The International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) exists to hear appeals on the decisions of the International Protection Officer on applications for protection in the state. In plain English, it’s the body which decides whether an asylum seeker is properly entitled to asylum in the state. People appearing before it, then, have a right to expect it to be impartial, and non-biased. The public also have a right to expect it to be impartial and non-biased.
But is it? One of its members, Bernadette McGonigle, is a solicitor. She was also a long-standing activist with the Cork Refugee Legal service. There is nothing wrong, of course, with being a member of the Cork Refugee Legal service, but is the public to expect that somebody who volunteered their time to give free legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers is strictly neutral on the questions that come before the IPAT?
Another member is Una McGurk, SC*. Ms McGurk is in the news this morning, because the Minister for Justice, despicably, wants her head on a plate:
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has urged the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) to “act urgently” after the appearance of one of its members, Una McGurk SC, at a rally in Dublin to protest against Covid-19 face-mask measures.
Ms McGurk was one of a number of speakers to address the rally on Custom House Quay, Dublin 1, which was attended by hundreds of protestors for several hours on Saturday….
……Ms McGurk’s address to the rally on Saturday focused on Covid-19, which she believed had been over-estimated in official data.
She at no time addressed immigration.
During her address she spoke of an “alleged spike” in Covid-19 cases and said “teenagers, children and young adults have no receptors for this virus so why should they have to wear masks at school”.
She believed “the laws are being driven by politics, not real science” and said the wearing of masks, which were now compulsory in some settings, were linked to health issues including a higher risk of cancer.
“The wearing of masks has little to do with protecting your health or someone else’s. It has everything to do with testing how compliant you are,” she told the crowd.
She “at no time addressed immigration”. And yet, the Minister wants her gone from the IPAT. Why?
Could it have something to do with this tweet, from one of our many, many, NGOs?
One might say many things about the event that took place on Saturday – suffice for yours truly to say that given the lack of social distancing, one hopes that nobody who attended is waking up this morning with a cough and a headache – but it is outrageous and despicable to suggest that it was a “white supremacist” event.
Despicable, but not surprising, of course. One of the reasons it’s very hard, increasingly, for the public to take accusations of racism seriously is that so many people are now called a racist for no discernable reason. “Racist” used to mean “a person in favour of discrimination against other races of people”. In modern Ireland “racist” just means “a person out of favour with the far left”.
But in any case, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Ms McGurk takes a dim view of immigration.
She is on the tribunal because of her legal expertise, not because of a particular view she has of the subject matter. If Bernadette McGonigle, who very clearly has sympathetic views towards immigration, can set her bias aside (as many would argue) then why is Ms McGurk any different, assuming she holds a different view?
She’s not, of course.
But that doesn’t matter. Ms McGurk is being persecuted for two competing reasons: First, she committed the cardinal sin of being a member of the Irish establishment who has openly espoused a view the Irish establishment sees as heretical. She endorsed the wrong kind of people. It’s a given, in media and political circles, that if you are anti-mask, you are probably also pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, anti-abortion, and anti-immigration. The Irish establishment is never opposed by actual people – only by caricatures. If you associate with the wrong kind of person on one subject, you are automatically a heretic.
Second, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland wants to change the makeup of the IPAT so that there can be more Bernadette McGonigles, and fewer Una McGurks. If calling her a racist gets the job done, so be it.
Una McGurk hasn’t committed any crime that warrants her resignation. She didn’t address immigration in her speech. She expressed a view on facemasks that is shared by many, even if not by most. Her crime is not doing anything wrong – her crime is being the wrong sort of person, and hanging around with the wrong sort of people.
It’s not fair. But it’s not supposed to be fair. The whole point of it is to send a message to anyone who might privately agree with her. Watch yourself, or we might have to call you a racist too.
Ireland, 2020. A grand place.
* In case anyone is wondering, Ms McGurk is no relation (note the different spelling).