State still avoiding direct provision issue, Ombudsman claims

Emily O’Reilly says Republic is dancing around subject following marriage vote

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly. Ms O’Reilly has said that the Government is continuing to dance around the issue of direct provision centres. File  photograph: Nick Bradshaw

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly. Ms O’Reilly has said that the Government is continuing to dance around the issue of direct provision centres. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has said that the Republic continues to dance around the human rights issue of its direct provision centres, while “still basking in the glow” of the recent same-sex marriage referendum.

Ms O’Reilly said it was notable the issue continued to court criticism from a broad range of European and UN institutions, including the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

Ms O’Reilly said that despite the “seriousness and humanity” with which Minister of State at the Department of Justice Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was attempting to deal with the matter, and efforts by the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, it remains of serious concern.

“Still basking in the glow of our league topping performance on the gay marriage front, we continue to dance around another human rights elephant in our nation’s room, that of direct provision,” she said in a speech at the Law Society’s annual human rights lecture.

Speaking on a range of subjects in her capacity as Ombudsman, and drawing on her experience as a human rights advocate, Ms O’Reilly said that the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum had been largely due to its human element.

“A number of factors were at play, not least a collective shame around the way in which generations of homosexual men and women were treated.”

Ms O’Reilly said that, importantly, the referendum was a debate on whether or not society viewed gay people as fully equal or not.

“And to do that, those who drove and supported the campaign had to turn those who were previously ‘other’ into those who are now fully ‘us’.

“We had story after story of human beings who described their personal experiences of being gay, who moved out of the shadows of mystery and curiosity and presented themselves as just themselves.”

The Ombudsman said that the Republic had emerged from being a State that punished gay people to one in which, just hours after the referendum was passed, “Tourism Ireland was already planning to monetise the result through branding us as a gay wedding destination of choice”.

Ms O’Reilly said that “marriage has become just one option among many as a means to organise family life”, and, therefore, to include one more way to organise a family, “no longer seems like the stretch it might have done even a few years ago”.

Human rights

The Ombudsman also said that 2014 was a poor year for human rights in Europe, given that “thousands of people died who should not have died” in the Mediterranean and in eastern Ukraine.

“They should not have died in a Europe that prides itself on being a space where the rule of law and democracy prevails.”

Ms O’Reilly noted comparisons drawn between the experiences of Jews in flight from Nazi Germany, who were rejected by several countries, and those of desperate migrants left to perish in the Mediterranean.

“In 2015, super-saturated as we are now with images of horror, not just of [the] Holocaust but from atrocities played out 24/7 on all our various screens and devices, is that [awareness] ever even enough?

“In the past two years, for example, almost 200,000 Syrians have been killed. Some have been gassed, some have been tortured, many have been tossed into mass graves.”

Ms O’Reilly said that, in time, questions would be asked of such experiences, including the asylum boats in the Mediterranean, as they had of events in Auschwitz.

“The human rights situation even in relatively prosperous Europe, armed as we are with all sorts of human rights treaties and conventions to cover all manner of human rights abuses, is far from settled.”