5 April 2001 Edition

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State racism shames us all


Campaigners against the racist policies of Fianna Fáil picketed Bertie Ahern's constituency office in Drumcondra last Wednesday, 28 March. The picket was to mark the occasion exactly a year ago when eleven anti-racist campaigners had occupied Bertie Ahern's office to protest the measures his coalition government was threatening to introduce.

Under discussion that very day in cabinet were measures to introduce detention camps for refugees, `Flotels'/prison ships, the forcible fingerprinting of asylum seekers and the expansion of the compulsory dispersal system which restricted the freedom of movement of asylum seekers within Ireland.

Rosanna Flynn, a spokesperson from Residents against Racism, said at last week's picket: ``Now, one year down the road, we can see most of these draconian measures have been introduced. Asylum seekers are already being detained in prisons. People who have sought refugee status have been forcibly deported before their application for a judicial review, could be heard.''

The Supreme Court last summer backed the government's measures to restrict the rights of asylum seekers' access to the courts. This laid the ground for discrimination against asylum seekers, who are now treated in law as second order citizens without equal rights.

Since this decision, asylum seekers have only 14 days to seek leave for judicial review, whereas non-asylum seekers have six months to appeal. Last week, there was a further curtailment of basic rights of asylum seekers: it was announced that the Legal Aid Board has now ceased to provide legal aid to asylum seekers for their Judicial Review hearings. This announcement led to an outcry by civil rights campaigners.

The Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) assert that the Board is in breach of its statutory duty. Donncha O'Connell of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) points out that this failure to provide legal aid for judicial review is a substantive denial of due process. ``It is shameful and scandalous and cannot be justified by mealy-mouthed excuses.''

The Dublin government has successfully hidden behind the policies of `Fortress Europe' which oblige asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first port of call in the EU. There is no direct access to Ireland from African countries.

Meanwhile those anti racist campaigners who had tried to highlight encroaching racism in this state and to draw Bertie Ahern's attention to the discriminatory effects of his government's policy, face charges under the draconian Public Order Act.

A spokesperson for the 11 people charged, Mags Gleenon, condemned as ``disgraceful'' the pursuit of anti racist protestors through the courts ``over an entirely peaceful protest, on a day which coincided with International Day Against Racism''.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1