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Opening our eyes

magine that you have had no choice but to leave your home, your job, and your country. You   arrive at a country, which is obliged by law to take you in. You are relatively safe. It is what they call a First World Country.

You are put in a kind of camp, holding people of all nationalities and ages. You are given weekly pocket money, €19 a week. You are fed horrible processed food in a canteen three times a day. You don’t mind because this is only until your application to stay is processed. They just need to do the paperwork.

It has taken 10 years to do the paperwork and you are still in the Camp. You live under permanent fear of deportation. You cannot work. You would like to work, if only to keep your hand in and to keep fit, but you are not allowed. When you arrived, the country had full employment. They spent a billion euro a year on FÁS schemes for their own people who still could not get a job. They give 15 times your stipend a week to young men who deal drugs, break the law, and will not try to get a job at all, but you are not allowed to do anything.

The man who owns the hostel is a friend of the local politician. They drink together. He gets loads of Government money to keep you in his bankrupt hotel. You have your children’s birthday party in the corridor. You share a room with strangers. You have heard him laughing. He says he never made as much money when it was a hotel. He says if the punters complain he does not have to listen and nobody cares.

Your child arrives home asking can he have a hurley like the other boys in school. You cannot afford one. You must pay for his schoolbooks. Your daughter wants to go to university. She has to pay full fees so she sits around all day. She is on antidepressants.

The politician stands in the street shouting. He is giving out about the way the Israelis treat the Palestinians. He used to be in the IRA. He says that if you grew up where he grew up, you would have joined the IRA too. He talks about the Magdalene laundries; how terrible it was to lock up people who did nothing wrong. He stops talking to you when he finds out that you have no vote.

Some of the young men here say if he grew up where they have grown up then he could talk. They are bored. They have finished with school. They sit looking out the window at fat children walking up and down the seafront eating ice cream and people their age driving cars. They say that they would be better off in prison. In prison, everybody is the same. Here they are like ghosts, watching a world they cannot take part in.

The food is disgusting. It is against your cultural beliefs. The women slop it out and say that you are lucky to have anything to eat at all. You wonder what you did to them, apart from keeping them in a job.

If they gave the money they spend on processed food to you and let you cook meals, you feel that you could show your children something useful. They would respect you. You could spend time together. You could teach them about your culture. You feel that they cannot respect you because you sit around all day like a prisoner. Your only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You wonder why the Government treats you like this. Can they not see the harm that they are doing? They talk of 1916 and cherishing children. Only their own children, apparently. Your children have a lot to offer this country but you see the light dying from their eyes. You have heard a lot about the Irish. They are great fun; they go everywhere in the world. They work hard. You never knew that they were cold, that they were indifferent, that they didn’t care.

Imagine.

Imagine that you are a doctor; a psychiatrist, a public health doctor, a paediatrician, that you work for the HSE. You know people. You have a respected voice. Imagine that when they celebrate the 125 years since 1916 that you have spoken out, that you have acted, that you have helped to end direct provision, that you are like the doctors who spoke out against institutionalised abuse in the past.

Imagine that.

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