In the wake of the thousands of protestors that joined the BlackLivesMatter solidarity march in Dublin, many used the opportunity to speak about their own experiences of racism in Ireland. The death of George Floyd is another horrifying addition to the growing list of instances of police brutality in the United States. From a European perspective, it seems clear that systemic racism is one of the pillars that upholds the United States justice and policing system. Day after day, week after week, a new hashtag joins the foray of names who have been lost to police violence. Just as quick as videos of racism and police violence surface online, Europeans from Italians to the Irish condemn the endemic racism, but always with the slight sense that somehow things are different here.
Direct Provision continues to be the most powerful and visible examples of systemic racism in Ireland, devaluing the life of asylum seekers and robbing them of years of their lives. In its 20 years of existence, it has been condemned by both the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Committee to End Racial Discrimination. More recently, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees criticised wait times in Direct Provision in 2019. The McMahon Report, published in 2015, outlined several key reforms needed, as well as the problems inherent in the system. Similarly, HIQA has noted the danger to children and their wellbeing during their time in the provision centres. It is an inhumane system, that violates the human rights of asylum seekers, and is a deliberately violent and cruel system maintained to deter refugees and asylum seekers.
Just as Direct Provision seeks to alienate and degrade immigrants, so too does the 27th Amendment, established during the Citizenship referendum in 2004. The 27th Amendment stipulates that only children born to Irish citizen parents can be Irish citizens. This means that for any immigrants or refugees who live here who have yet to complete the citizenship process, their children born in Ireland will not be accepted as Irish citizens. As per the Good Friday Agreement, citizenship had previously been the entitlement of every person born on the island, regardless of his or her parentage. This amendment has led to the recent high-profile cases in which children as young as nine have faced deportation back to “home” countries they have never once stepped foot in.
Unfortunately, Ireland has also seen police brutality on its streets, with Shell to Sea protestors launching, but failing at, a case against the Gardai alleging brutality and abuse. Terence Wheelock, who died under suspicious circumstances in Gardai was a suspected victim of police brutality, and his family repeatedly called for an inquest in the years following. Accusations of intimidation and harassment by the Gardai eventually caused them to move and relent in their calls. Similarly, €90,000 in damages were awarded to a Roma family who had their child removed from their home by Gardaí for being blonde, as it was assumed the child had been kidnapped by the family. Dara Quigley, Maurice McCabe and many others remain victims of corruption and abuse of power within the institution of the Gardai.
Ultimately, Irish institutions from our asylum system to the Gardaí have not remained free from the same blight that befalls America, with systemic racism and discrimination having deep roots in how we view citizenship and refugees. It is imperative that we continue to hold our institutions and policing system to the highest possible standards, and remain scrutinous of discrimination embedded within society and the State.