LAST Tuesday, I went to sit at a meeting of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, as I have done for the last three years.
It is a purely consultative committee and I am becoming increasingly jaded and cynical about what its purpose is.
Each meeting, we go through the seven official halting sites managed by Cork City Council and listen to a litany of inhumane conditions people are living in. There are electricity points that are overloaded, lack of plumbing and running water; frosty weather and damp conditions bring respiratory illnesses to young children and older people.
But, if I take it that there are seven sites, and the most populated one has 38 families, then there can only be at most 250 families in these conditions. A scale of public provision which is normally completely within the capacities of the council.
So why is it that, apart from essential stabilisation works at the Spring Lane site, Cork city joins a long list of other local authorities across the Irish state which have failed to draw on available funding?
The state funding in question is meagre this year at €18 million to fund accommodation in 31 local authorities. It is a reduction from €21 million in 2021, though of course ministerial announcements rarely point out decreases. The government says it is making money available, but then it is not giving already reluctant local authorities the wherewithal to actually use it.
Case in point: Cork city council is only getting a Traveller outreach officer now. Nothing has been done for so long, it can only be a deliberate strategy to assimilate this community and stamp out their way of life. In short, structural racism.
An inaccurate trope circulating presently is that the Irish state treats some marginalised groups more favourably than others. I think the opposite is true. The Irish State treats all marginalised groups with the same contempt, cruelty and hypocrisy.
This failure is structural, not specific, and has been a consistent feature throughout the existence of the State.
The true nature of Ireland’s land-of-a-thousand-welcomes schtick follows the same logic as the collective pretence that Ireland’s ability to attract Apple and Facebook is something to do with the unique productive capacity of the Irish worker and is nothing to do with corporation tax. These are stories we tell ourselves that prevent us from addressing structural issues.
The coming to power of the Green Party was supposed to address the fraying at the edges of the State’s humanitarian reputation as generous benefactors to refugees and migrants of necessity.
Direct Provision, the emergency system for incarcerating asylum-seekers in unsuitable accommodation instigated in 1999, had by 2020 become a permanent cash cow for hoteliers.
The Green Party’s promise during the programme for government negotiations was that Direct Provision would be abolished within the first 100 days of the new coalition’s term. We are now approaching 1,000 days since Roderic O’Gorman took ministerial responsibility for this.
An indication of the likelihood of this changing significantly in the next 1,000 days, and of how the eradication of structural racism under Green Party care is going, is what has occurred at the Jesuit Refugee Centre in Knockalisheen, Co. Clare since before Christmas. When it became headline news for the third night in a row during the cold snap in December, 2022, that around 100 Ukrainian refugees were being housed in outdoor tents that fell below international standards of the duty of care owed by recipient countries, an urgent promise arrived as a Christmas present to the refugees and those concerned for their welfare. They would be urgently rehoused in more appropriate accommodation.
What wasn’t mentioned was that the inhumane accommodation they departed in the days that followed would be inhabited in the first weeks of 2023 by 88 regular Direct Provision prisoners arriving in Ireland over the holiday period.
The only thing that changed in that period was the minister in charge. The hapless Roderic O’Gorman’s wings were clipped in the cabinet reshuffle and his party colleague Joe O’Brien relayed the baton and has been using it to bat down any suggestion that his party’s promises on going into government were lies.
By comparison, one has only to look at the campaigns to end Direct Provision, the thousands of offers to house refugees that went unanswered by the State, and individuals like Seán Binder who are willing to risk jail in Greece to rescue refugees from drowning at the edges of EU policy. People do these things, politicians sweep in later to claim credit. Enter Grace O’ Sullivan MEP who went to Greece, not to rescue refugees, but to rescue the hollow humanitarian image of the Green Party to be seen at this high-profile case.
Refugees from any country, Travellers, victims of institutional abuse in Ireland are subjected to a permanent, uniform policy of contemptuous cruelty which the Green Party promised to do something about, but hasn’t.
Sitting in the Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee as part of a stakeholder engagement charade in lieu of fulfilling real humanitarian responsibilities to people who rely on the council for the very basics, I ponder over what the alternative is. And it’s obvious.
Make the restitution of dignity to the people we’ve failed our 2023 resolution, by procuring the couple of hundred appropriate housing units required, and call bluff on the State’s structurally racist long-game.
Lorna Bogue is a Councillor with Cork City Council representing Cork City South East. She is the leader of an ecosocialist political party, An Rabharta Glas - Green Left.