is played by an unshaven, drunken Billy Bob Thornton.

Oh, Father, I thought, how could you? Trump has been systematically separating migrant children from their mothers and locking them up.

Then, I thought about the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland and, yeah, I can see that the Church and Trump are a good fit.

The Trumps had already said repeatedly how happy they were to be in Doonbeg. The intrepid RTE reporter would not let the Trumps get away with that. So, the most ridiculous question in the history of journalism: "How happy are you to be here?"

The Trumps pondered: should they say elated, ecstatic, exhilarated or euphoric?

Next time, we can try for a new height of ridiculousness with questions such as: "What level of greatness has your da's presidency reached?"

"Which is the most crooked - Bill Clinton or Hillary?"

"New York is nice, isn't it?"

"I believe your da makes a delicious pot of coffee for the breakfast table, is that right?"

Trump told us how good Brexit will be for us. He looks forward to us building our "wall" around Northern Ireland. On his way home, he tweeted that the moon is "part of Mars".

We pretend this is normal. If he turned up to meet Varadkar wearing a chicken costume, we'd all smile and pretend that too was normal. He represents power and we therefore treat him as a competent adult.

Brits, Irish and French nod our deference as we welcome this clownish insult to international relations.

However, Trumps come and go. Cruel treatment for people in need goes on and on. We know they can't fight back.

If it was our sons or daughters seeking a future in some other country, how happy would we be if they were treated as we treat the people in direct provision?

As word goes out about what we do here, we may find other countries considering if they should follow our lead when dealing with the "undocumented" Irish.

Sunday Independent

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