Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Ciúin House Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim – Gombeen State Racism in Ireland

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Donal O’Kelly’s article should be circulated far and wide – Action is Necessary.

Ciúin is a word I love. It’s the Irish word for quiet. It has a peaceful, secure and sleepy feel to it, ideal for a lullabye. Suantraí. Ciúin, ciúin, a stór .. as baby closes her eyes .

Last May I used my facebook page to highlight the fact that Ciúin House Carrick-on-Shannon, the then newly-opened emergency accommodation centre for asylum seekers, had just received 38 male international protection applicants who’d been transferred from Hatch Hall Direct Provision centre in Dublin. Hatch Hall was being converted into a luxury hotel. Ciúin House was accommodating these people on a general basis of two per room. It had a sign and a book in the reception hall that everyone had to sign. The sign said that all residents had to be in their rooms by 10pm nightly.

I met three of the residents on their second evening in Carrick-on-Shannon. I know about the curfew because the men, all in their thirties or thereabouts, wanted to get back to Ciúin House in case there was an unknown penalty for not observing the curfew. I dropped them back at 10pm sharp.

After the facebook post drew a lot of public attention, the curfew was dropped. The owners at first said it was a language misunderstanding, then that the note only referred to not using the washing machine after 10pm. It was neither of those things. It was a curfew. And the owners obviously considered they had a right to impose it.

Three months later, when the first contract the owners had with IPAS (then RIA) expired, all the men in Ciúin House were transferred by IPAS (then RIA) to different accommodation centres around Ireland. That was on a Friday. On Saturday, a busload of new residents arrived. Almost all were family units. There were a lot of children. This was August and school was about to restart.

I called to meet some of the new arrivals the following Sunday afternoon with John Lannon of Doras. We met them in the back yard of the former guest house premises that is part of the carpark. There are seats and a table there. Two of the residents were known to John because they’d been in a hotel in Limerick previously, having arrived in Ireland and been transferred there with no backup whatsoever. They were forced to depend on the assistance of Doras and MASI members for basic necessities such as nappies and baby food which IPAS (then RIA) had not provided, nor the emergency funding to acquire them.

The owner Barry arrived and inserted himself in our conversation. He gave voluminous speeches on how much he and his wife loved Africa, among many other topics of his choosing. We sat it out until he left about 45 minutes later to continue our conversation. I note, in respect of incidents since then, his apparent belief that he had a right to interfere in and be a party to private conversations with residents because they were happening on the premises he owned.

The parent we were talking to most that afternoon was transferred a month later with 24 hours’ notice to another centre in the south of the country.

One of the other residents we spoke to that day has a young child who later became ill with a debilitating condition that was not responding to treatment after several different prescriptions. I visited Ciuin House one Sunday evening around November to see the child’s parent in the lounge and try to help. Next day, the parent was told by the manager John that I was not welcome in the house and not to bring me into the house again.

Seeing as it was impossible for the parent to leave the house when the child was sleeping, this effectively vetoed communication between the parent and me any evening. But we managed to take the child to Sligo Hospital the following week to be seen, and that visit at least placed increased priority on the child getting seen by a consultant.

A month later, the parent and child were transferred without warning and against the parent’s wishes. His child was doing well in school in Carrick-on-Shannon, but they were sent to a Direct Provision centre in the east of the country.

You will note at this stage that I’m not identifying people. That’s a constant issue with people enduring Ireland’s International Protection Accommodation Service procedures. There is fear of stepping “out of line” having an impact on one’s case. To be honest, I can’t confidently assuage that fear.

A constant complaint of many residents is the food. There has been no substantial effort by the management to cater for the different palates of people from different parts of the world. Children especially often can’t stomach the food. This is obviously a huge concern to parents confined through no choice of theirs in Ciuin House.

Last week parents finally took action to implement the HSE directives on social distancing to contain the spread of COVID19. Seeing as food was only being served at set mealtimes 8-9am, 1-2pm and 5.30-6.30pm, it meant all thirty-four residents, adults and children, convening in the small dining room at the same time. They demanded permission to take the food to their rooms. This was denied, and they were told if they disobeyed the Gardaí would be called.

Faced with a choice of risking contracting the Corona virus or their children starving, residents started to cook in the kitchen themselves.

The management responded by removing all the residents’ own food from the refrigerator and confiscating it, including yogurts for an eight-month-old baby. The kitchen was locked, and only opened 8-9am, 1-2pm and 5.30-6.30pm. Eat in close proximity or starve! And nothing in between, not even water! One resident with dietary restrictions couldn’t eat the food served anyway, and has a doctor’s letter to prove it, so chose not to eat at all, and hasn’t for three days. The person’s fear is that contracting the virus, with underlying medical conditions, would mean almost certain death.

On Monday morning, Gardaí visited Ciúin House, ostensibly to inform the residents of the COVID19 restrictions on assembly and social distancing directives. The manager told the Gardaí that some of the parents were refusing to feed their children. The Garda in charge asked the residents if this was true. You can imagine the confusion and frustration at this point, especially for parents for whom English is not their first language. Some parents feared their children were going to be taken from them.

On Tuesday, four of the people who demanded the right last week to take food to their rooms unless mealtimes were staggered to comply with social distancing, found themselves issued with transfer letters by IPAS. 36 hours’ notice. Today Thursday they will be bussed away from Ciúin House. Purely coincidental we will be told and anyway IPAS does not comment on individual cases.

But this has all happened in the county I live in, to people I have got to know just a little here. It has been inflicted by people paid substantial fees by the state to accommodate people seeking asylum – a UN-guaranteed right everyone has. It has happened under the aegis of the International Protection Accommodation Service, an office of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, within the Department of Justice. It has been done in our name. By our state.

How has it happened that we have resurrected the mindset of the workhouse, more than a hundred and seventy years after the Great Famine, at a time of pestilence where people have nowhere else to go? How have we reinstituted the social strategy of confining people without choice to food and a bed and accepting reward and status for it? How do we find it done in our name in a way that endangers health and life itself of those subjected to it?

Please impress on Charlie Flanagan Minister for Justice and David Stanton, Minister of State in charge of Direct Provision, Michael Kirrane DG of INIS, and Mark Wilson DG of IPAS, the urgent need to hold accountable those they place effectively in charge of the fate of people who arrive here seeking protection.

Yesterday afternoon Mark Wilson Director of IPAS convened a 110-minute video-briefing for representatives of organisations including MASI, Doras, Irish Refugee Council and NASC, to tell them of the measures being taken to combat COVID19 in Direct Provision centres and emergency accomodation centres under the control of IPAS. The bus leaves Ciúin House at 9.45am with the internally deported to whom his office sent transfer letters. I’d like to ask him why those letters were sent. He doesn’t comment on individual cases.

Ciúin is the beautiful Irish word for quiet. It’s meant to be peaceful. Don’t let it be kept quiet from us, we need to know the violence being inflicted in our name under the cover of “ciúin”.

Please share as quickly as possible because it’s likely there will be efforts to have this post taken down.

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