There has been much focus and comment, but no full State apology, for the role that institutions of the State and the Irish people as a whole played in permitting the operation of Magdalene Laundries for over eight decades. The mantra of “never again” rings hollow in light of Ireland’s current practices in containment and control of asylum seekers within the Direct Provision System (see Gavin Titley’s article on this for the Guardian in October 2012). Unable to work, provided with meals, shared accommodation with strangers and a meagre allowance of €19.10 per week: the system of direct provision in all its Dickensian glory. In Ireland, there was no parliamentary debate on the foundation of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA). Ministerial circulars on the foundation of the system of direct provision were not (and are not) readily available to the public or to asylum seekers themselves. When I initially applied under the Freedom of Information Acts in 2007 for documentation held by the Department of Justice on the legal basis for direct provision, I was told there was no such documentation. I eventually gained access to much of the documentation through the Department of Social Protection,
It is important to note that there are very significant differences between the horrors of Magdalene Laundries and the system of direct provision: direct provision hostels are not workhouses, there is no evidence of systematic abuse and asylum seekers do have the ability to leave (although this is fairly illusory given that asylum seekers are barred from receiving any other form of welfare or State support). Rather than religious congregations in charge, private enterprises generally operate this system on behalf of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA).
However, there are some striking parallels in terms of numbers in the direct provision system, length of stay and the dehumanising and institutionalising effect of the direct provision system on asylum seekers. Continue reading “The State We Are Currently In: Institutionalisation of Asylum Seekers in the Direct Provision System”
Further to Yvonne’s post last week it is worth noting that the decision by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to present an interim report to the Minister for Justice was a highly unusual step, one only taken when there is ‘a glaring example of where care is lacking’. In its report, which followed visits by the Committee to police stations, prisons, mental health hospital and, for the first time, an establishment for the intellectually disabled. The head of th delegation clarified that the substance of this report did not relate to overcrowding in prisons, but to specific issues of ill-treatment.
This statement from the ECPT (details of the visit available here) comes at the same time that the Mental Health Commission has revealed that it has written to three mental health facilities in the country to warn them that they may face closure if they do not address the ‘inhuman’ conditions which residents were being subjected to. The Irish Times reports,
The move follows visits by the Inspectorate of Mental Health Services which found that wards in a number of older psychiatric hospitals were “unfit for human habitation”.
Some of the harshest criticism was made of St Loman’s Hospital in Mullingar,
Two wards in St Loman’s hospital were in “poor condition and unfit for human habitation and should be decommissioned as a matter of urgency”, while other wards were “dilapidated, desolate and depressing”.
At St Ita’s, a total of 125 people were being forced to live in “appalling conditions” and it was “difficult to convey the extent of dilapidation”. “Long corridors in poor conditions, toilets with no privacy, paint peeling, mould in showers, broken furniture, ill-fitting doors, cramped dormitories, a smell of urine, poor ventilation and a bare drab environment were clearly evident.”
These two reports indicate the crisis state of the treatment of individuals in places of detention in Ireland. Ireland has long been criticised by the ECPT for its treatment of persons in custody yet the Government has not responded adequately. This highly unusual move taken by the committee, to submit interim findings, must be taken seriously by the Government. As Yvonne noted both the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Penal Reform Trust have called on the Government to publish this report from the ECPT, but as yet, no response is forthcoming.