In January, the Abbey held the first of three annual Theatre of Memory Symposiums as part of it’s celebration of the centenaries. The Abbey described it as “directors and academics coming together to discuss the role of memory in making theatre and the challenges of commemorating historical events”.
One of the themes that kept coming up over the few days was the importance of empathy in a caring society and the vital role that theatre plays in developing that skill. A lot of the talks focuses on the darker elements of Ireland’s past and how theatre has explored these themes. It talked about the industrial schools and the Magdalene Laundries, as well as theatre productions that are based on real events. There were also a couple of talks on current issues in Irish society. I thought this was a very clever inclusion (and possibly a direct result of having an Artistic Director who is also a Senator). It meant it wasn’t just about the past, we were no longer looking at Ireland from a distance. It put the historical stuff in context and made is more relevant and more painful.
One of these was Carl O’Brien’s talk on Direct Provision. Direct Provision has been described as government sanctioned mistreatment of other human beings, and has now been going on for 14 years. He describes in detail the day-to-day living conditions that people have to endure, he has photos from the reception centres and quotes from the inspectors reports when they visited these places. He talks about the consequences of living like this in “debilitating forced-idleness” and how Ireland is failing so many of the most vulnerable people in our society. It really is worth a watch.
He also talks specifically about Mosney Reception Centre, and about the large sums of money the owners receive from the State. It’s became an unlimited private company in 2009 which means it can shield it’s accounts from the public but when the accounts were still open in 2009, they showed a large profit. Like the Mother and Baby Homes of the past, there are still people making money by treating people inhumanely.
I found the talk astonishing because the facts are so cruel and unjust they seem almost unbelievable. It has stayed with me and been in my head recently as the revelations about the high death-rates in the homes in Tuam filled the papers and last week when the Minister for Justice was in Geneva defending Ireland’s track record on human rights to the UN. As a nation, we’re still not great at treating vulnerable people with dignity and compassion.
If you would like to find out more about Direct Provision, Nasc Ireland have a lot of information. If you would like to write to the Minister about it, there’s a sample letter here and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In relation to the Theatre of Memory, there are lots of other videos and audio files from the three day event. Not all the talks were are depressing as this one!