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Welcome to Ireland

Ireland is known abroad as the land of one hundred thousand welcomes.But as well-known journalist Gene Kerrigan points out, those welcomes seem to depend very much on where you come from and what the colour of your skin is.

Madani Haouanoh story
Madani Haouanoh was 24 when he arrived here from Algeria in 1991 on a student visa. His older brother has for years been running a Dublin restaurant. Madani married an Irish woman. He renews his student visa annually. He several times visited family members in France, and for re-admission to Ireland he needed a re-entry visa. He had a multiple entry visa on his passport. Around July 1996 he got a new Algerian passport (he was shortly to be eligible to apply for Irish citizenship) and forgot to transfer the multiple entry visa from the old passport to the new one. Late last year he visited relatives in France, travelling by bus and boat.

An Irish businessman friend of the family, who flew his own Piper airplane, was visiting the same region of France and offered Madani a lift home. On arriving at Dublin airport Madani was held because he lacked a re-entry visa. He was to be deported to Algeria, currently ablaze with civil war, where arbitrary arrest and torture are commonplace, where 30,000 people have been killed since 1992. No due process, no appeal, just get him out of here.

It is admitted that, had Madani remembered to apply for a re-entry visa, he would certainly have got one.

The businessman's plane was being held at Dublin airport and he was told that since he had brought Madani into the country he was liable for the cost of his deportation. The man got out his credit card and coughed up IR974, the price of two return tickets to Heathrow, for two government agents, and a one-way ticket to Algeria for Madani, from Dublin, via Heathrow.

Madani's brother was told there was no point in getting a solicitor, Madani would be deported next day. A solicitor was hired, affadavits were hurriedly drawn up. An application was to be made to the High Court at 11am. At 10.28am Madani was flown out to London, in the custody of two government agents. By 11.30am a judge had ordered the deportation stopped. At 2.30pm Madani was put on a plane for Algeria. Between 11.30am and 2.30pm the Department of Justice, aware of the High Court order, with all the powers of the state at its disposal, was in this age of instant communication unable to contact the government agents at Heathrow to stop the deportation.

Here, the smear doctors went to work. Well regarded reporters were let know that Madani had arrived on 'a private jet' (nudge-nudge, wink-wink). Minister for Justice Nora Owen said the media wasn't giving 'the whole story', that there is 'another story' which 'the newspapers seem unwilling to take on board' (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

Off-the-record briefings cast aspersions on Madani's marriage to an Irish woman. Selected personal details were quietly slipped to a tabloid, which obligingly put a picture of Madani's wife on the front page, with the screaming headline, 'The Odd Couple'.

Madani had done nothing more than to forget to have a re-entry visa transferred from the old passport to the new. There was no evidence whatever of anything nefarious taking place; Madani's marriage was perfectly legal. Legal action, forcefully threatened, secured Madani's re-entry visa and he was allowed back in. No harm done, Mr Haouanoh, bit of a cock-up on the administration front - dust off the nice man's jacket, there, Paddy - off you go, now, Mr H, let's not get excited, these things happen, only doing our job, take care, now.

The state laid off, the legal case challenging the state's right to behave like something from a 1960s spy movie was dropped.

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Victor Akinlade story

Screams from the tarmac. A man is being hustled towards an airplane, three men pushing and pulling him. He cries that he doesn't want to go, please help, someone help, the three men struggle to subdue him. It might be a scene from a fifth-rate, 1960s spy movie set in some fictional East European state. It was Dublin airport, November 1993.

Or October '96, a man was flown out of Dublin, flanked by two government agents who take him to Heathrow and put him on a plane for Algeria. We get to hear of these cases by accident. Something goes wrong, someone gets to a phone, someone writes to a court, someone wakes a solicitor late at night, and the thing spills into public view.

In the case of Victor Akinlade, being hustled screaming, towards a plane at Dublin airport, it was the pilot who came to his rescue. The pilot took one look at the struggling quartet and decided: Not on my plane, buster.

Victor Akinlade came from Nigeria, he had spent 12 years in this country, a third of his life, he had married and separated from an Irish woman, he had held down various jobs. He started the procedure to obtain Irish citizenship but like many of us, forgetful, disorganised, didn't follow through.

In 1990 he was picked up and thrown in jail for five days until they realised his papers were in order, and he was released with an apology. In July 1993 he got into trouble and received six months in jail for cheque fraud. He was held in Mountjoy and then Wheatfield, he was a model prisoner and was beaten up three times by racist thugs. He was about due for release when, one morning in November, at 5am, the government sent its agents to Wheatfield to pick him up and deport him. No goodbyes, no appeal, no getting his affairs in order after 12 years, just screams on the tarmac.

When the pilot wouldn't play ball, Akinlade was thrown back in prison. Months passed, he was in jail without charge. He wrote to the High Court and got no response. He wrote to the Supreme Court and things moved. Lawyers came running, disturbed by what had happened, worked out and toughened up a case, and suddenly everything went quiet. No harm done, Mr Akinlade, bit of a cock-up on the administration front - dust off the nice man's jacket, there, Paddy - off you go, now, Mr A, let's not get excited, these things happen, only doing our job, take care, now.

The state laid off, the legal case challenging the state's right to behave like something from a 1960s spy movie was dropped.

Can we see a pattern here?

It is important to emphasise that no government agent did anything wrong; no government agent broke laws or rules. This is how we run our affairs when we are dealing with what we still, with good old Irish hospitality, refer to as 'aliens'.

Given Ireland's history, given our concern for our own emigrants who for 150 years have depended on the kindness of strangers, and many of whom became the victims of the ruthless, the hard-hearted and the mercenary, we might be expected to empathise with those seeking a new life amongst us.

Of course, it would be scurrilous, subversive, disgraceful, troublemaking, not to mention inviting an avalanche of libel writs, if some irresponsible person was to suggest that the race of those being dragged screaming across the airport tarmac might have anything to do with anything.

We see only the ones that spill into public view. Had circumstances been different, Akinlade and Haouanoh might have vanished as though they were minor characters in that fifth-rate, 1960s spy movie.

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