By Ann Marie Foley - 09 August, 2020
Laois priest Fr Paddy Byrne, has spoken out against the inadequacies of direct provision centres in coping with COVID -19 and the difficulties for low-paid workers such as those in meat factories during the pandemic.
The well known commentator and blogger went online on the morning after a lockdown was reimposed on his county, Laois, and two neighbouring counties, Offaly and Kildare, to offer “prayer, reflection and thoughts” as he put it.
“All this has exploded on our doorstep. It is a wider issue and there are complexities in it. I am not saying I know all the answers I’m just alerting (you) to the fact that the poor and vulnerable will be the ones that will suffer most globally and locally in this pandemic,” he said.
For 11 years he has been a strong advocate against direct provision centres and stated: “They are disgusting places.”
He went on to explain: “For only 50 per cent of people who live in direct provision is social distancing possible. Many of them, many families, including those who live here in Co Laois, are overwhelmed by the lack of space that they have.”
He told catholicireland.net that an Irish Refugee Council survey had revealed the 50 per cent figure. The same survey of 418 people out of a total of 7,700 people in direct provision, also revealed that 42 per cent shared a room with a person who was not a member of their family.
There is a direct provision centre in Abbeyleix where Fr Byrne is parish priest and many people accommodated there are part of parish life and attend mass. Local papers have reported that cases of COVID-19 have been detected there.
Fr Byrne was also priest in Portlaoise parish for many years and had parishioners living in the Motague Hotel direct provision centre which is now also named in local papers as recording incidences of COVID-19.
Fr Byrne told catholicireland.net that because of such links he has been made aware of the conditions within direct provision centres.
“My sense is it is the same everywhere, you have families living in cramped one room conditions and often individuals who do not know each other sharing rooms. They are all sharing toilets and places to sanitise. Horrendous,” he told catholicireland.net.
This is not new. It was going on when he and other priests visited the Motague during the last decade. “We would have listened to and known them and befriended them. These are living people, they are human beings they need friendship and support,” he said.
This is not a popular topic to raise and he stated: “It is often not mainstream politicians who take these issues on board because there is a strong sense of xenophobia in Ireland.” He added that many of the people who have exited direct provision and have been allowed to “fully enter into our society” are now are frontline workers in our hospitals.
He said that in the context of how Ireland looked after people in ‘mother and baby homes’ and various institutions that have done such a lot of harm to people in the past, ignoring the “unpalatable” truth about direct provision centres is no longer possible as it is obvious that they are “not adequate”.
Of the meat industry he said that it is often the most vulnerable who go to work there because of the low wages, so they are very vulnerable to a crisis such as a pandemic.
The newly imposed lockdown has stopped parish activity and he has had to cancel confirmations in Shanahoe church while two nearby parishes have cancelled confirmations in Timahoe and Stradbally. He also has had to speak with very disappointed couples about rescheduling their weddings. Churches in the three counties are only open for individuals to make private prayers.
He assured everyone of his prayers and stated that God never abandons his people. He spoke of the worry and disappointment that the incidences of COVID-19 are increasing, and offered prayers for families and those who are sick or vulnerable.
He concluded that the most important thing is that everyone stays safe and well in mind and body. He added that the sun has returned with the second lockdown and there are many beautiful places to visit within the county of Laois.