10 April 1999
"The decision by the Irish Medical Organisation to oppose Government attempts to introduce a system of identity checks on asylum seekers as a condition for their treatment at Irish hospitals or GP surgeries is an important step in the ongoing campaign to oppose racism and support immigrant rights in this country," said Mr Kevin Doyle, of the Federation of Anti-Racism Campaigns today. Mr Doyle was responding to the news that delegates had overwhelmingly approved a motion put before the annual conference of the IMO in Killarney.
The motion, proposed by the GP Joint Cork Branch, states that "the IMO rejects any attempts by Government to introduce legislation which will oblige workers in the public sector (including doctors) to notify the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform when they encounter asylum seekers who do not have appropriate documentation with regard to citizenship and residency." Such legislation would place an onus on doctors to inquire of patients as to their status in this regard, and to pass this information on to the Department of Justice.
In proposing the motion, Cork GP Dr Mary Favier pointed out that "a doctor's first duty is always to the patient and it is unethical to deny someone medical care on the basis of their legal status." Dr Favier noted that the Government's plan if enacted would turn doctors (and other health workers) into quasi-immigration officials. "This is an ominous development and it must not be allowed to occur," she said. In her speech Dr Favier drew attention to the Government's attitude towards asylum seekers which she characterised as racist and hypocritical. "The Irish Government went out of its way to secure beneficial treatment for Irish 'illegals' in the USA in the mid-80s. Concern was expressed about how these 'illegals' would manage if they fell sick or were injured at work. Now the shoe is on the other foot, but the Government's attitude shows no compassion. Asylum seekers coming to Ireland are to be hounded even when they are sick and in need of medical help."
Speaking about the significance of the IMO motion, Mr Doyle said, "The Federation of Anti-Racism Campaigns is seeking to enlist all public service workers in the fight for immigrant rights. This stand by the IMO greatly improves our chances of winning other health workers to oppose the Government. As we see it, if an unjust law is not supported by those charged with implementing it, then it falls whether the Governments succeeds in enacting it into law or not."
Mr Doyle added, "The thrust of the Government's policy in regard to asylum seekers is to 'deport and criminalise'. This was outlined in a reply the Minister gave in the Dáil at the beginning of the year to a question on the Interdepartmental Committee Report on Non-Nationals. In pursuance of this policy the Minister has a draconian Immigration Bill currently passing through the Dáil. This bill will copperfasten the Minister's right to deport. Given that Minister O'Donoghue has already declared that 90% of asylum seeker applications are "bogus", the likelihood is that we will soon be in a position in Ireland where significant numbers of asylum seekers will be declared 'illegal' and subject to deportation. This is why the IMO motion is important. It sends a message to asylum seekers that there are Irish people who are on their side. The Federation of Anti-Racism Campaigns is calling for an immediate amnesty for all asylum seekers. Irish people have been down the road of emigration. We know what it's like. We should embrace our asylum seeking community, not criminalise and chase them from these shores."