Why did the Government cave to a hunger-striking Asylum Seeker?

In a story that went somewhat unremarked upon, the Irish Government last week undermined their own immigration and asylum system by granting residence to a person who had been refused asylum, and then gone on hunger strike, threatening to starve himself to death if the Government did not reverse the decision of the Justice system. The Irish Examiner has the details:

An asylum seeker has ended his nine-day hunger strike after receiving assurances from the Department of Justice that he would not be deported.

Nadim Hussain, 34, who is originally from India, but who has been denied refugee status here began his hunger strike in a bid to remain in the State.

The Twitter page Abolish Direct Provision Campaign shared a video of Nadim thanking people for their support.

“Thank you every one of Ireland for helping me,” he said.

“Just know, my legal team has informed me that the Minister of Justice has given assurance that I will not be deported.”

Here is Mr. Hussein, thanking people for their support:

It is first necessary to write here that it is good that Mr. Hussein is no longer on hunger strike, and that nobody would wish him dead.

But it is also necessary to note that this is an extraordinary and barely credible situation. In Ireland, the Justice system is supposed to be independent of the political system. What does that mean? Well, it means for example that if the courts convict you of a crime, and send you to prison, politicians cannot intervene and say “actually, no, this person should not go to prison”.

That independence is there for good reason. It is designed to stop favouritism and corruption, and make sure that everybody – everybody – receives the same treatment.

This poses a simple question: Had Mr. Hussein not gone on hunger strike, would he have received assurances that he would not be deported? Clearly, neither he, nor his supporters, believe so. In other words, threatening to do himself harm was a necessary precondition to his residency being granted.

What message does that send to others in his position? The Irish Government has set a precedent here that if you threaten to do yourself harm, you can evade Irish asylum and immigration law.

This is not only a reward for Mr. Hussein. It is also a punishment, and a slap in the face, to those people who accepted the rulings of the Irish justice system on their applications to stay here, when those applications were denied. People who accepted the law with good grace, or resignation, or both, lost out. Mr. Hussein, by harming himself, won a victory. That is deeply unjust.

It also sets a precedent for future cases. With this result, the Government has all but guaranteed that Mr. Hussein will not be the last person in his position to attempt a hunger strike. Such tactics win. And in future, any reversal will be seen (correctly) as unjust: The Government was willing to save Mr. Hussein from himself. So why not somebody else?

Let us be very clear about what has happened here: Mr. Hussein blackmailed the Irish Government with his own life. He threatened them with self harm. The Government backed down.

Will this same tactic work for all breaches of the law? Will your columnist, for example, be able to evade my television licence by going on hunger strike if threatened with prosecution? Will somebody accused of fraud be able to evade prison? What are the limits of this policy?

There are none, of course.

Once again, the Irish Government has displayed tremendous weakness. Mr. Hussein has a right to refuse food, if he wishes to. That is a basic matter of self determination. It was, as they say, his choice. The Government should have responded to his decision to do so by immediately expediting his deportation to India, which is, of course, not a very dangerous country.

One wonders how long he would have decided to continue his hunger strike once free of Irish soil. Not very long, you might suspect.

Anyway, he’s no fool, Mr. Hussein. As so often in Ireland, the fools are the people who actually obey the law with good grace.

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