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Actions speak louder than words

Comment & Opinion

LONG-STANDING ISSUE  Asylum seekers and refugees living at the Old Convent in Ballyhaunis taking part in a protest march to the constituency office of then Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Castlebar in 2014, calling on the Government to end of the system of Direct Provision.

It has been a fraught few weeks and months in Ireland with regards to the issue of immigration.
Just last Thursday 16 migrants were found in the back of a truck trailer on a ferry sailing to Rosslare. The incident came one month after the tragedy of 39 people being found dead in a truck trailer in England.
No more than the thousands who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats, it shows the risks that migrants are willing to take to find a better, safer life for themselves and their families.  
In all the talk, justifiable we would argue, about the lack of consultation for Direct Provision centres, that central point must be kept in mind – people come to Ireland in search of a better life, like our people have done for generations.
The issue cannot be, should never be, with migrants coming here. We would have very short memories if that were the case.
However there is a right way and a wrong way to go about your business, and you would be forgiven for thinking that the Government, with the Department of Justice and Equality, are doing their best to make this process as divisive as possible.
We’ve seen the results as clear as day on Achill Island, where there has been an alarming lack of consultation and some seriously questionable decision making when it comes to housing asylum seekers.
Protests at the Achill Head Hotel are now into their fifth week with no sign of ending. The  issue has split opinion on the island. The one thing most people are agreed on, however, is the Government’s model is a huge part of the problem.
Minister Michael Ring has been among the most high-profile critics of the approach of the Department on this matter.
Partially due to the housing crisis, the Government’s existing Direct Provision centres are full, and so emergency centres are needed. And little consideration is given to the suitability of the locations, once they can get a willing hotelier.
You reap what you sow, and that can be seen not just in Achill but also with the Direct Provision system itself.
Direct Provision is a truly awful system. One only has to read the experiences of South African native Bulelani Mfaco in last week’s Mayo News to realise that.
People are almost left to waste away in Direct Provision centres while they wait for their application to be processed. Stories of people being stuck in them for over five years are common.
Why the processing system can not be more streamlined, more efficient is hard to know. It is almost as if by ensuring there are delays, the Government is putting people off coming to Ireland for asylum. A more-efficient system would obviously alleviate many of the accommodation shortages the centres are facing.  
It is hard to take seriously, then, the Government’s approach to communities like Achill when they attempt to take the moral high ground. It continues to preside over the Direct Provision system, which has been in place now for over 20 years. The last eight have been under the watch of a Fine Gael-led government.  
The Government’s attitude is even more questionable in light of the recent fiasco surrounding Fine Gael’s by-election candidate for Wexford, Verona Murphy.
Earlier this month, Murphy said that Islamic State (Isis) is ‘a big part of the migrant population’ in Ireland and that services were needed to ‘alleviate that type of indoctrination’.
Murphy also said that some asylum seekers coming to Ireland have to be ‘deprogrammed’ as they ‘carry angst’ and may have been ‘infiltrated by Isis’. She also said that children as young as three could have been ‘manipulated’ by Isis.
It is a poetic coincidence that her Director of Elections is none other than the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan. And what is the first thing the good minister does? He brings her to a reception centre for asylum seekers in Wexford ‘to gain a better understanding of asylum and refugee issues’.
He said that Murphy gained ‘enormous insights’ and that her previous comments were based on ‘false rumours and misinformation’.
Isn’t it good to see that the good minister can use his office for such electioneering?  
The same minister who has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to proper planning and consultation for emergency centres all around the country sees fit to use a Direct Provision centre for electioneering purposes.
In Achill, he called on locals to lift the ‘siege’. Regardless of your point of view on the situation in Achill, that is inflammatory language for any minister to use. It could be called megaphone diplomacy, but it isn’t that diplomatic.
Yet when a Fine Gael candidate comes out with outlandish comments, do we see the same outrage?
“She did certainly make some misguided comments. She was wrong, they were wrong. I said that unequivocally,” Flanagan said.
But actions speak louder than words, minister. Verona Murphy is still on the party ticket. Indeed, Charlie Flanagan was canvassing with her as recently as last Saturday. His actions are greatly at odds with his words.
And this attitude goes right to the top. Leo Varadkar was out on the canvass trail in Wexford with Murphy yesterday, in a public, camera-friendly statement of support. However, the town canvass lasted just 40 minutes, and he and Murphy declined to take any awkward questions from the media. Funny that.