NUI Galway on RTÉ Brainstorm: What is driving protests against new direct provision centres?

Image: RTÉ Brainstorm
Nov 14 2019 Posted: 14:30 GMT

Author: Evgeny Shtorn, guest lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights

Opinion: the alleged "inexistence" of a far right movement here does not mean the lack of far right thoughts 

As a newcomer who has arrived to Ireland from a much harsher reality, and who has spent almost two years in direct provision actively campaigning against it, people often told me that Ireland at least has had no far right movement. These have been the kind of people who would agree with my view that direct provision is an unsustainable mess deliberately created by the Irish government to benefit private catering companies. Since the far right movement was not there, I was not exposed to it.

But the recent situation in Oughterard shows that the "inexistence" of a far right movement here does not mean the lack of far right thoughts and institutions.This idea that the absence of the far right racist and anti-migrant movement is something good for a country where the system of direct provision operates does not really convince me. The very existence of direct provision – a system in which private companies are allocated public money to cater for vulnerable and traumatised adults and children – points to the grounds of my doubts. 

From RTE One's Claire Byrne Live, a discussion on direct provision protests

Great achievements by the Irish feminist and LGBTI activists with the referendums for marriage equality and to repeal the Eighth Amendment teach us at least two lessons. The first is that you need a persistent and consistent community-based work and protest-based struggle for self-representation, voice and agency to achieve real change. The second is a bit less optimistic. Voting results show that there is an average of one third of voters who still consider LGBTI people as second-class citizens and women as machines for production of new workers. It seems to me then that far right thought is here. Although it's not in the form of a movement, it's still substantial in numbers.

What really happened in Oughterard was that the far right showed itself for the first time as a well organised and solid force who showed up in very familiar forms. They did something they learnt from the left social movements of the 20th century. They did something that we may have missed when we confuse human rights with the rights of those who are close to us, our friends and people we like. We have to remind ourselves that human rights is an ideological frame to speak about the fundamental needs of all people regardless of differences, preferences and sympathies.

From RTÉ Prime Time Explained, Brian O'Connell and Ciara Ní Bhroin explain the direct provision system in Ireland

Oughterard is a reminder for those who do not want to see Ireland homogeneous, closed and poor society ruled by ecclesiastical norms and nepotism. How could people organise a demonstration against asylum seekers and were never able to do the same in favour of the people seeking protection? There has been enough time, more than 20 years, to shut down the oppressive regime of institutionalised misery and re-enactment of trauma.

So what drives the forces in Oughterard? What makes them so well organised and effective? In my opinion, it is not they who succeeded, but it is more likely us who have failed. We have become a comfortable majority and relied more and more on opinions of people like us. This democratic political mechanism will fail if there is no constant grassroots push towards respect for marginalised communities and towards accountability of politicians and civil servants.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, John Cooke speaks to locals in Oughterard about the withdrawal of plans for direct provision centre in their town

So what about those who are on the other side of the barricades? People who feel solidarity with protestors in Oughterard remind me of those who are proud when a football player of the rival team kicks the ball into his own net. There is absolutely nothing to be proud of as it is a rival player who did all the work. There is nothing there about them and their victories.

The protestors in Oughterard are doing precisely this: they are scoring own goals. Most countries that genuinely want to grow and develop are now competing for human resources, minds and talents. It may sound quite capitalistic, but this is the world we live in, and I am not that naïve to pretend that our reality is different.

Do these people who protested in Oughterard think that multinational – and let me highlight this word for them, multinational – corporations will be happy to import talented tech specialists from all over the world to a country where xenophobes are able to organise and convince the Government to retreat? Instead of dealing with the rising far right sentiments, the State acts against the most vulnerable asylum seekers by delaying the process of international protection even more and increasing deportations. Far right actions in Oughterard demonstrated that the protestors were severely defending their right to kick the ball into their own net.

 From RTÉ One's Nine News, a report on protests over a proposed direct provision centre in Rooskey

It is still quiet on the streets of the Irish towns and cities. People are not massively attacked for the colour of their skin or their accents. But the history of Weimar Republic or of 1990s Russia makes me think that everything can change very quickly. Nothing is forever, especially when we live in the comfortable confidence that there are no fascists in our country.

Bertolt Brecht said that fascism is nothing more than a frightened bourgeoisie and this far right movement is nothing other than simple fascism. Unfortunately, they were well able to organise themselves. They are now in Oughterard, Lisdoonvarna, Rooskey, Moville, Moate and Dublin. Exactly the same places where you and me are, here and now. They are ready to attack so are we ready to fight back?


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