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'Hypocrisy in cheering for our gay Taoiseach, and turning a blind eye to his policies'

Do we truly care about LGBT people – or only those who have votes and who can afford the cost of a pint in The George, writes Oonagh Murphy.

Oonagh Murphy Theatre director and activist

LAST WEEK, THE new Taoiseach fanfared a plan to increase the weekly payment made to asylum seekers, by €2.50, bringing a single person’s weekly payment to €21.60.

This was one of the earliest announcements by the country’s new leader. It looked like a PR exercise to reassure us of Varadkar’s social conscience.

It was so tone deaf to the needs of Ireland’s asylum seekers, it confirmed what many feared about the new Fine Gael darling: that his social policy over the coming years could rival his Tory cousins.

LGBT asylum seekers and their pressures

Last year, I co-founded Identity, a support group for LGBT asylum seekers. Identity is a peer-to-peer network, offering support and advice as well as a sense of community to its members.

LGBT asylum seekers are faced with distinct pressures: they are at an intersection of several disadvantages. These are people predominantly from Africa and the Middle East who have been forced to leave their home countries because they identify as LGBT. They come to Ireland to escape persecution in societies where to be “out” is to put your life at risk.

The trauma of fleeing their home is compounded by entering the inhumane system of direct provision. Under direct provision, an asylum seeker lives in hostel-style accommodation, often sharing rooms with strangers. Residents may not cook for themselves; instead meals are provided at set times of the day.

Significantly, asylum seekers may not work to earn an income. An asylum seekers lives in direct provision for the time it takes for their case to be processed. For many, this may take several years.

Allow us to work here

identity support group 1 Members of Identity support group

One member of Identity told me: “Instead of arguing over payment increases, what we need is a change in the rules around right to work. Allow us to work here and we can make our own living. We are skilled and intelligent, but right now we are wasting away, getting bored and depressed.”

Direct provision is an expensive answer to the migrant crisis and is no longer fit for purpose. It was first implemented as an “emergency measure” in 1999 and is contracted out to private corporations to total annual cost to the Exchequer of €43.5m.

Notable, in 2016 Aramark, the controversial American company which provides hospitality to the US prison system, was paid €5.2 million to provide basic bed and board to only 850 asylum seekers in Ireland. Mosney Holidays and East Coast Catering each received fees in excess of €7 million. There is big money being made from direct provision.

This is why Varadkar’s €2.50 extra announcement sounded so hollow. In fact, the working group on direct provision chaired by Bryan McMahon in 2015, recommended an increase of €17, not €2.50.

Hypocrisy in cheering for our gay Taoiseach

Another member of our group, a 32 year woman from Zimbabwe told me: “I thought having a Taoiseach who is gay and the son of immigrants would be good news for us stuck in direct provision. But it seems Varadkar does not empathise with our plight. Otherwise he would not have made his first interaction with asylum seekers this insultingly tiny increase”.

As we celebrate Pride this weekend, we will enjoy our global reputation as a socially progressive society, liberated from our conservative past. But there is a hypocrisy in cheering for our gay Taoiseach, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to his policies, policies which will only damage the lives of those in our society most at risk.

Pride started as a protest against the persecution of LGBT people. In 2017 we must ask ourselves, do we truly care about the lives of all LGBT people – or only those who have votes and who can afford the cost of a pint in The George to rub shoulders with our shiny new Taoiseach?

Oonagh Murphy is a theatre director and activist. She co-founded Change of Address, a collective connecting asylum seekers with the Irish creative community. Change of Address run Identity Support Group for LGBT Asylum Seekers.

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About the author:

Oonagh Murphy  / Theatre director and activist

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