refugees

The problem with Clare Daly’s proposal on bodily integrity

 

I saw this on Twitter this morning:

 

Clare Daly TD proposal tweet 400x313

 

The proposal by Clare Daly TD is to insert the following into Article 40 of the Constitution, replacing the existing Article 40.3.3°:

The state acknowledges right of all citizens to personal autonomy and bodily integrity.

Presumably the intention here is to remove the restrictions around abortion in Ireland, which many have argued have led to abortion effectively being exported abroad, most especially to England.

This is the existing text of Article 40.3.3°, which was insterted following a referendum in 1983:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

One of the problems with Daly’s proposal is that it is exclusive, affecting only “citizens.”

This wording creates a category of individuals in the state whose right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity is recognised – citizens of Ireland – and a category of individuals whose right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity is not recognised – those who are not citizens of Ireland.

One obvious consequence of this approach is that a situation such as the case of Miss Y from earlier this year remains unaddressed.

Thus, a fundamental right that is made contingent on citizenship status is no right at all.

 

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The “right to travel” has always been denied to asylum seeking women

 

Ever since my time working with refugees in Ireland (from 2007 until 2011), I have been troubled by the effective blanket bar on allowing asylum seekers to leave the State.

This emanates from Section 9(4) of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended):

Leave to enter or remain in State.

Section 9(4) An applicant shall not—

(a) leave or attempt to leave the State without the consent of the Minister […]

Irish citizens are free to exit Ireland’s borders and, being citizens of a member state of the EU, have the freedom to travel to over 28 European countries without the need to apply for a visa application and a grant of permission from immigration officers to cross borders.

Most other people residing in Ireland with an officially recognised immigration status have the freedom to exit Ireland in a similar way. In practice these are generally citizens from countries outside of the EU. Whether from Canada or Cameroon, those seeking to travel within the EU, therefore, will need to apply for permission to enter another EU state.

Asylum seekers are in a class of their own. They must seek the permission of the Justice Minister of the day if they wish to leave the territory of the state. (They must also, if the consent of the Minister has been obtained, seek permission from the other state to enter.)

Asylum seekers in Ireland are seeking international protection from this state. While the rationale behind requiring such a person to remain within this jurisdiction throughout the duration of their application is understandable, this blanket rule is inherently problematic.

During the almost five years of my work with refugees I encountered significant numbers of women who claimed to have been subjected to various forms of violence and torture, including sexual violence. Some were subjected to trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Some came from conflict zones, where the systematic use of sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. Some had become pregnant as a result of rape. Some had been subjected to intimate partner violence before or after arriving in Ireland. Some were children under the age of 18, including separated children in the care of the HSE.

None of them could exercise their right to travel, if they so wished and had the resources to do so, without the consent of the Minister for Justice.

This remains the case today.

 

Direct Provision centres: Local electoral areas

The local and European elections take place this Friday, 23rd May 2014.

Further to the Irish Refugee Council’s letter for local election candidates, and based on a Written Answer from Alan Shatter TD to a Parliamentary Question put by Mary Lou McDonald TD (25th March 2013), I have drafted a PDF list of the local electoral areas (and local authorities) where Direct Provision centres are based.

Direct provision centres local electoral areas. Click for PDF.

 

This has been put together quite quickly, and may contain some errors. All suggestions for correction or amendment are welcome.

Round-up: Local elections, asylum seekers & the right to vote

I wrote last week about the attempt by the Reception & Integration Agency to impede access by election canvassers to voters living in Direct Provision centres. Below is a round-up of related coverage across the media.

(Any omissions are mine, and unintended. Please let me know if you think there is anything else that should be included.)

A Direct Provision centre in Dublin. Image: Google Streetview

A Direct Provision centre in Dublin. Image: Google Streetview

Tuesday

 

Wednesday

 

Thursday

 

Friday

Discussing Direct Provision with Liveline’s Joe Duffy

Yesterday, I received a call from researchers of RTÉ Radio 1’s Liveline programme, asking me if I would be available and willing to speak about the issue of of local election candidates’ access to Direct Provision centres.

Below is a transcript of my discussion with Liveline’s presenter, with Joe Duffy, which took place at around 2pm.

You can listen to the programme here. (My contribution is about seven and a half minutes long, followed by contributions from Margaret Peters and another caller.)

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Politicians are still not allowed to talk to people living in Direct Provision

[UPDATE 16th May 2014 at 9:05am]

The Dr Liam Thornton on the Human Rights in Ireland blog has summarised arguments put forward by the State in an ongoing legal challenge to the system of Direct Provision in Ireland. These arguments include the rationale behind the introduction of the system of Direct Provision.

[END UPDATE]

 

Does this remedy this? In short: no.

Not least because it seems that the Circular issued by RIA purports to maintain a prohibition on election candidates speaking with residents; nor due to the fact that RIA continues to insist on imposing a designation of “politically neutral environment” upon every Direct Provision centre in Ireland.

More fundamentally, there appears to be precisely zero basis in law for RIA’s missives.

Small change

The headline in TheJournal.ie remains a true statement: Politicians are not allowed to talk to people seeking asylum in Ireland.

The Circular which was issued within 24 to 48 hours of Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire’s initial tweets makes one change to existing RIA policy. Election candidates “may be allowed to drop off election leaflets to be picked up and read by residents if they so wish,” which “may be left in a suitable designated area” within the Direct Provision.

This is the only explicit change in RIA policy. Everything else remains as it was.

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State agency allows election literature in direct provision centres

As per the update from Dr Liam Thornton on the Human Rights in Ireland blog, there have been some developments in relation to access to election information for residents in direct provision accommodation, who have the right to vote in local elections.

Voter pamphlet. Image: Pete Forsyth (CC Licence)

Voter pamphlet. Image: Pete Forsyth/Wikimedia (CC Licence)

In a Circular issued yesterday by the Reception & Integration Agency, candidates may now leave election literature in direct provision centres. It’s available on the Human Rights in Ireland blog as a PDF, here. The Irish Refugee Council has published a transcript of it and its predecessor, here. I include the transcript below.

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Reception & Integration Agency circular on “politically neutral” environments

The following document was released some years ago to Dr Liam Thornton, a lecturer in law at the UCD School of Law, under a Freedom of Information request for any and all documents related to the legal regulation of Direct Provision.

I have included a transcript of the document further below, for ease of reading.

Reception & Integration Agency circular on Distribution or display of party political leaflets, posters or circulars, 18th July 2008

Reception & Integration Agency circular on Distribution or display of party political leaflets, posters or circulars, 18th July 2008
(Click to enlarge.)

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An interference with democratic process: the right to vote in Ireland

On 12th May 2014, I attended a conference on women in the media, during which one of the speakers, Katie Orenstein, posed a powerful question:

What is the cost to society if so many voices and minds are missing? Image: The OpEd Project-EDUlibs

What is the cost to society if so many voices and minds are missing?
Source: The OpEd Project/EDUlibs

This question is relevant including and beyond issues of sexism and exclusion of women from positions of power and influence. Yesterday, it emerged (not for the first time), that election canvassers are prohibited from canvassing at direct provision centres in Ireland.

There are approximately 4,360 asylum seekers and survivors of human trafficking residing in direct provision accommodation in Ireland. Every adult among them has the right to vote in local elections.

If candidates for political election are impeded in canvassing the views of some of their constituents, then what becomes of those views? And how can the eventually elected politicians properly represent members of society in their constituencies?

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Direct Provision centres and election canvassers

This morning, local Sinn Féin candidate, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, claimed on Twitter that he had been prevented from accessing a Direct Provision centre in Cork in order to canvass residents. The centre houses 152 asylum seekers, each of whom (over the age of 18 years) has the right to vote in local elections.

Mr Ó Laoghaire later alleged that he had been told by centre staff that the decision was based on a “Ministerial directive” and that the state-owned centre has been designated a “neutral zone,” where no political activity is permitted.

He subsequently tweeted that he had telephoned the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), the Department of Justice and Equality’s state agency with responsibility for reception and accommodation centres where asylum seekers and victims of trafficking are housed in Ireland.

Rang RIA.Confirmed that its a policy not to allow Canvassers in. Has to be kept ‘politically neutral’ zone. Decision by Director I’m told

He claims he was told that this was a nation-wide policy, not confined to the centre in Cork.

I telephoned RIA, the Department of Justice and Equality, and the accommodation centre to enquire about Mr Ó Laoghaire’s claims.

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