“If you don't like me, how can you like my child?”
The following is a report from the situation at the Drishane Castle direct provision centre, after successful protests by residents there this week forced a number of immediate changes there. Listen to the audio clips attached to hear directly the opinions of the residents themselves. These audio clips can be listened to individually or as one full recording.
Drishane Castle is a direct provision centre in Millstreet, a small town in North County Cork. It houses 300 people, asylum seekers, some of whom have been living here for nine years while waiting for their residency applications to be accepted or denied.
The centre has been in Cork and national news this week after residents organised a protest and strike on Tuesday in which they demanded the removal of all staff from the centre, leading to talks with the owners. Gardai and various media were at the centre on the day of the initial action also. This action was led by a large number of women, who insisted on recognition of their collective issues by those above the level of manager Jackie Kent.
The residents' protests were in response to increasingly punitive conditions at the centre; as of last week, new rules dictated that no children could play in the corridors or on the grounds without the supervision of an adult. Any child caught playing there like this would risk being taken away by social workers. The centre itself provides no play facilities for the children. If toys are found lying around on the grounds, they are regularly taken and dumped by the staff.
Other issues were low hygienic standards in the kitchen and dining area, serving of badly cooked and out of date food. Living conditions are horrific with whole families sharing one room, with mothers sharing their beds with up to three children. Many of these rooms do not have toilets. Washing machines are often broken. Rooms are subject to arbitrary checks from management, leaving scant private or independent space for those living there.
They are subject to explicitly racist treatment from staff in the centre on a daily basis, with regular reference to how they should be grateful for everything they get 'over here'. This institutional racism extends beyond the direct provision centre into relations with other state services and bodies. As one resident explains, there is a cosy relationship between the management of the centre and the Gardai and health services. Ambulances and Gardai will not consider any calls coming from Drishane unless these have been okayed by management first. “Anything that is happening here, Jackie Kent will tell them not to come here. What about the ambulance, if someone is dying, they will tell the ambulance not to come. Because they have a connection together ... If anyone gets wounded, we just do it ourself, put a plaster on it.”
Such conditions are not necessarily unique in terms of the living conditions of direct provision centres. Reports from different centres vary – certainly Drishane is among the worst – but these stories are what we can come to expect from a system simply designed to house asylum seekers in less-then-human conditions, separated from any wider communities, easily concentrated in one place until the time comes for their deportation.
Like other direct provision centres around Ireland, many who live there have already been issued with deportation orders, which can be enacted without any notice to the deportee, once the flights have been coordinated between the GNIB (Garda National Immigration Bureau) and other European migration control agencies. Deportations are consistently enacted at night time, with Garda raids on the rooms of those to be deported and a medic present to issue sedative if needed.
Direct provision is also an acutely neoliberal form of controlling and containing asylum seekers. By this we mean that essentially the state outsources a huge proportion of this work to private companies rather than establishing and maintaining much of the infrastructure itself. Over the last ten years, the Irish State has paid €655 million into the hands of a small concentration of private businesses to run these centres, under conditions of little to no process of public accountability.
In the case of Drishane Castle, its owner is Noel C. Duggan, a local patron/mogul figure of Millstreet, notable for bringing the Eurovision to the town in 1993 and a number of large-scale concerts and other events ever since. His Millstreet Equestrian Services business has netted €42.6 million through the migration control market. These days, the family's business affairs are managed by his son, Thomas Duggan.
We visited Millstreet on Thursday June 27th, walked the further mile outside of the town to the entrance of the Drishane Castle grounds, and the ten minutes further in from the main road to the castle itself and the former convent where the residents are housed. Our bus ticket from Cork to Millstreet return was €23 – asylum seekers receive €19.10 a week from the state. Having struck up a conversation with one of the residents, Thomas Duggan soon approached us, insisted on separating us from the man we were speaking to and informed us that it really would have been better if we'd phoned ahead to arrange an appointment to meet with anyone at the centre as otherwise we were technically trespassing.
Thomas offered us a compromise after we expressed that we were clearly in a conversation with a willing resident of the premises, went back into the centre after, and then shortly came back saying he'd decided again that it would be best if we left or he'd otherwise have to call the Gardai. Not wanting to create a situation of our own when we were ultimately there to make contact with the residents and to offer some form of support, we obliged to leave, making arrangements with the residents themselves to meet at the entrance to the grounds.
Reflecting on the arrogance of this man and the urge to lash out at him was very reminiscent of the experience particularly of visiting the community under siege by Shell and the Gardai in Erris. Given the levels of violence, intimidation and surveillance up there, it is a staggering fact that there has never been an assault against any Garda up in Mayo. Likewise, one can only wonder at how the residents of Drishane have held such restraint in the face of the treatment they've received by those in charge of the centre.
Out by the front gate, we were met by about 30 people, mostly women who'd been involved in the protests on Tuesday and their young kids, eager to share their experience of the centre and the last few days' events. We recorded a number of interviews which are attached to this article. The entire time we were out by the entrance, we were spied on by one of the Duggans' goons (see van reg. photo attached) – a man familiar to everyone there.
It is utterly clear that the residents of Drishane want nothing less than the closure of this degrading centre and to be free to live in basic conditions. Many mention their disgust with the fact that rooms lie empty in other, more central, direct provision centres, which they would happily take. All of them are adamant that ultimately the entire direct provision system should be scrapped before it causes any more harm. They are of course caught between, on the one hand, seeking to gain any kind of improvement on their current dire conditions and on the other, keeping in sight the idea of a life beyond direct provision for all asylum seekers and their children.
They are well aware of the damage that has already been caused to their kids and to the thousands who have passed through this system. Naturally concerned with their children's future, they are perhaps the only ones who have really considered what kind of effects this will have on them when they've grown up (and of course continuing the cycle of Irish society looking back trying to understand 'how this could happen when everybody knew').
They have few privileges to risk losing as a result of their protest – and their unmediated action has foregrounded their issues and gained them immediate results in terms of their everyday living conditions. The manager of the centre, Jackie Kent, will not be returning to work following the demands that she be removed. Playing facilities have been promised for the children. New kitchen staff are in place there for the moment, and for the last few days, the residents have been provided with far better quality food than ever before, as this baffling quote from the Cork Independent reads: “Mr Duggan told the residents there would be no more stale bread and rotten fruit and the expiry date would be left on food.”
Though we can say that the residents there had few privileges to risk losing in taking action, and some gains have been made in making life more tolerable at the centre, they are still in a very vulnerable position. Many already have deportation orders hanging over them. It is not uncommon for asylum seekers who kick up a fuss of any sort over their situation (at least in public) to be relocated to another random centre without any say in this process. Many are no doubt conscious that a deportation or any such relocation could take place in the coming weeks or months as a result of what they have done.
We need to build further relations of solidarity with and between residents in the direct provision centres, to keep the issue alive in the public domain and not to allow this action to fade away unnoticed or let the conflict get tucked away as if it's all been dealt with – like both the state, the direct provision industrialists and the supposedly representative NGO's would, to varying degrees, have us think. What's happened in Drishane this week is an example of the potential for self-organised direct action and is precisely what the managerial politics of the day looks to contain.
As the Anti Deportation Ireland campaign argues, we need to fight for the abolition of the direct provision system, the deportations it facilitates, for the full right to work and access to education for every asylum seeker. The desire for these aims are expressed far more articulately and directly in the interviews attached here – please listen to them and circulate them. Solidarity with the residents of Drishane and thanks to them also for their brazen courage in taking action and for being open to speaking with us about their situation.
Full audio recording
Anti Deportation Ireland:
A solidarity page has been set up for the reisdents of Drishane: