food · Parenting

The right to choose how to feed your child

I was cooking dinner for my daughter when I started to write this post. Nothing particularly strange or exciting there, I cook dinner for her – and my husband and myself – most days. I like cooking, I like trying out new recipes and new ingredients. If I’d ever given the subject any thought I would have assumed that most parents of young children cook dinner for them every day. But that’s not the case in Ireland. I have very recently finished studying for a Certificate in Community Work from NUI Maynooth. The last year of study has been an amazing experience, I’ve met some great people and I now number them amongst my friends. The course was focused on Co. Meath and all the students were involved in the community and voluntary sector in Meath. I’ve learnt so much over the last year but one thing I learnt shocked and upset me greatly. And that brings me back to cooking dinner this evening. Some of my fellow students live in Mosney. They are asylum seekers. They all have young children. They cannot choose what to cook for their children for dinner or when to eat dinner. Why? Because they live in direct provision. I am ashamed to say that I knew nothing about direct provision before I met them. Oh sure, I’d heard the term and I knew asylum seekers were living in Mosney but I never gave any thought to how they lived. Mosney is in Co. Meath, its probably about an hour’s drive from where I live. But in every other sense its a world away. I didn’t grow up in Ireland (I grew up in England) so I don’t have the childhood memory that many Irish-born of my age do, of holidays at Mosney.

I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people in Ireland have no idea what direct provision really means. It means not having real privacy. It means the management can enter your house at any time without any prior notice. It means you don’t get to teach your children how to cook. It means you don’t have any choice in what your children eat or in when they eat. It means you don’t really have much of a family life. In an Irish Times article Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, was quoted as saying that living in direct provision can have a “detrimental effect on children. If we look at the conditions in the centres, by any standard it could not be said to equate to normal family living. These families live in very restricted accommodation, and this can have a profound impact on the mental health of adults and children.” Yet this is how families are living in Ireland, in my county today. To go back to the subject of dinner, some of you may be thinking that surely it doesn’t really matter once the children are being fed? I would disagree. There have been concerns raised over the quality of food provided, but it has also been argued that not being able to cook and eat your traditional food is demeaning and cruel. We eat a range of food in our house at dinnertime, pizza (homemade), various Italian, Chinese and Lebanese dishes as well as more traditional Irish and English dishes, but we get to choose, that’s the important difference.

A few facts you may not know about the realities of direct provision:

1. Adult asylum seekers receive €19.10 weekly as an allowance. Children receive €9.60. This allowance has not changed since 2000.
2. It was originally envisaged that no one would spend more than six months in direct provision. Some people have been living in direct provision for five, six and seven years. Just imagine living under those conditions for that long.
3. Asylum seekers in Ireland are prohibited from working. Yet many of them are highly educated, highly trained people with so much to offer.

I am ashamed this is happening, I am ashamed I didn’t know. But now I do, and so do you. So what can you do? You can contact your elected representatives and ask what they are doing to raise the issue of direct provision with the government. You can support the campaign to end direct provision and read more about that here and here. And you can tell someone. The more people that know about the reality of direct provision, the more pressure will hopefully be brought upon the government to end this abhorrent system. Ireland has for too long turned a blind eye to the incarceration of people who did not fit the ‘norm’ – whatever the norm means. The Madgalene laundries, the mother and baby homes, the industrial schools….. please help end that list now. End direct provision.

One thought on “The right to choose how to feed your child

  1. Shocking. I too know the term and know (and fondly remember) the location.
    Frances Fitzgerald mentioned this on the news tonight and seems determined to make changes. A good time to raise the profile of this issue so…..

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