Republican News · Thursday 16 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Refugees face internment

You might be forgiven for thinking that 26-County Justice minister John O'Donoghue is at a loss to know quite what to do with what he chooses to call `illegal immigrants' - the people who have quite legally applied for asylum. You would, of course, be quite wrong.

Two weeks ago, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, asked by a reporter for this paper what the department intended to do with asylum seekers `dispersed' to tourist resorts when the season started, replied that there was ``no problem'' and he was ``very happy with the situation''.

Ten days ago, the Department of Justice announced it was considering accommodating refugees on `Flotels'. Only a week later, the department announced it was considering `canvas pavilions'. Four days later, on Monday of this week, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern went all the way to Australia to tell us how he is considering detaining refugees. At a press conference at a detention centre following his meeting with the Australian Prime Minister, Ahern announced that it was ``all food for thought''.

The real intent is not hard to fathom. The Department of Justice has already costed (100 million) putting asylum seekers in barracks, of which there are several empty around the country.

If the department had its will with members of IMPACT and SIPTU, we would already have detention for asylum seekers, albeit for the moment, in resorts.

At present, `dispersed' refugees are in effect detained in their `resorts' because the government has instructed community welfare officers not to pay rent allowance or welfare to refugees if they move. But members of IMPACT and SIPTU have refused to implement this proposal, despite a severe rap on the knuckes by the Eastern Health Board programme manager, Michael Walsh.

But superindentendent community welfare officers have taken the view that the government should legislate if it wants to change the rules instead of manipulating the supplementary welfare scheme. Detention camps for refugees will require Minister O'Donoghue to impose government policy on the members of the two unions. Taoiseach Ahern was just preparing the ground.

Meanwhile Mary Harney, across at the Department of Enterprise, tells us that we need 200,000 immigrant labourers to implement the National Plan, and, of course, keep wages down. The Minister did not happen to mention how 200,000 workers can be accommodated, without detention in barracks, whilst 8,000 people seeking asylum here cannot.

You might be forgiven for thinking it had something to do with the colour of those who want to work here.

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