On the Leap Year Day of 2020, we approached the Edge and in a bid to awaken our own and each other’s creativity.
For RAPAR, I sit between Ola Mustafa, a stunning mother of three children, aged between 11 and six, who claimed asylum from Nigeria almost as long ago as the birth of her youngest child, and who waits for the State to decide: is it accepting her right to make herself and her children safe? Alongside over 200 other people seeking asylum, she lives in Ballyhaunis’s former Convent, now her ‘Direct Provision’ home, privately run on behalf of the Irish Government .
To my left is Farah Elle a singer songwriter who will complete our discussion with her performance of two hauntingly beautiful compositions that fuse Libyan and Irish streams from her culture clash into a unique river of sound.
Our Facilitator, Dr. Christopher Kissane, poses the question “What is our experience of migration like, in Ireland?” and Ola shares first. Her children are bussed away to school. Her description of her feelings about not being able to bring and meet them from there is pain-filled. It crystallizes how the asylum system, in the UK and in Ireland, debars the People who have fled here from those taken for granted public spaces: like the school gates where Adults meet Others who are both different from, and the same as, Themselves. There are 47 children, excluding babies, living in the Ballyhaunis Direct
Provision Centre with their Families, but only one child goes to the local school. Alongside being denied the right to work for money - and pay tax and insurance like everyone else who works legally – and the very existence of Direct Provision, this educational apartheid separates the Person Seeking Asylum from the indigenous Irish... or English... or Scottish... or Welsh, and away from shared places where We may experience our Humanity together.
And Farah, as she touches her heart, describes how creative expression springs from her need to unpack some aspect of oppression that has become internalised within her. In so doing, she helps us to think about how each of us might find a way to release and convert our own alienations into creative visions. Who wants a future where all the children go together to their local school and all their parents can witness them,
running in and out, with smiling faces? I do.
Prophetically, when keynote speaker Diarmaid Ferriter posed his morning question about the notorious Mother and Baby homes of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s Ireland, “What sustained the architecture of containment?”, he offered us a framework for beginning our afternoon interrogation of a 21st century version: Direct Provision. While on this very same leap year day, from one pillar of its British counterpart, the privatised Detention Centre industry, the story is about to break of a man from Jamaica, partially blind and left with an untreated broken ankle in a cell for four days.
The roots of colonialism and imperialism burrow so deeply. Writing from my paternal family’s ‘Homeplace’, how fortunate am I to stand and look upon on the fruits of my ancestor’s labour? The Hawthorn Hedge that I know my Grandmother planted. The world where all such Hedgerows are honoured and their Planters’ Descendants stand free to marvel at the hope, shelter, and porous boundary that the Hedgerow represents, wherever it is: that’s where I want to live. It is a very different world from this global-climate-biodiversity crisis breeding fascism within every vacuum that we strive to fill.
RAPAR thanks Ireland’s Edge for holding the space of the extraordinary Jackie Clarke Museum so that we might sit, together, at the Edge of what Mayo County Council Chief executive Peter Hynes described as a Hilltop. It’s the Edge that only exists on the Hilltop for that hair’s breadth before we tumble or we fly, the Edge that affords us the optimum perspective. Where next? Whose coming? Thank you.
The views expressed are personal. Dr Rhetta Moran, RAPAR Chair of Trustees.