The Long Betrayal – Lies, Direct Provision And The McMahon Report

Words by Subprime
Images by Asylum Archive

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The McMahon Report into the Protection System and Direct Provision was published one year ago this week. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the report has taken on an almost mythic status in some quarters as a panacea for the ills of Direct Provision. If only the report’s 173 recommendations were implemented, this tale goes, the horrors of Direct Provision would be a thing of the past. Trumpeted as a “Yes Equality moment” by then Minister for State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin this day last year, the publication of the report would “turn the page on the scandal of Direct Provision”.

Reality and the things Ó Ríordáin says are frequently at odds, however, and the report gathered dust for months before being quietly removed recently from the final Programme for Partnership Government (PfG), having been featured in an earlier draft. The report was in reality a weak, reformist document —  had it been implemented fully, Direct Provision would remain intact  —  and a quiet death like this was a fitting end for it. Unfortunately Ó Ríordáin couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie and decided make an issue of the new government’s failure to include a commitment to implement the report’s recommendations after having failed to do so himself as Minister for State in the Department of Justice.

Ó Ríordáin issued a statement claiming that the decision to remove mention of the report from the final PfG is “a betrayal of the thousands of people who have found themselves languishing in Direct Provision Centres all around the country.” On Twitter he said that the McMahon Report was “ the only chance that DP residents had.” This is ridiculous, even by Ó Ríordáin’s usual standards.

The working group process which led to the report was the real betrayal of Direct Provision residents.

The process and the report itself were so compromised and limited in their scope that, far from being “the only chance” for residents, they were used by civil servants and politicians including Ó Ríordáin to actively hamper efforts by residents and others to improve the system.

The bizarre notion that the McMahon Report would somehow solve Direct Provision is perfectly illustrated by a couple of recent news reports: Michael D. Higgins, reacting to the news that McMahon implementation was dropped from the PfG, told the Irish times that he had “noticed” the McMahon Report had not been featured in discussions on government formation. This statement was then picked up by breakingnews.ie, who twisted his words to claim the President had criticised the lack of a commitment to “end the Direct Provision for asylum seekers.” The site further stated that the “McMahon report into Direct Provision calls for an end to the system.” This is completely untrue and could be dismissed as bad journalism but unfortunately it appears that it is a fairly common view that both Ó Ríordáin and the McMahon working group had set out to end Direct Provision.

This narrative is the exact opposite of the truth. The McMahon working group came about during a time when Direct Provision system was experiencing protests in centres across the country. The process was used by the Department of Justice, with help from Ó Ríordáin, to suppress those protests, co-opt NGOs and block all attempts to change the system for over a year.

An Independent Working Group?

The July 2014 Statement of Government Priorities contained a commitment to set up an “independent working group” to report to government on “improvements” that could be made to Direct Provision and the wider asylum system. The group consisted of two sides: representatives of government Departments on the one hand and on the other, a group of asylum NGOs, some random “non-affiliated” political picks and a single refugee

The “independent” adjective was apparently just thrown on there to lend credibility to the group, or out of habit. It was never clear who exactly the group was meant to be independent of and the language of independence was mostly dropped (there’s no mention of the group being independent in the press release announcing its establishment, for example) except when convenient (when government wanted to avoid questions about the group’s progress.)

Being charitable, one could assume that the group was meant to be independent of government  —  except the majority of participants in the group were civil servants from various government departments. Or perhaps it was to be independent of actual government ministers  —  except for the fact that one of the draft plans was for Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to chair the group (which was apparently abandoned to avoid the perception of political interference in the group); government set the terms of reference and picked the group’s members; and ministers publicly discussed what they “hoped” would be in the final report, as the group was conducting its work.

In the end, the Department of Justice settled on ticking the independence box by installing an “independent” chairperson, former High Court judge Bryan McMahon. Despite the fact that Frances Fitzgerald met with McMahon to discuss the group before it first met and that they appeared in public together during the course of the group’s work, you could say that he meets the criteria for being independent simply by virtue of the fact that he is a former High Court judge, seemingly the only necessary qualification to chair such a group in Ireland. An independent Chairperson does not an “independent working group” make but I suppose the Department is entitled to some leeway in their implementation of government commitments.

In any case, it’s not government ministers or a retired judge who would care enough to engage in some kind of conspiracy to influence the group. Rather, it’s the Department of Justice as an institution who have the most invested in maintaining the status quo of Direct Provision and the asylum system.

It is their job, after all, to manage the state based on government decisions. A government decision 16 years ago mandated them to create Direct Provision and the establishment of the working group did nothing to change that decision.

The group’s terms of reference required that whatever the working group recommended, “the existing border controls and immigration procedures are not compromised.” Direct Provision is border control. It acts to dissuade people from travelling to Ireland to claim asylum by keeping those that already made it here in terrible conditions. If the working group was to truly and critically examine Direct Provision, it would have to look at this fact. To do so independently, it would require independence from the Department of Justice, the government department tasked with upholding government policies on border control. In this sense, the group was anything but independent as Justice was more prevalent on the working group than any other group.

Two actual Department of Justice officials sat on the government side of the plenary working group  —  Michael Kelly of the INIS and Noel Dowling of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) which runs Direct Provision. Then there was David Costello of ORAC, (formerly of Justice, soon to be in Justice again when ORAC is subsumed back into the Department.) In addition, three other Justice officials sat on various sub-groups within the working group, according to the final report, but others were involved in various capacities as the subgroups were something of a free-for-all. Four Justice also officials helped out as the group’s secretariat and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal was also represented on the group.

That’s a lot of people working within the Department of Justice and/or its semi-autonomous agencies who got to come to the table and help construct the report.

This doesn’t include Tim Dalton, former Department of Justice Secretary General, who for reasons unknown was included on the “independent”/NGO side of the group. This appointment alone should have been cause for objection and outrage from the NGOs represented on the Group  —  Dalton was Justice Secretary General as his Department set up Direct Provision 16 years ago. He would be contributing to a report that, if it were truly independent, could potentially criticise the very system he was responsible for establishing. There were no public objections by members to his appointment to the group. Perhaps there would have been objections to the fact that Dalton and the Chair of the group, Bryan McMahon, visited a Direct Provision centre together after the membership of the group was announced but before the first working group meeting. However, other members of the working group were not told that this trip happened so they did not have a chance to analyse this relationship.

I’m nitpicking here to an extent  —  I’m not sure anybody ever seriously tried to claim the group was independent. It was stated a lot, but didn’t seem to mean a whole lot. Its supposed independence was, as I said above, a useful way for government to long finger any discussion of changes to Direct Provision at a time when it was, from their cynical perspective, absolutely necessary for them to do so.

Hunger strikes and occupations

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The working group was set up, intentionally or not, in order to stifle and displace mounting opposition to Direct Provision in the latter half of 2014. The group first met in November of that year and for the preceding three months, residents of various Direct Provision centres had been engaged in both spontaneous and loosely coordinated direct actions against the system.

Starting in Mount Trenchard, Co. Limerick in August, and spreading to eight centres during September and October, residents of Direct Provision railed against the system despite the best efforts of the Department of Justice and centre management to ignore, co-opt and intimidate them (armed Gardaí even came to Mount Trenchard to forcibly transfer three protesting residents to other centres, after the dispute there had already been ‘resolved’.) Actions included hunger strikes in Athlone, Portlaoise and Mount Trenchard; occupations of centres in Cork and Waterford, including a ten-day occupation of the State-owned Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre in Cork City; and a march on Enda Kenny’s constituency office in Castlebar by residents of the Old Convent centre in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo.

Residents used the protests not just to highlight and change the woeful conditions in the centres but also to call for the closure of the system, residency and a right to work for all asylum seekers and an end to deportations. In an effort to quell protests at various centres, Department of Justice officials told residents that the above demands were “non-local issues” which could not be addressed directly by RIA during protests but that they would be covered by the working group. This was untrue. The terms of reference for the group, drafted by Justice, did not allow the group to recommend the closure of Direct Provision and Frances Fitzgerald made it clear at the first meeting of the group that they had not been assembled to consider such an option.

The group did recommend an extremely conditional right to work in their final report but the government has no intention of implementing this and the Minister had ruled this out before the group even met. Similarly, an amnesty was ruled out before the group met, even though the report did recommended a conditional process whereby people in the system longer than five years would be given a form of residency. And, of course and unfortunately, stopping deportations was never going to be considered by the working group — they did, however, recommend that government legislate for increased powers of deportation, a recommendation implemented as part of the International Protection Act.

Avoiding action

The spectre of the working group allowed government to avoid debate on any Direct Provision reforms raised in the Oireachtas. On September 17th 2014, Ronán Mullen proposed a reformist Seanad motion which called on the government to allow a conditional right to work and to institute a review mechanism to grant those in Direct Provision longer than four years “compassionate” leave to remain in Ireland. (Four years is a ridiculously long cut-off point before we should be compassionate about people’s stays in DP but ironically even this obscene time limit was lower than the similar 5 year condition which made its way into the final McMahon Report.)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was on hand to counter this motion with a government amendment which welcomed the establishment of the working group. He said the “working group process… is a sensible one” which allows for “necessary change to be identified and managed effectively without the dangers which would be generated by peremptory actions.” In the same speech, Ó Ríordáin also decided to condemn protesting Direct Provision residents who were engaged in a process of unmanaged and dangerous change. While he said he “fully respect[s] the rights of residents to protest”, he could not “condone the targeting of individuals working in certain direct provision centres or the stopping of people going about their lawful work.” This is an astonishing attack on protesters by a Minister for State who supposedly respects their right to protest.

It’s not clear where Ó Ríordáin got the idea that certain workers were being “targeted” but he is perhaps referring to the demand of protesting residents in the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre in Cork for the removal of a manager there. The grim conditions in the centre and the protest itself are discussed by one of the residents, Lucky Khambule in a recent rabble interview. In their list of demands, residents of the centre said that the manager in question “does not respect the people who are under his care” and that they were “intimidated by the manager calling Gardaí” and threatening to transfer them when they raised issues with him.

“Stopping people going about their lawful work” could also apply to the protest in the Kinsale Road where, at the time of Aodhán’s speech, residents had seized control of the centre and locked out management and staff. The irony of attacking protesters for impeding workers in the same speech in which he is denying Direct Provision residents the right to work is apparently lost on Ó Ríordáin. This method of protest, unlike the “sensible” working group process, was effective in winning residents immediate reforms. In the end, the residents of the Kinsale Road won many of their demands and the manager was removed.

Later the same month, Ó Ríordáin was in the Dáil to counter another motion on Direct Provision, from Thomas Pringle. This motion would call on the government to “abolish” DP and replace it with six months capped reception centres and a right to work after that time. Pringle, pre-empting the inevitable government response that that working group would solve all ills, laid out clearly the problem with this: “Everyone here who has an interest in the direct provision system can indicate what needs to be done because the experts have been informing us about the matter for quite some time.” There was of course, no need for a working group after years of reports ignored by government and the working group process was, Pringle said, “just another delaying tactic on the part of Fine Gael that will result in a much diluted version of what must to be done.”

Ó Ríordáin’s counter motion was identical to the one used against Mullen. He again took the opportunity to condemn protesting Direct Provision residents and this time also expressed his concerns “about the impact the protests can have on children and other vulnerable persons living in the centres.” Again the irony seems to be lost on him that he is smearing protesters while calling for the retention of a system that has an actual negative impact on children and vulnerable people.

It’s worth also comparing Ó Ríordáin’s comments to those of Direct Provision contractor Alan Hyde, in a submission to the working group, describing a protest the Birchwood centre in Waterford:

While protesting peacefully is a recognised constitutional right, the protesters in many cases took the law into their own hands… my employees were stopped from entering their place of employment… the majority of residents were casualities [sic] of the protest.

The Birchwood protest began after Ó Ríordáin’s two Oireachtas speeches condemning protesters so I’m not suggesting he lifted his comments from this submission but the simple fact that a supposedly anti-Direct Provision Minister would come up with the same talking points as did a Direct Provision centre owner should tell you all you need to know about the sincerity of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

NGOs

I’ve written before about how the Department of Justice was concerned that some of the NGOs involved in the working group process might be presented with problems because the official stance of their organisations is that they are for the abolition of Direct Provision while the working group was not set up to end the system at all. They needn’t have worried. Of the five NGOs represented on the group, only two had previously campaigned against Direct Provision  —  the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) and Nasc. The remaining three  —  SPIRASI, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA)  —  had taken much more ambiguous positions on the system, consistently failing to call for its abolition. The UNHCR, also represented on the group, never came out against the system.

The IRC and Nasc got around the problem of their previous opposition to the system by releasing statements saying they were still in favour of ending Direct Provision even though they were joining the working group. Nasc’s CEO Fiona Finn said that although she was “disappointed that the terms of reference for the Working Group seem quite narrow,” she believed it was “better to be at the table and try to effect change than not to take part”. Nasc would “continue to push for an end to the system of direct provision… both within and outside of the Working Group.” The IRC released a statement entitled “The Irish Refugee Council will continue to advocate for an end to Direct Provision”. Then CEO Sue Conlan said that the IRC would be “advocating for an international protection system that Ireland can be proud of” while also “advocating for an end to the current system of reception”.

The problem with both of these statements is that they were made after both NGOs had sight of the working group’s terms of reference which did not allow the possibility that the group recommend the abolition or replacement of Direct Provision. The terms of reference as I’ve mentioned above tasked the group with recommending to government “what improvements should be made to the State’s existing Direct Provision [system]”. While this could be interpreted charitably as allowing the group to recommend an alternative to Direct Provision, there was no confusion from government about what they intended. At a roundtable of NGOs in September 2014, prior to the establishment of the working group, Fitzgerald had made clear that by “improvements” to the system she meant improvements and not “replacing it with something else or abolishing it.” This fact was again highlighted by the Minister and McMahon at the first meeting of the working group.

There was no confusion from other observers. Shortly after the terms of reference were announced, a group of academics described the objectives of the working group as “very clear. Direct provision will remain in place. Any suggestions for improvement will be governed by “cost efficiency”, continued ghettoisation and deterrence.” Highlighting the fact that only one refugee was appointed as member of the group, the academics said that the group as announced “further silences and marginalises asylum seekers who have to live with the damage that this system has inflicted upon them”. They supported the call by Anti-Deportation Ireland for the NGOs to step down and give up their places to people in the system.

The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), a group of residents across multiple centres which grew out of the organisation developed during the Kinsale Road blockade and other centres, also called for the resignation of NGO working group members. They sent letters to the NGOs demanding representation and this was discussed at the second plenary working group meeting, as noted in the minutes.

The calls for resignations were ignored by NGOs. Asylum seekers would be represented officially only by the Core Group, an IRC funded group of asylum seekers and refugees. They had one representative on the main working group, Reuben Hambackachere, who from the minutes of the group seemed like the only person speaking truth at working group meetings. For example, he made the following contribution at the first meeting of the group:

In relation to the stated aim of the work of the Group — to show greater respect to the dignity of persons within the system, IRC Core Group representative expressed the view that the system of direct provision, which requires people to live in a controlled environment, is incompatible with the dignity of the person.

Sue Conlan and the IRC would later resign from the working group in March 2015 for reasons unrelated to the above. This kicked off internal discussions within the Core Group who fractured into two camps, those who wanted to also resign from the group in protest, led by Hambackachere, and those who wanted to stay on for the final couple of months and see what reforms could be won. In the end, Hambackachere lost out and he resigned from the working group, saying in his letter of resignation to the Chair of the group that he felt restricted by the group’s terms of reference to “legitimizing the current system with only a few tweaks…. My conscience will not allow me to endorse an exercise that has not truly reflected the voices of asylum seekers.” (He also wrote about his experiences in Village.)

Hambackachere’s resignation was in a personal capacity, the Core Group still remained on the working group. He was replaced by Stephen Ng’ang’a who sat on the group until the end and signed off on the final report. The Core Group had been badly damaged by their internal dispute. They started off as a small group of refugees and asylum seekers, backed by the IRC and unrepresentative of the wider body of asylum seekers and refugees in Ireland. They ended up as an even smaller group, and lost the institutional backing of the IRC. This was predictable and comes back to the demands from other asylum seekers for proper representation on the working group. The “community” of protection applicants in Ireland cannot of course be represented by any one group, especially not one tied to a specific NGO.

Apart from the issue of asylum seeker representation, the McMahon NGOs were compromised by the working group process itself. While the lines between Justice and the NGOs have always been blurry, not least in the eyes of many asylum seekers, the McMahon process was a radical departure from the earlier position where the NGOs at least paid lip service to the idea that they were antagonists of the Department. While individual NGOs had of course worked with government before this on various projects, including the first drafting of the RIA house rules, McMahon saw a group of NGOs come together with government to work together to plan the future of the asylum system and Direct Provision.

The co-option of the NGOs was noted in a recent article by working group member Ciara Smyth entitled “Chronicles of a Reform Process”. Smyth notes that one might take “jaundiced view” that the working group formulation, ie. NGOs and civil servants working more or less together towards a common goal, “might impede NGOs from adopting stance [sic] critical of government; the co-opting of NGOs onto the Working Group will certainly do so as far as the report is concerned.” Smyth’s article was written just before the publication of the report in June 2015. She was certainly correct that the remaining NGOs were indeed co-opted to the extent that they could not be critical of the government’s immediately obvious intention not to implement the report.

Another #YesEquality moment

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The day after the report was finally delivered to government on June 23rd 2015, the Irish Times carried a story by Fiach Kelly quoting anonymous sources including a cabinet member. The story claimed that “700 migrants” had entered the state in just one month. An anonymous source then said that “those who are the focus of concern” are “in essence illegal immigrants and they are using the asylum process to gain entry to the country”. Fitzgerald was later asked about the 700 figure and it’s clear from her answer that nowhere near 700 people claimed asylum in any one month period in early 2015.

Apart from the outright lie that 700 people had abused the asylum system, the story also features anonymous concerns within “the Coalition” that “improvements in direct provision system, as well as a recovering economy, could make Ireland a destination country for immigrants.” The Irish Times had access to some of the report’s recommendations that same day as detailed in a separate article by Carl O’Brien — but they chose to run Fiach Kelly’s anonymously sourced article on their front page. In other words, they could have taken the opportunity to highlight the report’s recommendations but instead they chose to undermine it.

It isn’t that surprising that reactionaries in Cabinet and/or the Department of Justice would try to undermine the report’s release by planting ridiculous Daily Express style “migrant” scare stories in the press. It’s certainly not surprising that the newspaper of record would facilitate them. However, despite this clear evidence that the report was being and would continue to be undermined, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s optimism was not dampened.

A week after being delivered to government, the McMahon Report was published on June 30th 2015. Ó Ríordáin lost the run of himself on Twitter that day, producing this classic tweet where he characterised the publication of the report as a “another #YesEquality moment”. He said that the publication of the report was an “important moment” and that “implementation must be a priority.” You have to admire his enthusiasm but the report was never going to be implemented. Fitzgerald’s rather less enthusiastic reaction to the report was to say that the report “will receives [sic] serious study and consideration.” There was a press conference to launch the report at 4.30pm that day at which Fitzgerald said she thought the “roadmap set out in the publication is practical in its ambition.” Before 6pm she had already refused to commit to implementing the report’s recommendations.

Time to Act

Though the government was clearly never going to implement McMahon, the NGOs who remained on the working group until the end never lost hope. Their dedication to the report was total. They came out with coordinated statements on the day of the report’s release. When government avoided discussing the report in the Dáil, the NGOs formed a group called Time to Act to call on the government to implement the report’s recommendations. But implementation never came. Government implemented a couple of previous announced recommendations – a waiver on prescription charges for Direct Provision residents and a scheme of third level supports for asylum seekers which was so limited that only two people qualified for it. But for months these were the only announced changes to Direct Provision on foot of the McMahon Report.

Fans of Ireland’s asylum system will notice I’ve thus far glossed over the fact that the working group actually dealt not just with Direct Provision but with the wider protection process. This is an intentional choice, for brevity and because the group was presented as and referred to by government as a “Direct Provision working group”. The group actually focused equally on or even gave more time to “improvements” to the protection process rather than on “improvements” to Direct Provision. These two issues although related could be separate but McMahon blurs the line between them.

Whether Ireland maintains open or closed border in theory has no bearing on whether or not it operates Direct Provision, a separate system or no reception system at all. However, the report proposes a single application procedure as a method of reducing time spent in the asylum system. And although the introduction of a single application procedure was already planned by the Department of Justice, government has seized upon the single application procedure as a “solution” to Direct Provision.

The single application was legislated for as part of the International Protection Bill last year. According to government, this Bill “responded to” 26 of the McMahon recommendations, primarily the recommendation to introduce a single procedure. Non-McMahon NGOs objected to how the Bill was constructed and to how the government rammed it through the Oireachtas just before the Winter recess in December 2015. Even McMahon NGO Nasc objected to it, saying that while the “Minister claims that the Bill implements the key recommendations of the Working Group, this is simply not true.” Despite these objections, the Bill became an Act, signed in to law by the President after being referred to the Council of State.

The Department of Justice recently released a document which which lists the status of the 173 McMahon Report recommendations. In a press release accompanying the release, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald stated that she is “determined to implement this report in full as soon as possible.” This is impossible as things stand. Justice has decided that 5 recommendations will not be implemented. These relate to the right to work for asylum seekers after 9 months in the system and the establishment of an independent advisory board to oversee the system. These recommendations are marked “no longer applicable.” A brief information note at the top of the document explains that these recommendations have been superseded by “the passing of the International Protection Act 2015.” This is clearly at odds with the Minister’s statement that the report will be implemented in full and this was the the first and only time that the Department has stated officially that some McMahon recommendations will not be implemented.

Of the “implemented” recommendations, it appears that less than the amount stated have been implemented. In some cases, a recommendation listed as being implemented clearly has not been implemented. In many other cases, the ‘implemented’ recommendations are vague, subjective, or a continuation of standard practice. For example, one recommendation requires that “the good practice established through the [McMahon] Working Group of sharing and discussing information in a safe setting among key stakeholders be continued.” This is listed as an implemented recommendation but it’s not clear who the key stakeholders are or what constitutes a safe setting.

If the McMahon NGOs were honest they would admit that Justice’s claimed implementation of a number of the recommendations is completely false. Instead, they have over the past year consistently “welcomed” “progress” on implementation. Following on from their criticism of the International Protection Act, Nasc also mildly took issue with government’s announcement of a €6 increase in the weekly Direct Provision Allowance for children. Nasc’s Fiona Finn said that they “welcome any improvement” to Direct Provision but that the increase wasn’t enough and called on the government to implement McMahon properly. Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance, another working group member, said that the increase “will barely cover the cost of a bottle of Calpol” but in the same statement, along with two other children’s charities, she acknowledged “the leadership of” Joan Burton “in securing this increase” and recognised “the support and commitment of Fitzgerald and Ó Ríordáin but said that the government must implement McMahon fully.

Why would government fully implement the report when NGOs are welcoming insulting “implementations” of the report that go nowhere near meeting its recommendations?

Despite a year of non-implementation, it emerged recently that the McMahon NGOs have been meeting with the Department of Justice over the past year, and will continue to do so. The Time to Act NGOs released a joint statement “welcoming” government’s “renewed commitments” for full implementation. They did not mention that government, presumably with their blessing, had ruled out a right to work for asylum seekers.

It seems that the NGOs who were involved in the group are happy to be drip-fed half-implemented recommendations, reassurances and lies from government. This would be fine if they didn’t claim to advocate on behalf of the people most affected by inaction. When they renewed their commitment to implement McMahon, government claimed that they had granted status to 1,500 people who had been in Direct Provision longer than 5 years. That is great for those people, but as of April there are still almost 1,000 people in direct provision over 5 years. There are 3,047 in the system for longer than 9 months, one of the government’s vague targets for a maximum stay once the single procedure is implemented. Rather than advocating for an end to Direct Provision, these NGOs have been praising government for removing some of the people in the system for the longest and implicitly condemning everybody in the system for a year or two to continued limbo.

Aside from Ó Ríordáin’s and the NGOs’ hypocrisy in calling for the report to be implemented, other people and groups who should know better are also making serious calls for implementation. For example, the Irish Association of Social Workers issued a statement recently which called on government to implement McMahon “without further delay.” I disagree. The current “delay” is one full year since the report was presented to government. In August, it will be two years since the Direct Provision protests of Summer ’14. Residents suspended some of their protests partly on the understanding (explicitly stated by the Department of Justice) that their concerns would be addressed by the working group. They were not.

The working group was ill-conceived from the outset, partially a response to protest by residents and to longstanding objections from all quarters against the horrors of Direct Provision. The work of the group was shaped and directed by a Justice Department resistant to even the most minor reform. The recommendations in the McMahon Report are impossible to fully implement.

It would be nice to believe that the government will suddenly decide to implement McMahon, but they will not. If the report was a true template for positive change then people should indeed campaign for its implementation, but it is not. It deserves to be forgotten about. The real crime is that people still push it as a “solution” to the detriment of real change. For the McMahon NGOs to continue to push it when it’s going nowhere compounds their betrayal of asylum seekers during the process.

Over fifty thousand people have been forced to live through Direct Provision over the past 16 years. Residents’ stories of horrific conditions and abuse from staff are no longer hard to find. There were plenty of reports before McMahon laying out the damage caused by the system. Government and the NGOs ignored all of this during McMahon and they continue to ignore it by slowly and incompletely implementing the report’s recommendations.

Direct Provision is in theory reformable, but only if you leave aside your morality and compassion. To anybody who sees its residents as human beings, the Direct Provision system is unacceptable. Men, women and children have been left at the mercy of private operators for years because of their immigration and financial status and because of the colour of their skin.

Government ministers, a retired judge and some well paid ‘humanitarians’ had the privilege of wasting almost a year of their lives compiling a white-wash report. Another year has now passed while they have sat on that report.

During that time, an average of about eight people will have died in Direct Provision. Hundreds of applicants for asylum here will have been introduced to roommates they don’t want and bad food they shouldn’t be expected to eat.

None of these horrors would be fixed by implementing McMahon  —  the only way to right the wrong of Direct Provision is to end it.


Oireachtas Retort is a space for original and occasionally incisive commentary on the relentless torment of Irish politics. If you find any of this useful, please click the brown envelope to donate!

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