In the aftermath of the resignation of Niall Crowley, Chief Executive of the Equality Authority, the Minister for Justice made ‘no apologies’ for cutting the Equality Authority’s budget, privileging instead police spending. This is in line with seeing equality work as defending Irish society’s problematic marginal populations, rather than maintaining equality for all, which was what the EA was about.
Denying racism and declaring itself post- and anti-racist, Ireland, like other EU member states, in restricting immigration, limiting it to those migrants who are useful to ‘our way of life’, and castigating Travellers and poor people for not playing their part, particularly now that the economic boom is over.
At the AkiDwA (African Women’s Network) AGM on 22 November 2008, African asylum seekers living in direct provision hostels – AKA Ireland’s holding camps – spoke about the real cost of the recent budget cuts, as their children are prevented from attending school regularly because the school bus has been discontinued. The women, who live on an allowance of €19.10 per week (an allowance not raised since 2001), cannot afford to pay the bus fare. And anyway, the children have to take three buses at times to get to school and are often late. How about that commitment to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’ made at the Irish Declaration of Independence, when these children are prevented from accessing education?
Other women living in these holding camps spoke about being denied their clothing allowance because they looked too well dressed. Even though they buy all their clothes in charity shops, they are at the mercy of welfare officers who decide how well dressed they should be. Other women spoke about being denied access to education while awaiting a decision on their asylum application.
Whatever about the (now defunct) ‘Celtic Tiger’, at this economic downturn time, the people most seriously affected by the budget cuts are these women and their families, the real ‘hidden Ireland’.
It is clear that the Irish government is panicking about finances. In the run to save money, the area of equality and anti-racism would be hit hardest. Many of the cuts make sense only if they are viewed as an attempt to save money while also axing independent organisations. Thus we saw the axing of Integrate Ireland Language and Training, spearheaded by the TCD Centre for Language and Communication Studies, teaching English to refugees since 1996. Even though the IILT itself was planning to mainstream its activities, the Department of Education closed it down without consultation. Thus we also hear that the NCCRI may be incorporated into the office of the Minister for Integration and, while I have been a critic of the NCCRI which, I believe, has passed its sell-by date, closing it down points to not taking the equality sector seriously.