Thursday, 12 December 2019

Reflections on our work at the UN CERD in Geneva

AMRI delegation at UN CERD with Rapporteur
Our AMRI delegation of five people in this photo attended the CERD Committee in Geneva on 2nd and 3rd December.

The delegation was lead by CEO and Founder of AMRI Rosemary Adaser (2nd from right). She has worked tirelessly to get us to CERD in Geneva and assembled a formidable crowdfunding team of people joining us from LARC; Breda Corish, Aoife Hamill and Cara Sanquest. Rosemary has done incredible work for years to raise awareness of the treatment of mixed race people in Ireland. 

We were also joined by Dr David Keane (far left) Dr David Keane, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at Middlesex University. David is an expert on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). He has been instrumental in the preparation of our Shadow Report and has been an invaluable adviser to us on CERD and friend to AMRI.

Conrad Bryan (2nd from left), Jude Hughes (3rd from right) and Phil Mullen (far right) also joined the delegation with their wealth of experience and knowledge. Jude, who is based in Dublin, has been working on ant-racism activism for many decades in Ireland as far back as the 1970s. Phil, also based in Dublin, is currently working on a PhD, researching the experience of mixed race women in Irish institutions. The Rapporteur (3rd from left) who represented Ireland on the Committee is Verene Shepherd.     

The talent and support from everyone has been incredible. We were also supported by several other organisations such as the Irish Centre for Human Rights NUI Galway, ENAR Ireland and The Irish Human Rights Commission, who raised our issues in their own reports submitted to CERD. A big thanks to everyone involved and all our supporters, as well as to all those who donated to our campaign, it means a lot to us.

As you know, our aim was to bring to the attention of CERD the human rights violations and racial discrimination endured by children of African fathers and Irish mothers while incarcerated in Irish Institutions.

We were hoping the government would address this issue in their report to CERD. But no, on the first day they failed to even mention a word to CERD that a Commission of Investigation was investigating systemic racism within mother and baby institutions. This was baffling to me and very disappointing. I was not expecting an apology given the investigation is ongoing but I was expecting some acknowledgment that they at least recognised the calls from our community to investigate this legacy issue. Not to even acknowledge this call was disingenuous.

You can read Minister Stanton's National Statement to CERD here . There is no mention of the mixed race Irish children nor a word about Mother and Baby Homes. This was the State's opening statement to the Committee in the afternoon on Monday 2 Dec.

However, it didn't end here. We worked hard to submit our own shadow report to CERD and we managed to get a private sitting with the Rapporteur for Ireland, Verene Shepherd on the Monday morning. She is a Jamaican who is acutely sensitive to racism and highly knowledgeable about slavery and colonialism. She listened to us behind closed doors and I could see she had an affinity with us and our concerns.

During the plenary session Rosemary gave an excellent talk about how we are the oldest community of people of African descent in Ireland and our legacy issues must be resolved in order to address the racism experienced today in Ireland. The Rapporteur also questioned us on what reparations would look like and I explained that it is not simply about compensation but must firstly be about acknowledgment and apology as well as dealing with mental health issues, education and memorialisation so people know our history and lessons can be learned.   

The Rapporteur, was not going to let our issues go unheard. Following the State's report, mentioned above, Verene Shepherd then made her statement of observations to the State and she covered many issues relating to racial discrimination against all minorities. Her statement to the State about our particular issues was forcefully put and went as follows : 

“CERD requested information on the Investigations into abuses in Mother and Baby Homes…what were the key findings and was the matter of redress or compensation one of its findings”. In an interim report from the Commission of Investigation, Judge Murphy did recommend giving access to or reopening the previous redress scheme for certain individuals such as unaccompanied children, this recommendation was rejected by the Irish Government.

She went on to say that “I’m aware there are complaints of the use of race or racial profiling in the child adoption process…a violation of iCERD Article 3 (the human rights convention) in terms of abuse on the grounds of race in care homes affecting mixed race children some of whom were taken into care because of racial identity and unfortunately many of them were abused. In the case of survivors of past abuses are there any provisions for mental health or public education around the issue of redress? ”.  Incidents of racial abuse and discrimination were in fact reported in the 2009 Ryan report on Industrial Schools, it is clearly stated in that report, but when it came to deciding on redress racial abuse and racial discrimination (including institutional racism) was not addressed separately as a form of abuse or human rights violation. 
Committee member Professor Gay McDougall was equally scathing in her examination of the State saying: “Inclusion! Integration! you know these tend to be sort of mantras in a lot of countries…I would like to hear what you think that actually means and the extent to which you actually really struggle with the question of making sure that everyone, every group, that has been a target of discrimination is included”  and went on to say “ for example we hear some very interesting, and unique internationally, stories from people in the mixed race community that had unique problems of discrimination who you really have to question were they included in your attempts to redress historical discrimination…..if you don’t name them you don’t cover them and as far as I can tell they are not named, I’m not sure any African descent communities are particularly covered and it would be useful to hear a bit more about that”.

When she mentioned the words “unique internationally” several stories came to my mind such as that of the mixed race children in Belgium who were taken from their mothers in the Congo and taken to Belgium and put in orphanages or fostered out with their identities completely erased. The State and Church in Belgium have recently made formal apologies for their role in this.
Gay McDougall rightly pointed out that our community is not named nor are we covered. It seems that it  took pressure from these CERD members to get the State to name us on the second day in their follow up responses. Oonagh Buckley, the deputy Secretary General of the Justice Dept,  made this closing statement on behalf of the State: “Finally I wish to speak to the issue of our fellow citizens of mixed race and their treatment in Mother and Baby Homes. The Minister would have wished to speak to this issue yesterday because I think it’s fair to say we have reflected very strongly on the powerful shadow report that was prepared and the testimony the Committee heard”. She went on to explain that no decisions can be made by the State on complex issues until the Commission of Investigation completes its report in Feb next year. 

I was pleased that finally the State acknowledged our community and the legacy issues we are highlighting. 

Tomorrow, Friday 13th Dec, CERD is expected to issue its Concluding Observations on Ireland. I look forward to reading this and seeing the outstanding responses and actions from the State. 

Conrad Bryan

Monday, 23 September 2019

Help us send a delegation to the UN in Geneva

It is not often that small NGO organisations make representations at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

We at AMRI would like to send a delegation of about 5 members to Geneva in December to ensure that the UN are fully briefed on our campaigns and experiences of racism in institutions for children in Ireland in the past. 

You can help us make this happen! Please DONATE to our campaign in Geneva. See our GoFundMe : click site HERE.

The Government are reporting to CERD on 2 and 3 December about the progress they have made regarding their obligations and actions relating to the elimination of racial discrimination.

We specifically asked the government to include in their State Report the fact the Commission of Investigation in Mother and Baby Homes is investigating racism in these institutions.

The Irish government have ignored our request and we are very concerned that they are continuing to sweep our story under the carpet. So we must go there and tell the UN ourselves and to this end we have prepared our own 'Shadow Report' for CERD.  

CERD welcomes NGOs to provide Shadow Reports to consider during their deliberations along side the State Reports they receive from Countries.

Just to remind you of a couple of the human rights issues, among many, we are dealing and will raise with CERD see below :

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Play : "Hashtag Lightie" - a review from an Irish perspective

Irish Times:  Click here

I live in London, a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. It is a place where anything goes and where people of different ethnicities have always mixed, loved and married.

However, today the binary black and white notion of race is being challenged by the younger generation. They are choosing for themselves where they sit on the colour spectrum and how they self-identify. No longer will they accept other people labelling them.
Many are choosing to self-identify as mixed-race rather than black, which is causing a real debate in the black community here. This has many consequences for individuals struggling to determine where they fit in society, or what side to take.

The debate has been spurred on this week by the announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who is widely described in the media as being of mixed race.

Every now and again a new play appears on the scene which creates huge excitement and generates great emotion. Hashtag Lightie is one such production, and it reflects a new and emerging zeitgeist.

Lynette Linton’s wonderful play, currently running in the Arcola Theatre in north London, couldn’t have been better timed. This is a quintessential London mixed-race story and, as such, the timing or location didn’t come as a great surprise to me. What did surprise me was the brilliance at turning what is a difficult topic about race into an entertaining art form with plenty of humour.

But why would an Irish man abroad bother to write about this play? I saw the elephant in the room that few picked up on.

At the end of the play, the director Rikki Beadle-Blair led a Q&A session for the diverse audience. When I mentioned, from the seating area, that I was Irish and mixed, I got a loud round of laughter. This happened once again when I said the Irish didn’t get great “press” in this play.

This, of course, was all tongue-in-cheek as I myself laughed along with the crowd. I was being provocative as I wanted to draw out what I saw as an important aspect of the play that was touched on, but not extensively explored.
The play centres around Ella (played by Adele James), the protagonist, who is addicted to social media and selfies. Her mother is black and father is white and from Ireland.

She has an older sister Melissa (played by Grace Cookey-Gam), and another brother and sister who are twins, Aaron (played by Davon Anderson) and Aimee (played by Sophie Leonie).

Irish diaspora
These four mixed race siblings are second generation Irish. They are part of what we now like to call the Irish diaspora. By virtue of their father, they are Irish citizens. The reality is there are mixed families like this in the UK who are uncomfortable about expressing their Irish heritage/identity. There are even people of mixed ethnicities in Ireland who are uncomfortable. Why?

The play gives us a clue when Aaron, who wanted to express his Irish side, describes being violently abused on a visit to Ireland: “The first time he took us there ... he said we were Irish too. Being up there surrounded by all those ‘yutes’, that was the first time I ever felt scared. I realised that my skin meant I wasn’t safe in a place that was supposedly part of me.”

This reminded me of the story of Chi Chi Nwanoku, the Irish Nigerian double bassist and founder of Chineke Orchestra in the UK, who said in The Irish Times  in 2014, “But mother would never bring us back, she was terrified that people would be rude to us because of our skin.”

“She hadn’t been back to Ireland in 36 years, didn’t know how she’d be received: she was kind of abandoned by her family after she met and married my father, an Igbo from east Nigeria, in London.”

It also reminded me of the great work Rosemary Adaser has been doing for years to raise awareness of mixed race issues through the Association of Mixed Race Irish, which she founded.

This play touched a nerve for me on many levels and brought up several poignant issues for the audience.

Social media
The danger of social media was excellently played out by the main character Ella. She moved gracefully around the floor in all her beauty, with her iPhone projecting her selfie image on a large screen in the background for the audience to see.

Her online video presence and YouTube channel, called Hashtag Lightie, was used to promote her beauty care products and give beauty tips to her online “friends”. But as time goes by, her obsession with her mixed race beauty becomes divisive and fuels online hatred and abuse.

This puts her life in danger as she antagonises people with ideas of light-skinned privilege. The audience experiences the raw nature of racial abuse meted out online from all sides in response. Be prepared for strong language.

The reality of the online danger for mixed race people was seen in Balbriggan in August 2012 when Darren Gibson-Hughes, a 17-year-old of mixed race, took his own life. His mother claimed at the coroner’s hearing that his suicide was caused by cyberbullying and online abuse because of his mixed race.

This play gives some crucial insights into the everyday experience of being mixed race, from the perspectives of the four siblings, as well as the associated derogatory language and labels used.

There is Melissa’s struggle to advance her literary and publishing career in the face of discrimination and unconscious bias. There is too Aaron’s anger at his school’s failure to acknowledge his fatherhood over his own child. Aimee faces pressure to take sides on the colour line, and her black fiancé labels her “my Caramel Queen”. She is frustrated, too, at being told by him that she is not “Black-Black”.

Then there is David, Melissa’s white boyfriend, who simply doesn’t understand how she feels about her identity and the effect it has on her.
There is plenty of discussion around race, class, identity, marriage and shadism. All this makes for a hugely entertaining, hilarious and educational play about a second-generation Irish mixed race family.

I think the Irish undertones could have been explored and accentuated more. But then Rikki has a real balancing act here.

However, there is the untold story of the father’s emigration from Ireland and how his family treated him on hearing the news of his falling in love with a black woman in London and having mixed race children. He died when the children were young but perhaps this play could be expanded for the Irish audience in Dublin, where I was born to mixed parents.

This play will most likely be difficult for many to watch, especially if given a more Irish slant.

What it could do is to act as a forum for minority communities through the Q&A sessions. It could open the conversation about how women were treated in Ireland for many years (as far back as the 1940s), when they fell in love with a black man, and what happened to them and their children.

It could also explore themes relevant to today’s young mixed communities living in Ireland, particularly school children. It could help illuminate the story of mixed race for white Irish people in an entertaining way.
The 2016 Irish census revealed that ‘Other black’ population increased by 6 per cent and “Other” increased by 73 per cent since 2006. The “Other” non-white community has increased significantly.

This changing demographic is pointing to an emerging zeitgeist in Ireland around diversity, as in the UK, that needs to be tapped into. This outstanding play could act as the catalyst for bring the communities together in conversation, and it would be well worthwhile bringing it to audiences in Ireland.

Conrad Bryan is treasurer of Irish in Britain,

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements - Maureen O'Sullivan TD

Here is the extract of Maureen O'Sullivan's statement at the Dail debate on Tuam

Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate

 Vol. 942 No. 2 Unrevised 11 o’clock

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: 

We meet so many people, individuals and groups in our political lives, and there will always be some who will make a significant impact on us.

For me, some of those people are the women I met from the Magdalen laundries and from the Association of Mixed Race Irish. I met the latter group several times over the years and with them I met the then Minister, Senator James Reilly.

For me, it was the additional burdens, heartbreak and pain for those in these institutions who were of mixed race. I know Rosemary Adaser has been speaking in the media about her experiences, which are very similar to the others from the group whom I met.

The commission of investigation is specifically examining if any group was systematically treated differently on any grounds, including race. The association is satisfied that this has been included. However, this has to be included in the terms of reference drawn up for any investigation involving children or institutions. There is also a need for suitably-qualified people to assist in investigations into race.

The Association of Mixed Race Irish has wanted to see the interim report to examine if its members' issues are being adequately addressed. Their admission files to mother and baby homes listed their colour under the section "Defects". Regrettably, the Ryan report did not deal directly with race. The group also wants to know the numbers of mixed-race infants who passed through all of the mother and baby homes, particularly St. Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road. All these questions have to be answered and all these issues addressed.

This means the terms of reference have to be wide and flexible enough, particularly with sensitive handling from trained professionals. I know some people will want to speak in public, but others will want to do so in private. Both have to be respected.

Following requests from survivors who objected to the word "home" being used as they find it offensive, we had a discussion with the Minister. I know from that exchange that she was aware of the emotional impact of using that word to describe an institution of horror. 

Under the Equality Act, any investigation with children in institutions has to include race. If there is a need for a criminal investigation, then it should happen. Will the terms of reference do? What is necessary to get to the truth to get justice for everybody involved? At times when we feel that is the worst we can hear, something else emerges much worse. One of members of the Association of Mixed Race Irish has stated:

 The Dublin health authority’s mother and baby home made many references to my colour in reports for no obvious reason other than to note or highlight racial bias. For example, two psychiatrists’ reports in 1967 referred to me as "dark-skinned" in the first one and "coloured" in the second. The question is: what relevance did this have in a medical report? The admissions ledger at the industrial school had "coloured" in one of the columns and also in the heading "admissions reform". [That did not apply to children, say, with red hair or white skin.] The last point the person made was "I don't know how I survived this place" and then "After spending four years at St. Patrick's home, I was sent to an industrial school." 

The members of the association are remarkable people in the context of what they have come through and the way in which they have survived. We owe an awful lot to them to get to the truth.

Hunger for the Truth - Catherine Coreless receives standing ovation

RTE Late Late Show

Tuam Babies Historian Catherine Corless speaks about her shocking discovery | The Late Late Show

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Dail Debate in 1934 - Illegitimate child proof of mother's shame - family pays foster carer to keep this hidden

This extract of a Dail debate on treatment of unmarried mothers in 1934 Ireland: 

In Committee on Finance. - Registration of Maternity Homes Bill, 1934—Second Stage.
Wednesday, 7 February 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 50 No. 7

First Page  Previous Page Page   of 39  Next Page  Last Page
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Dr. Ward): Information on Dr. Francis Constantine Ward Zoom on Dr. Francis Constantine Ward The Bill is intended to give effect to a recommendation made by the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor including the Insane Poor. It will be remembered that in paragraphs 266, 267 and 268 of their Report of August, 1927, the Commission wrote:—

“266. It would seem from the evidence given before us that in the City of Dublin there are a number of poor class maternity homes from which children are placed out to nurse.

“We are of opinion that all private maternity homes should be licensed annually by the local authority and that no licence be granted unless the home is properly and suitably [1214] equipped for the purpose, and that it was in charge of a respectable person trained in maternity care and nursing.

“267. From the Registrar-General's Report for 1924, it appears that one in every three illegitimate children born alive in 1924 died within one year of its birth, and that the mortality amongst these children is about five times as great as in other cases.
“268. It is high for many reasons, but there is one to which we wish specially to refer. The illegitimate child being proof of the mother's shame is, in most cases, sought to be hidden at all costs. What frequently happens is that the mother, or the mother's family, at the time the mother leaves the hospital or home, make arrangements with someone to take the child, either paying a lump sum down or undertaking to pay something from time to time.

“These arrangements are often made or connived at by those who carry on the poorer class of maternity homes, and the results to the child can be read in the mortality rates.
“If a lump sum is paid or if the periodical payment lapse, the child becomes an encumbrance on the foster mother, who has no interest in keeping it alive.”

At present there is no means of obtaining information as to the where abouts of the homes referred to by the Commission. Neither is there any power of inspecting them except that provided for the purposes of the Midwives (Ireland) Act, 1918, by Section 17 thereof. This section relates chiefly to the supervision of midwives. It is quite insufficient to insure the suitable and efficient management of the maternity home.

Rosemary Adaser - Press Coverage of mixed race story on The the Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy

Here is the recent online press coverage following Rosemary's appearance on the Late Late Show this Friday:

EVOKE.IE - Outrage by the audience at the Late Late Show over the treatment in Mother and Baby homes

Click here

THE IRISH EXAMINER - There has to be an end to this

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