My generation is proving its independence and courage

Note: This article originally appeared on The Irish Times Generation Emigration Blog.

At home and abroad, young people are building their own futures, writes Aisling Twomey.

Three years ago, I wrote a piece for The Irish Times, outlining what I recognised as a huge problem for my future: jobs were disappearing like gold after the rush, opportunities seemed slimmer with each passing day, and as a student preparing to graduate, I was worried for what came next.

I was lambasted for that article. An entire thread popped up about me on politics.ie, where I was called, among other things, “a vacuous bimbo with a demand for her rights but no idea of her responsibilities”. I was called self-indulgent, smug, self-serving and entitled.

The comments were presumptive and in some places downright insulting and crude. I was accused of all sorts of political persuasions and notions. People said I wanted to provide nothing and pay zero back for the investment the state made in my education. This was, and remains, a lie.

I wasn’t without my defenders – people who said I should up and leave, that I owed Ireland nothing; that I could succeed elsewhere. Some people wished me the best of luck. Three years have passed. I committed myself to learning as much as I could, and I took on board every challenge I could have. I was frankly desperate for opportunity, for a chance to work full-time and contribute what I had learned.

The past three years have been far from simple. Despite my own ego and a determination to make it on my own, I am intensely grateful to my parents for their endless support. It would have been too hard without them. I completed my degree, and then completed a Masters. I worked part time for three years and did a legal internship, where I learned more than I ever thought I would or could; it was a golden opportunity that changed my entire outlook on life.

For seven months, I worked seven days a week. I’m not moaning about it – I literally took as many chances as I could find. There were times when it was really hard. I have no savings, I did a lot of free work, I have not earned anything as such, and there were days and weeks where it seemed nothing was coming down the line. Emigration was a serious option – I was accepted to two PhD programs in some of the best universities in the United Kingdom, but funding didn’t come through to make them manageable. That was a hard blow.

I still live in Ireland. For the most part, my friends are gone or planning to. Brussels, London, Glasgow, New Zealand and Toronto have called. They have answered in their droves.

One commenter following my original article posited that he had often worried for the Tiger generation – what levels, the user asked, of inner strength had we developed to weather the bad times?

Every begrudging comment that day made me think about myself. While I know most of them were derogatory, born of ill will and downright ignorance, they made me learn a lesson. My generation, here and abroad, have proved our own abilities – our independence and our courage. We have taken up every chance that exists, running into the water headfirst to surf a tide that is uncertain, unbalanced and risky.

My generation has learned about risk. They have left families and loved ones and they have thrived. I know of people in their early twenties who have started their own companies, sought out funding for further education, become part of the social media revolution and developed careers that didn’t exist twenty years ago- or even ten years ago. They are entrepreneurs, building their own futures from scratch with old fashioned hard graft.

My friends have demonstrated a lack of fear in the face of great uncertainty. They are innovative, capable and determined – no, stubborn – about what they want. People three years ago called it entitlement. I call it self-determination.

My generation will honour the lessons that the biting Tiger never taught us. In the bad times, we learned about our own strengths, and we shared those lessons with each other. We have emerged to take on the world in our own unique way. What we learn through adversity are the best lessons – and in the future we will bring those lessons home.

The online forum users can call me anything they want – but this “vacuous bimbo” is very aware of both her rights and her responsibilities. I have to do the best I can with what I have – but I want it to be useful, worthwhile and contributory. What sin is there in that?

Those commenters were very aware of my responsibilities – but they undermined my rights and sought to destroy my determination to succeed, instead of applauding someone who wanted to try for the best chances they could get. I learned a great lesson when the Celtic Tiger died – the question is, did they?

Encouraging Hate in Russia

Note: This article originally appeared on the Left Tribune.

Russia has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past weeks. Accused of further marginalising the LGBT community, the country is facing increasing international outrage.

Homosexual activity was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, at around the same time as Ireland made the same policy change. In 1999, homosexuality was finally removed from the national list of mental illnesses. Yet, in 2013, almost three quarters of Russians feel that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

The Russian constitution clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no debate on the topic because the constitution won’t be changed. There is no right to adoption for same sex couples. There is no civil partnership.

Russia operates an unofficial ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in its one million strong military. Officially, gay people are allowed to serve on a par with heterosexuals, but the practical reality is entirely adverse to that policy.

Hostility against the LGBT community in Russia is hitting a peak. The deep conservatism of the government is spreading through Russian society, previously seen in the censorship of Pussy Riot and the chargeslaid against members of the band for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

On June 11th, the Russian Duma unanimously passed a law banning gay “propaganda”, further enshrining those same deeply conservative values. 436 members of the Parliament, with one abstaining member, voted to ban the distribution of material on gay rights.

They voted to make it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships. They voted on the same day to approve jail sentences of up to three years for offending religious feelings. If these laws pass through the second parliamentary house, they will become an active and awful reality of Russian life.

Smaller, local legislatures already carry these laws. It has been a spreading trend throughout the federal Russian system. In 2012, Moscow’s top court upheld a ban on gay pride marches within Moscow for 100 years. The issue is due to come before the European Court of Human Rights, but the reality for now is that pride marches, widely accepted on the streets of Ireland, are a deviant, dissident operation in Russia. Almost 12 million people live in Moscow; over twice the population of Ireland is being censored in the name of furthering hatred.

Being gay, bisexual or transgender in Russia was already a reason to be targeted for hatred. Now, mere mention of gay rights or participation with a gay rights organisation can result in hefty fines.

The Russian Orthadox Church has been vocal in its criticsm of gay marriage in other states, going so far as to state that gay marriage would lead to “the collapse of the West within 50 years.”

Since gay marriage and gay rights appear to be so offensive to the Church, it is easy to see how an LGBT activist could face three years in jail for offending religious feelings. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s reality and it’s a perversion of human rights and freedom of speech.

The Russian Duma did not forget about the power of the internet and the cultivated spread of social media. Any person using the media or internet to promote “non traditional relations” can be fined. Organisations can be closed down for months at a time. Foreigners who make efforts to further the LGBT movement can be detained, finedand then deported.

 

Originally appeared on Reddit

 

With a government that repudiates the gay rights movement and a Church swollen with power, the fact is that being gay, bisexual or transgender in Russia is now to be in a dangerous position. The LGBT movement in Russia, though targeted so completely by their own government, is unafraid. Their activists will continue to fight; they will continue their struggle for equality.

But on Wednesday, photographs hit the internet from Russia of a group of children, faces hidden, beating an LGBT protester lying on the ground, covering her head with her arms, defenceless. Her government is, phenomenally, more likely to prosecute her than to punish her attackers.

Institutionalising Love, Not Hatred

On Monday June 17th, in conjunction with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, BeLonGTo Youth Services hosted a Youth and Social Inclusion Conference at Croke Park.  The event came in the wake of findings published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which surveyed 93,000 LGBT people from across the European Union between April and July 2012.

The FRA report found that 47% of respondents had been discriminated against or harassed in the previous 12 months, and that 91% of respondents had heard or seen negative conduct against a schoolmate who was seen to be LGBT while they were in school.  Two thirds of respondents, more than half from in every member state, reported that they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of being assaulted.

The Croke Park Conference was supported by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, with Minister Frances Fitzgerald speaking at the beginning of the day.  The Minister was “glad that social inclusion has been identified as a core part of the trio of Presidencies of the Council of the EU” and established her belief that as far as LGBT involvement goes, Ireland has “an unfinished democracy”.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur for Child Protection, spoke during the keynote panel and pointed out the stark truth that homophobic and transphobic bullying must be considered “a profound child protection issue”.  Phil Prendergast MEP, reflecting on the historic setting for the conference, spoke about the LGBT community and sport, describing a “glass ceiling of homophobia” that exists right across Ireland, on every playing field.

The next Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be held by Lithuania, a state that came under heavy fire throughout the conference.  Lithuania has the highest level of youth suicide in the EU and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) reports that 88% of teachers in Lithuania agree that ‘family’ is based solely on marriage between a man and a woman.

The international perspective of the conference was possibly the key to its success, with panels that provided different insights from around the EU as well as the United States, Turkey and Ireland.  Each panellist brought a different perspective, whether legal, youth work, transgender, activist or human rights, which provided a dearth of understanding to those attending.

The panels were backed up by a workshop section in the early afternoon, and the Conference closed with collaboration on the forthcoming Dublin Statement on LGBT Youth and Social Inclusion.  It is hoped that this statement once released will be recognised as a sustainable but pivotal legacy of the Irish Presidency in 2013.

Shatter’s U-turn on Asylum Seekers’ Rights

Note: This article originally appeared on Rabble.

In 1999 Alan Shatter criticised the Department of Justice for it’s ‘disgraceful reputation’ in dealing with refugees and demanded a right to work for asylum seekers. Now he sings a very different tune. Aisling Twomey asks will the real Alan Shatter please stand up?

During the passage of the Immigration Act of 1999, questions arose as to the possibility of asylum seekers gaining employment. The Bill was rushed through the Dáil and little time was given for debate, but some opinions found their way into the Dáil record.

Alan Shatter was present in Dáil Éireann on that day. He stated that the Department of Justice had a “disgraceful reputation in dealing with refugees and deportation issues.”He also outlined his belief that people entering the state should be treated with “a degree of humanity and common sense in the manner we would like our people to be treated when they seek work outside the EU.”

The Director of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, Siobhán O Donoghue, shares the view posited by Shatter in 1999.

“When a group of people are systematically segregated, denied the right to an independent life, subjected to enforced destitution and allowed to be ridiculed through media and public channels the conditions for deep oppression are created,” she stated.

In 1999, Alan Shatter was very clear in his belief that asylum seekers should have the right to work.

“People who have come here seeking safety and asking to be allowed to stay should be allowed, within a reasonable period of coming here, to work while awaiting a decision to be made,” he said.

What a difference 14 years makes. The Alan Shatter of today believes nothing of the sort.

This year, as part of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Minister was a key part of negotiations to further develop an EU Directive from 2003, relating to the basic allowances and human rights of asylum seekers across the EU.

When Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald asked Mr. Shatter why his Department has never opted in to that Directive, the Minister said that this was because of the provision at Article 11 which deals with access to the labour market for asylum seekers.

Article 11 of the Directive provides that if a decision has not been taken within one year of an asylum claim, Member States shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant. This is contrary to the existing statutory position in Ireland which provides that an asylum seeker shall not seek or enter employment.

Mr. Shatter has promised a large immigration reform bill, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill of 2010, which has been working its way through Dáil Éireann with snail-like agility for an absurdly lengthy amount of time , and doesn’t seem likely to come back on the radar with any immediacy.

Mr. Shatter has alarmingly forgotten his 1999 commitment to human rights.

“Extending the right to work to asylum seekers would almost certainly have a profoundly negative impact on application numbers, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so. The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month, leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December 1999 compared with an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999.”

This is a phenomenally simplistic explanation of the rise in asylum figures in 1999. Minister Shatter should be able to recall the situation in Kosovo at the time, and the huge displacement of civilians in the area. Ireland actually invited 1,000 refugees from Kosovo, which would seem to put a slight dampener on Mr. Shatter’s figures.

Mr. Shatter also neglects to be entirely truthful about that right to work extended to asylum seekers in the 1999 Act. It allowed for a work permit scheme, which has widely been forgotten about, possibly because it was atrocious.

The Irish Refugee Council reported that just 67 work permits were issued to asylum seekers between July and December 1999. That number is insultingly small, when you consider that there were up to 6,000 asylum seekers, many of whom would have been eligible.

Of course, today, there is no right to work for asylum seekers in Ireland. Just 458 people claimed asylum in Ireland in 2012, out of 330,000 claiming asylum in the wider European Union. The average asylum seeker now waits in the Direct Provision system for over three years for a decision in their case. They cannot work, they cannot seek further education, they cannot settle. They are treated like dirt; in fact, they now have fewer rights than they had in 1999.

SIobhán O Donoghue remains certain that the right to work is a pivotal step to fair treatment of asylum seekers.

“They are amongst the most destitute members of society. Allowing the dwindling number of asylum seekers the right to work would be an important step towards recognising that enforced dependence has no place in a modern democracy.”

So the question is, what made Alan Shatter change his mind?