Wednesday 16 October 2019

Nicola Anderson: 'The disenfranchised, exhausted humans at the centre of all this are lost in the furore'

All smiles: Nancy Colton, Lorraine Fleming, Regina O’Toole and Noelle McNamara outside the Gateway Hotel. Photograph: Hany Marzouk
All smiles: Nancy Colton, Lorraine Fleming, Regina O’Toole and Noelle McNamara outside the Gateway Hotel. Photograph: Hany Marzouk
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

NO to the cruelty of Direct Provision? Or just 'No to Direct Provision in my backyard'?

When both sides of the divide end up singing uneasily from the same hymn sheet, it is a sign that something has gone seriously awry.

Amid the fallout of the pulling-out of a tender for Direct Provision at a hotel in Oughterard, Co Galway, there has been a scramble.

A scramble to ascribe blame, to mitigate, to explain positions.

Ever since the public meeting held some weeks ago to discuss speculation that a Direct Provision centre was planned for the Galway fishing town, there has been a disturbing - and possibly deliberate - blurring of lines in this most complex of arguments.

One man who attended that meeting expressed concern at what he saw as the 'bussing in' of a right-wing element to whip up a frenzy. "They weren't locals," he claimed. Whether innocently or cannily, "We're not racist but..." became the refrain amongst some protesters against the project.

Concern was expressed at the big money being made by some companies out of the Direct Provision system.

Many others in the town spoke against the centre on alleged humanitarian grounds - the basic aspect of the facilities that would be provided, the lack of a public transportation network in the town, together with the limited capacity of schools and the fact that Oughterard was down to just one GP.

The reasons cited against the centre opening have been endless.

And some of these arguments are undeniably true and came from a good place.

But it is also deeply troubling how - as has happened in Britain with Brexit - the various fears have been ruthlessly hijacked and exploited by the right-wing brigade to bolster its own case.

There were grave misgivings when the British far-right commentator Katie Hopkins jumped on the bandwagon some weeks ago, tweeting: "Bless these lovely people in #Oughterard" who were "silently protesting against the imposition of African migrants into a converted hotel in their quiet Irish town".

"Will Ireland follow Germany? Do we never learn?" Hopkins asked. The replies were predictable.

But on the opposite side of the moral scale, even the Bishop of Galway, Brendan Kelly, weighed in, describing Direct Provision as a system which strips people of their dignity - while also speaking against the alleged infiltration of the protest as "concerning".

In all of this, there is only one thing that really matters, that of, in falling between two stools, what becomes of the vulnerable families who were destined to end up at the Direct Provision centre in Oughterard - and where are they at this moment in time?

Languishing in the no-man's land that is emergency accommodation, like so many other homeless families in this country, is the stark answer.

Anyone walking city streets at twilight will have spotted these families - of all origins and creeds - as they trudge along, dispirited, with slumped shoulders.

They carry their worldly possessions in a few bags, coaxing their small, tired children along in their relentlessly unending journey, being shunted from Billy to Jack in a bid to get a bed for the night.

The sight of them pierces the heart.

And it makes us angry for them.

Some critics have demanded to know why migrant families should get preferential treatment over Irish families in terms of accommodation.

But could Direct Provision truly be said to be 'preferential treatment'?

The reality is that, for the taxpayer, it is a cold matter of cost.

Direct Provision is three times cheaper than the provision of emergency accommodation - which is, in itself, deeply unsatisfactory for families of any origin or creed.

Both systems leave families disenfranchised, exhausted, unable to even cook a proper meal for their children.

And on a moral and a human level, whether those comforting meals that go uncooked are Irish stew, Nigerian Jollof rice or Syrian kebabs, it is all wrong and damaging to both children and family structures.

Direct Provision is a halfway house to a normal life.

It is only that. But it is also at least that.

The arguments for it are just as complex as the arguments against it.

It was introduced as an emergency system in 1999.

The 'emergency' since then has escalated to a terrifying degree.

The question is, how motivated are we as a nation to find a replacement?

In a statement, the Department of Justice and Equality admitted the system of Direct Provision "is not perfect" but said it was "working to improve it".

In the meantime, desperate families are waiting.

Irish Independent

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