Virtual Famine Walk – Forum, Conversation and Music

On May 16th at 7pm – the day on which the annual Doolough Famine Walk was due to take place, Afri will host a virtual Famine Walk Forum with distinguished guest speakers, great conversation and live music. Our host will be campaigner and author Ruairí McKiernan. He will be joined by renowned violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, harpist Emer Lynam and singer-songwriters RoJ Whelan and Paul O’Toole, as well as guest speakers including Emeritus Professor John Maguire, author and Lecturer Dr Clare O’Grady Walshe,  MASI member Donnah Vuma and student climate activist Gráinne Malone.

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Government Formation – The Peace Issues

Press Release

Discussions on government formation are taking place in the wake of a demand by the electorate for a serious reshaping of priorities and policies. Issues of housing, education, climate change and of course health are to the fore. 

One other topic, so far absent from the debates, must finally and urgently be aired if democracy and sustainability are really to be achieved: the massive realignment of our defence and military policies over recent decades.

Successive Irish governments have covertly enabled the EU’s NATO-linked militarisation, shamefully and implausibly claiming that ‘nothing is happening here’ while trotting out the incoherent notion of ‘military neutrality’ to conceal the reality. 

We have had a Green and a White Paper on Defence, which never once mention more than 3.5 million troop movements, along with torture-related flights, through Shannon since 2003, all within a catastrophic, open-ended ‘War on Terror’.

This is totally at odds with the fundamental principles of Article 29 of Bunreacht na Éireann, which so vitally informed the Peace Process on this island.  Yet those who try to retrieve that heritage are demonised as trouble-makers and worse.

War – ‘organised murder’ in the words of Harry Patch, last survivor of World War I – is not an answer; it is the problem, perpetuating a merciless cycle of aggression and retaliation.  It is also wasteful –‘a theft’ from true human priorities in the words of US President Eisenhower – and environmentally destructive.

Yet in 2015 our then Chief of Staff foresaw our defence forces as ‘an investment centre’[1].  Significant recent moves towards ‘defence-related research and investment’ were put on hold only by the calling of the General Election.    

Smaller parties have now been invited to discuss government formation with the two large parties that have for decades undermined our defence and foreign policy values and thwarted the right and duty of the Irish people, under Article 6 of the Constitution, fundamentally to shape our society.   

Commitments to the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) are incompatible with an adequate response to our needs in health, housing, education, climate change and other policy areas. We call on any party that enters into negotiations with FF/FG to demand a change in the policy of selling-out Irish neutrality, to bring neutrality into line with Article 29 of Bunreacht na Éireann and with the clearly expressed wishes of the majority of citizens (as confirmed in a Red C poll at the time of the 2019 European Parliament elections). If the parties do not squarely confront this issue, they will from the start have abandoned any serious prospect of achieving a decent, democratic, peaceful and sustainable society.

We should learn from the COVID-19 pandemic: only through international cooperation and not confrontation can global issues be solved. Indeed, by nations peacefully working together we can also prevent the next emergency that is hurtling towards us, climate change. Militarism and the ongoing arms race are a major contributory factor in the cause of climate change. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report that $1,917 billion was squandered on weaponry and other military expenditure in 2019. The Irish Government should become pro-active in pursuing an international peace agenda.

With this in mind, we, the undersigned, demand that the following become part of Government policy. 

  • End the use of Irish airports, airspace, seaports and territorial waters by foreign powers preparing for or engaging in war or other armed conflict, and in particular end the US military use of Shannon Airport and Irish airspace for such purposes;
  • Commit to ending Ireland’s participation in military exercises and deployments not mandated and operated by the UN, including NATO, EU and other multilateral exercises and deployments;
  • Revoke Ireland’s ratification of PESCO, which we do not believe commands majority support in the new Dail, and cease all involvement in European Defence Agency programmes;
  • Protect and copper-fasten Irish neutrality, by holding a referendum to amend the Constitution to give effect to this, and/or the codification of neutrality in domestic legislation to give effect to the Hague Conventions on the conduct of warfare, including the obligations of neutral states.

Signed

 Joe Murray, Action from Ireland (AFRI)

 Niall Farrell, Galway Alliance Against War (GAAW)

 Michael Youlton, Irish Anti War Movement (IAWM)

 David Edgar, Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

 Roger Cole, Chair, Peace & Neutrality Alliance (PANA)

 Frank Keoghan, People’s Movement

 John Lannon, Shannonwatch

 Edward Horgan, Veterans For Peace Ireland

 Barry Sweeney, World Beyond War Ireland

[1] 10th October 2015

7th May 2020

Reflections from Féile Bríde 2020

Speakers from the day: Shivam O’Brien, Micheal Long, Mary Reynolds, Clare O’Grady Walshe, Nelly McLaughlin.
©Photo by Derek Speirs

Afri’s Feile Bride event for 2020 was entitled ‘Rekindling; Revitalising; Rewilding and Restoring’ and was set in the context of the need for urgent action on climate change. Over recent years, many people, of all ages, are getting actively involved in fighting for change. This was reflected at the conference, where we heard from a number of mature activists who have been around for some time but also from Ruby Jo, who set up “There is no planet B” as an 11 year old activist! This shows that we can all be involved in action to tackle climate change – as Greta Thunberg says ‘no-one is too small to make a difference’. This was the 28th year of tending the Brigid flame in Kildare, which as Rita Minehan explained, was lit at the first Afri Conference in 1993 and burns as a “beacon of hope, peace and justice.” It was noted, that one of the trademarks of those who attend Féile Bríde is a spirit of positivity and hope, and a determination, no matter what, to keep on working for a better world for all.

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Reflections from Carlow Famine Walk 2020

Climate Change was the theme of the 2020 Famine Walk which began in IT Carlow and concluded in the nearby Famine graveyard. Approximately 70 young people attended from schools including Gaelscoil  Eoghain and Tyndale College.  Each year an oak tree is planted as part of the ceremony of remembrance and solidarity and this year the tree was supplied by two Transition Year students – Eimear and Abbie – who had set up a company to grow and sell trees as part of their course. Thanks to Eimear and Abbie for this excellent initiative and generous gift.

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Féile Bríde 2020: Rekindling; Revitalizing; Re-wilding; Restoring

Thank you to all who have registered for the conference. Please note that pre-booking numbers are very high this year and priority will be given to people who have booked tickets and paid in advance. The venue has a limited number of seats available and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed.
Bookings will close at 12 noon on Friday.

Féile Bríde 2020 will take place in Solas Bhríde on Saturday, February 8th with Registration at 9.35am. The theme of this year’s Féile is Rekindling; Revitalizing; Re-wilding; Restoring.

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Hedge School 2019: Food, Fashion & Fuel

 

Organised in partnership with third year students from the Community and Youth Development course in TU Dublin –  Blanchardstown.

This year’s participants will look at the issues of food, fashion and fuel, how they contribute to climate change and what we can do about it!

Speakers include Saoirse McHugh, who describes herself as an environmentalist, a democratic socialist, and a grower.

Eddie Mitchell of Love Leitrim and North Leitrim Sustainable Energy Community

& renowned actor and activist Donal O’Kelly, who together with Brian Fleming and  Ellen Cranitch will perform an intriguing piece called  “Roxy’s Head is Melted”.

To register for this free event please go to: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/afri-hedge-school-2019-tickets-76758006263.

 

Teacher Training for Secondary School Teachers

Monday 11th November 2019, 11am-3pm in the Irish Writer’s Centre, 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1

Afri’s ‘Just A Second!’ teacher training for secondary school teachers takes place 11th November 2019 from 11am to 3pm in the Irish Writer’s Centre, 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. The training is an energetic, creative and informative experience, demonstrating effective ways of bringing global issues into the classroom. The training is led by Karen Jeffares, a global education expert, together with Pete Mullineaux, a leader in the field of combining drama and global education and author of Just A Second! Exploring Global Issues Through Drama and Theatre.

Teacher training resources will be provided – including lessons plans for a number of Junior Cycle subjects including English, CSPE, History and Geography.

Teacher substitution cover is available and a light lunch is included in the training. 

Booking is essential to ensure a place.  Contact Afri at admin@afri.ie to express an interest and fill out a registration form.

Registration forms should be returned by 20th OctoberIf booking after that date please contact the office directly on 01 8384204 or by email (admin@afri.ie). 

Afghanistan: Hidden Voices from a Forgotten War

Few remember that the war on Afghanistan started a month after 9/11, and now, 18 years later it seems no closer to ended than the day it started.
A forgotten war, it is now the longest in US history and is estimated to have claimed 150,000 Afghan lives and a confirmed 455 British soldiers.
Afghanistan has been classified the most dangerous country in the world, while UN data indicates that more civilians are killed or injured due to armed conflict than anywhere else in the world.
But still there is hope inspired by grassroots actions and civil society organizing. Dr. Hakim, who is himself a source of hope, will tell about the positive things that are happening, in the midst of the horror of ongoing war at this public meeting In the Teacher’s Club on October 2nd.

Submission to Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality: Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process

Afri is an Irish justice and peace organisation based in Dublin. Afri’s goal is the promotion of global justice and peace, and the reduction of poverty; this includes, but is not limited to, the progressive reduction of global militarisation, and responding to the threat of climate change, corporate control of resources and water, and interference with food sovereignty.

As part of our promotion of global justice, we have in recent years focused on the shortcomings and failures of the Irish state’s system of receiving international protection applications. To this end, we have raised awareness of Direct Provision through our work in schools as part of the Global Citizenship initiative of Irish Aid.

In April 2017 Afri attended a presentation by MASI in the AV Room of Leinster House to members of the Oireachtas about the sudden introduction of a new 60-page questionnaire by the IPO (International Protection Office) sent simultaneously to thousands of asylum seekers in the Direct Provision system with a 20-day deadline to complete it – with legal advice. As this was clearly impossible for the vast majority, if not all, of the international protection applicants in Ireland issued with this deadline, it spread panic and dread among people already under stress from the strictures of living in the Direct Provision system that ties them to food and shelter in conditions over which they are given absolutely no say. After this presentation, we asked Donnah Vuma from Zimbabwe, who spoke movingly at that AV Room presentation, to be one of the leaders of our annual Afri Mayo Famine Walk from Louisburgh to Doolough, May 2017. This is what she said:-

I feel humbled and yet honoured to be here today. I have found it a challenge to say a few words.  But I remember those who walked this path before, the people who sacrificed their lives to seek relief for the masses of their village. They did not second-guess themselves, they took the challenge with swiftness, in the worst of weather and on empty stomachs with nothing but the will to survive.

In whatever part of the world we may be, we need to remember those that are treated with injustice and inequality for the sake of their political opinions, religion, race and gender. We also need to remember the thousands of families – including infants and the elderly fleeing war and violence in Syria who have to walk more than 1400 miles to get to Serbia’s border with Hungary in the hope of finding peace and a future. Above all, we need to remember those who sacrificed their lives fleeing on coffin ships or those who were condemned to workhouses during the great Irish Famine – An Gorta Mór.

People fleeing their homes, whether during the Famine in Ireland or the war in Syria have brought to mind the words of poet Warson Shire “No-one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”. Amongst us are those who I am here to represent. They have travelled from countries afar to seek refuge among us.

No-one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land. I stand in deep solidarity and respect with those that have made such courageous journeys in the past, present and unfortunately in the future, in the hopes of finding safety.

Unfortunately, Ireland has delegated the questionable system of Direct Provision to take care of those seeking asylum. Seeking asylum is by no means criminal, no one should be punished nor condemned for seeking asylum in another country, no one should serve what seems to be an unending sentence for a crime unknown to one.

It is not acceptable to have a safety net yet to live in constant fear and uncertainty of your future. It is painful to live a life in limbo, not to be able to prepare a meal for your children, to be denied the right to work to be able to provide even the bare necessities for your family .. to have your dignity taken away and to be restricted from contributing positively to a society or community that has welcomed you and shown you love.

Till this day, I pray for a better way. I can’t help but feel hopeless and heartbroken. In my heart, surrounded by masses of people, often in the same predicament, I feel all alone. I close my eyes and picture home. I can’t help but wonder and ask the questions:- is Direct Provision doing enough to address the needs of asylum seekers? Whom is the new International Protection Act intended to protect? Need this country of plenty witness yet another catastrophe? How many more people under Direct Provision should we see lose their sanity or spiral down into chronic illnesses before we say enough is enough”

  • Donnah Sibanda Vuma, of Zimbabwe, international protection applicant, residing for five years in Knockalisheen Direct Provision Centre, Meelick, County Clare, managed under contract to RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) by international corporation Aramark, at the Afri Mayo Famine Walk, May 2017.

It is to be noted with alarm that many international protection applicants who submitted their cases around that time – May-June-July 2017 – without getting legal advice in order to comply with the 20-day deadline printed emphatically in bold on the official letter they received, are about now or in the near future, if they’ve suffered rejection of their application, grappling with threats of deportation.

This historical violation of applicants’ UN-guaranteed rights has never been satisfactorily dealt with  by the IPO (International Protection Office).  The injustice inflicted on many hundreds of asylum seekers at that time when the International Protection Act regulations were being introduced has never been owned up to nor have any measures been put in place to restore those people’s international rights to protection, which includes transparent process. It was not a transparent process for people trying to meet an impossible deadline, and declining to take legal advice in order to “do the right thing”. It would be a serious dereliction of Ireland’s international duty were anyone to suffer deportation on account of the botched introduction of IPO procedures in spring-summer 2017.

On the issue of deportations, Afri notes with horror that many people have been summarily and forcibly deported without reference to their relatives, including their children. One such case, Vahmra Haratyunyan, having been in Direct Provision for years, and subsequently lived in Galway, was summarily rendered incommunicado and deported to Armenia in August 2018, and his three-year-old daughter Aline and partner Viktoria left to face life without him. Their case was highlighted in the Jimmys’ Hall Today event Afri supported in the Town Hall Theatre Galway in September 2018 during the run of the Abbey Theatre’s Jimmy’s Hall, about Leitrim man Jimmy Gralton, deported for his political beliefs as “an undesirable alien” in 1933. Afri has deep concerns that the issue of wrongful deportation is an institutional phenomenon in Ireland today, as much as in 1933.

In July 2018, Afri was co-convenor with MASI and Anti-Racism Ireland of an event hosted by the Abbey Theatre Dublin, Ireland’s national theatre, called Jimmy’s Hall Today, during the run of the play Jimmy’s Hall there. First Lady Sabina Higgins participated by reading an extract from Edna O’Brien’s novel The Red Chairs prescribed by the author herself, a refugee of sorts from Ireland once upon a time.

The contributions, as well as speakers of testimony enduring DP and extracts from Jimmy’s Hall, also included a  dance piece, It Takes A Village, devised by choreographer Catherine Young, that included thirty dancers from Direct Provision centres in Kerry, Longford and elsewhere. Among them was a Pakistani nurse, Vekhash Khokhar, four years in DP, who was under threat of a deportation order deadline that very date. He spoke from the Abbey Theatre stage about how he would fly out that evening, and hoped to return soon, and asked all present to do all in their power to spare others on stage the fate he was enduring. Despite verbal assurances from several official sources of easing his way back to Ireland once he left the state before the deportation order took effect, once out of sight he has never been given any assistance, and is struggling to continue his life in Pakistan, despite all the issues of danger that drove him to apply for asylum in the first place.

In February 2019 Afri were partners in an event organised by Rose Kelly in Moville, Inishowen, Co. Donegal, where a hotel was designated for use as a Direct Provision centre, with first-hand testimony of Direct Provision from Donnah Vuma and from Fathi Mohamed of Somalia, living with her baby daughter in Ballyhaunis Direct Provision centre for two years.

“It would be amazing to see more of this around the different towns in Ireland, because then we can start to really show the government how unsuitable the system of Direct Provision is, and how we don’t need reform of the system, we need the system to be totally abolished. But it’s also important that people can easily integrate into their communities, and easily pick up where they left off their lives at home, to be able to come into this community, carry on with their lives, and be able to contribute” – Donnah Vuma in Moville, February 2019.

Afri considers that the increasing dispersal of Direct Provision centres to remote regions makes it impossible for people to take up whatever drastically-limited work opportunities might present themselves, as travel is often an enormous problem, and they are not allowed to acquire driving licences while in Direct Provision, a bizarre regulation that defies logic and seems purely punitive.

The IPO interview that every applicant faces for refugee status, possibly the most important of their lives, with their and their childrens’ future depending on it, takes place in the IPO offices in Dublin’s Mount Street. That is a long journey from many DP centres, especially one like Moville, where the shortest travel time, using public transport, would take between 12 and 15 hours each way. How can one be expected to function with alertness in those circumstances? It’s a dereliction of international protection responsibilities that seems almost designed to inflict punishment rather than offer a process of protection.

Recommendations:

  1. The Direct Provision system was designed to be punitive, a “pull-factor deterrent” when it was devised, and it is an enduring and ugly stain on Ireland’s humanitarian reputation since its introduction as a temporary measure almost two decades ago, and must be abolished completely and replaced with a process that respects international protection applicants and treats them with dignity, as is their right as human beings, and as is Ireland’s responsibility to provide as signatory to UNHCR directives.
  1. Reappraisal and right of re-submission for all international protection applicants caught up in the alarming and haphazard introduction of the International Protection Office procedures in 2017 that has resulted in possible wrongful rejection of refugee applications due to lack of legal consultation opportunity, and pursuant deportation orders against people who did not receive due transparent process as described in UNHCR directives on asylum seeker reception procedures.
  1. Forcible deportations must be ended, and the rights of children and partners of those faced with deportation to the rights of parental and/or relationship association must be given due regard and precedence.