Wexford Sanctuary Ambassadors was formed last November, and began a training programme in public speaking, working with the media, and understanding the workings of Irish politics. This is a group of around 30 asylum seekers and refugees determined to be part of the solution to the endemic problems around Direct Provision and the asylum system, and to share their stories and experience across society, building bridges of understanding and removing barriers of fear and prejudice.
The group started to prepare the Wexford Sanctuary Manifesto after an exciting session where Brendan Howlin TD gave them a master class in our Irish electoral system. When the pandemic came, work had to continue by zoom, but, energised by news of a new government, they completed the task last month and Deputy Howlin along with County Chair, Ger Carthy, welcomed a group to launch the manifesto in the County Hall. Wexford’s members of the Oireachtas turned up in force , with all five TDs and one senator in attendance, along with several councillors. Cllr Carthy and Deputy Howlin made it clear that they are really committed to Wexford being a County of Sanctuary.
The tone was set by Homayoon Shirzad, mentor to the group and a graduate of a previous course. Homayoon opened the proceedings, and had barely begun to speak when, in a gesture of enormous generosity, Chairman Ger Carthy rose from his seat and invited Homayoon to take his place.
Working in three groups, the ambassadors presented their experiences of living as families or singles in the cramped conditions of Direct Provision, being caught in the endless delays of the asylum system, and longing to work and share their numerous skills with their new community. They spoke from their hearts and their own experiences, and common to all speeches was a desire to be an active part of the solution to problems, and a deep desire to integrate and be a blessing to Ireland.
The group expected questions, but instead, all politicians present were invited to share their responses. Every response was movingly positive. Senator Malcolm Byrne invited the ambassadors to get involved in politics, and along with Deputy Paul Keogh, made a commitment to seeing through the promised reform of Direct Provision. Councillor George Lawlor reminded us all that Wexford is the Model County, and expressed the desire for the manifesto to be a model for the rest of Ireland. Councillor Leonard Kelly, identifying strongly with the description of family life in Direct Provision, expressed a strong desire to see through the realization of all the requests made in the manifesto, while Deputy Verona Murphy made a commitment to helping locally and nationally to end discrimination and bring about more inclusivity. Deputy Johnny Mythen expressed strong support and apologized for the failed system of Direct Provision and all the pain it has caused. James Brown TD again expressed wholehearted support and Chairman Ger Carthy called on the Oireachtas members to do their part in bringing this important message to national political decision makers, and Deputy Brendan Howlin concluded by thanking everyone, especially the Sanctuary Ambassadors.
Everyone agreed it was a wonderful start, and recognized this is the start of a long journey, but felt united and supported in making Wexford a true County of Sanctuary, one where today, a little bit of history was made.